Silly for Angus

Andrew Brown


This story happened to a friend of a friend, but I could name both the people involved, so it may well be true: last week the FOF was sitting about five yards from a particularly brutal murder committed in his garden and managed not to notice anything at all: he was playing a new computer game at the time while the murder was being committed, and did not stop until five in the morning, by which time the victim was very dead.

This is odd. If you believe that computer games are corrupting, you’d have thought that he would have welcomed the chance to stop chopping up virtual orcs with a joystick and join in the real fun outside his window. But that is to misunderstand the nature of computers. They do deprave and corrupt us, but not in the obvious ways. If Jesus were to update his parables for today the Good Samaritan would run something like this.

"There were some robbers on the road to Jericho and when the network went down and their game of Civilidsation II stopped, they noticed that there was a rich man on the road, but he had gone too far for them to rob. Fortunately, he stopped to read his email, so they were able to catch up with him, rob, him, beat him savagely, and leave him lying in the road. Everyone who saw him passed by on the other side, until there came a Samaritan who tripped right over him, engrossed in his palm pilot. The Palm Pilot smashed as it fell and the Samaritan was delighted ‘That’s wonderful’, he said. ’I can upgrade it on insurance’. So he took the man to the nearest inn and had him patched up so he could sign a statement for the insurance company."

It’s not games that turn people into anti-social idiots but the so-called serious programs. After all, adolescent boys are not ashamed of wanting to be bloodthirsty killers, but they are, most of them, simply aware that it has disadvantages as a career choice in real life; and armies have a very difficult time training their recruits to be any good at the job. Accountants, actuaries, and all the other people who use computers to remove the joy from life, seem much more furtive about their dreams. "How do you tell an extroverted Actuary? He looks at your shoes when he’s talking to you."

Yet these are the people whose games have real consequences in the outside world. Instead of asking "What if I were trapped underground with 500 bloodthirsty orcs between me and the princess?" They ask "What if I were to take over the Basingstoke sales territory"; they are the suits in the Apple advertisements who have just been given "The power to Succeed", which means their lies will be printed on glossier paper than any of the competition’s. they are the men who ensure that every pat of hotel butter is too small, and that every CD is sold with only one track you actually want to pay for. Theirs are the computer games which brought us GM food and surgical strikes; but no one ever dies outside their windows while they’re playing.