Computer game violence finds match in opera's art


NET RESULTS:Are people right to worry about sex and violence in computer games? Maybe it’s not as bad as they think

COMPUTER GAMES, sex and violence. They are so intrinsically linked in the mind of the public that any discussion on computer games almost always reverts to a consideration of this “problem”.

The topic arose yet again last Friday, when I was on the Arenaprogramme on RTÉ talking about a book I had reviewed for this paper recently.

Fun Incby Tom Chatfield, on the “serious business” of the computer gaming industry, is a very interesting, challenging read and the author directly lays out all the arguments against games and addresses them one by one.

One of his key points is that the public tends to think that sex and violence are far higher on the agenda of the average gamer than is actually the case. He notes that of the top 20 best-selling games, only one has notable sex and violence (and an over-18 rating).

Still, despite, or perhaps because of, the enormous popularity of computer games, it seems impossible to dislodge the association, while there is a great unease about games generally.

That is certainly linked to a perception that computer games are the realm of children. Yet this, too, is contradicted by the facts.

The average age of a gamer is 35, and twice the number of adult women play games than boys under 18, according to a 2009 industry survey by Ipsos MediaCT for the Entertainment Software Association.

During the discussion, we touched on other typical concerns – that gaming is a solitary activity, that it is (gasp) lowbrow; that it is addictive and creates strange, lonely children and adults incapable of interaction with their peers. Yet the evidence belies these assumptions.

Most play games with their friends – three-quarters of US teens do, for example, according to a Pew Trust survey, and online gaming, in which people participate and communicate with others, is extremely popular.

As for being lowbrow: one of the book’s more interesting chapters notes how artists and film-makers increasingly are involved with games development. This makes perfect sense.

A film such as Avataris a timely demonstration of how art and computers are being folded into film-making. Many artists have been experimenting with immersive, digital worlds and digital technology for years.

Convergence is not just about technologies and services, but also about art, culture and entertainment.

The day after Arena, I found myself gazing at an entertainment enabled by the latest technology. There before me in high definition (HD), widescreen, surround-sound glory, unfolded a couple of hours of riveting sex and violence. There was lust, obsession, brutality, the celebration of crime and its spoils, extramarital sex, crude racism and a ritual involving an animal’s bloody death.

Grand Theft Auto, the adult- rated computer game? No, Grand Opera. This was the acclaimed live HD broadcast of the New York Metropolitan Opera’s Carmen, which could be seen in cinemas around Ireland in an initiative sponsored by Opera Ireland.

As the camera panned the New York audience at the end of this astonishing matinee production, you could see children. So, was this parental neglect or a wonderful opportunity to introduce a cherished art form to a new generation?

It’s funny how it is often the people who say they value “real” art that are most concerned about what they see as a proliferation of sex and violence in popular culture. Listen, folks, if you are looking for sex and violence, opera is your man.

(A week ago, the Met HD broadcast was Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, about a 30- something married woman having an affair with a 17-year-old who then runs off with a 15-year-old). Grand Opera outdoes Tarantino any day.

All any opera has to do is make explicit such elements of the story to be just as gory, violent and sex- filled as the films and computer games against which the puritans rail. Actually, the old art form of opera and the emerging form of computer games are both moving in some similar directions.

Opera, too, is looking to established artists and directors to enhance its productions and bring them to a wider and newer audience, just as with the games industry. Opera also is looking to technology to revitalise itself, especially the internet.

Singers and opera companies now create music videos and their websites feature YouTube clips.

Sassy blogs like Opera Chic ( take a fabulously pop-culture approach to what is sometimes seen as a stuffy old medium (some incredibly gorgeous and sexy new singers sure help the process).

I look at all these art and entertainment forms and see yet more convergence coming. I agree with Tom Chatfield that games are moving steadily towards a more hybrid, highbrow entertainment medium that will involve aspects of art and film.

Meanwhile, if people are truly concerned about sex and violence, then books, film, art, theatre and opera will all need to share the dock with the occasional computer game. Or maybe we just need to confront some basic truths and hypocrisies. Blog and podcasts: