Game of Propaganda

http://www.steermadness.com/

Steer Madness is a fully-featured 3D action-adventure game for home computer. You play as Bryce the Steer who narrowly escaped the slaughterhouse. Now liberated, you are on a mission to save your animal friends!  Rescue rabbits, deliver soymilk, protest against fur, change advertisements, and much, much more!

* Environmentally friendly transportation!
* Interact with other characters!
* Rescue chickens in an electric sports car!
* Visit the local vegetarian grocery store!

The game is similar in gameplay to GTA (Grand Theft Auto), except instead of murdering hookers, you deliver soymilk. Wow. Of course, “changing advertisements” isn't necessarily something I would want to teach my kids either.

This game raises the question of whether video games as propaganda (or in less extreme cases, simply political argument) is a good thing. In general, I would say that yes, this game is a “good thing”, in the sense that people can play it and come to their own conclusions. If you forced a meat-lover to play this game, his reaction would probably be similar to that of a vegetarian playing “Deer Hunter”. It's probably not going to change a lot of minds, but it is an effective way of making an argument, in this case, for vegetarianism/animal rights activism. If someone really is on the fence about something like this, they can play “Steer Madness” and “Deer Hunter”, and see which one jives with them more.

I'm aware that there are some hideous and dangerous bigoted games out there as well, that encourage players to murder people of a certain ethnicity/background (Jews, Blacks, Gays, whoever). That of course is not any sort of “free speech” or political dialogue of any sort. It is simple repugnant hatred and incitement.

GTA, I would argue, at least lets players vicariously live a life of violent crime legally, without fear of reprisal. The motives there do not stem from hatred or anger, but a desire to pretend to live a life that the player otherwise can't. It's similar to watching a movie like “Goodfellas”. After that movie, I became the biggest goody-two-shoes in the world. I still enjoyed the movie. But that's very different than a propaganda movie advocating violence and hatred against a specific group. There's no catharsis there. The only reason to watch something like that is to get your blood boiling – incitement.

So isn't that a contradiction? On one hand, I support games like “Steer Madness”, and on the other, decry Goebbels-esque propaganda. What's the difference? Very simple: it is a quantitative difference – there is a line between conflict and war. Once that line is crossed, there is no hope for productive reconciliation. Once pro-lifers, for example, start talking about murdering doctors who perform abortions, there's nothing to learn from them. There will be no questioning of assumptions on either side, nor will there be any compromises made. There can't be in a situation like that. The difference between the two is that one may result in open debate and discussion (no matter how close-minded the proponents of each side are), and the other can never do that, since each side actively seeks to destroy difference and dissent.

Anyway, I guess this is my first “serious” post – out of sheer curiousity, I do want to try that game though. It's a way for me to vicariously play GTA without actually playing it :-)

–YY

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