The parallels between those taking sides in the battle over the merit of Grand Theft Auto and the battle over the merit of blogs as journalistic devices are striking.
It's no secret that Grand Theft Auto IV is, at this point, an utter phenomenon, not just a gaming entity but a media entity that is currently, in the few days following its release, destroying every other form of entertainment in terms of popularity, interest, and commentary. On one hand, we have the side of 99% of the gamers who have bought it: basically, that it's the best damn thing since San Andreas came out. Then, there are those who are utterly and unequivocally against its release, suggesting that it should be locked behind counters or banned outright. There is very little in-between to be found, which makes for a dearth of common ground from which intelligent discussion of the merits and flaws in the game can appear.
Buzz vs. Will, Round 1...FIGHT
(Image courtesy of AOL Fanhouse)
Something that Leitch said before he got mauled Tuesday night was striking, however, in that it sheds some light on both of these debates. In responding to charges of the lack of accountability of blogs in general, Leitch mentioned that "There are many things that we might say in an e-mail or might say in a comment section...that we would not say in real life." One could presume that he would expand that to blog posts as well. The point is that the anonymity afforded to us by the internet allows us a sort of freedom to speak without consequence; the web allows people, who would never dream of acting this way in any sort of "real life" venue, the freedom to be racist, sexist, and just plain mean in a place where the ultimate punishment is merely to be banned or ignored.
Such freedom comes with a price, and the price that we pay for that freedom is to be presented with a series of difficult decisions every time we indulge in this new sort of journalism. Specifically, we are forced to either accept that with most of the new voices we choose to read there may well be some modicum of disagreeable behavior attached, or we severely limit the scope of the points of view that we allow ourselves to partake in. There are a lot of merits to the most popular sports and gaming blogs on the internet, but by patronizing a Kotaku or a Deadspin, even if we choose to ignore those articles that we find troubling, we are passively supporting a community that contains commenters (and sometimes writers) who espouse sexist, racist, and even classist ideals.
I tend to find that there are enough good bits to many of these blogs and websites, especially the ones mentioned, to more than mitigate the detriment that certain users and attitudes in the communities built by them happen to have. Still, the mere fact that the dross can be published -- and, often, celebrated -- understandably scares the hell out of people who have been protected by editors for their entire working lives.
Still, in order to partake in this new, beautifully rendered world, you must accept that it will contain elements that are sexist, racist, and incredibly, unforgivably violent. You must also accept that in order to play the game as it is intended, you must in fact take part in many of the worst elements of this virtual world. What scares people about this particular mechanic is that it seems to confirm many of our worst fears about people and how they function in society; that, left to their own devices, people choose to be evil. Even this, however, is a jump in logic -- Grand Theft Auto actually rewards for much of the evil we choose to do as part of its world, so it's not necessarily an indictment or a window into much of anything other than what Rockstar developers assume we want out of a game. A medium that was once protected by the famous Nintendo Seal of Quality is no longer "safe", and this is a scary concept.
In both the Grand Theft Auto divide and the journalism divide, the fear is predominantly that of a generation used to functioning in a certain way, not ready to adapt to the new way. This group of people is battling against a new generation, largely unwilling to accept that anything could possibly be wrong with the way things are now developing.