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Anarcho-Terrorists Cut Their Teeth on Video Games

January 31, 2002|NORAH VINCENT | Norah Vincent is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think tank set up after Sept. 11 to study terrorism.

"The best thing about it," he said, "is you can do anything. You can kill a cop, take his squad car, pick up a prostitute and make a drug deal with her."

I had just bought a Sony Play- Station 2 and was asking a knowledgeable twentysomething acquaintance of mine about two PlayStation games.

Buying a video game system seemed innocent enough at the time, a little distraction from the daily scribble, a harmless dabble in the technographics culture I'd been hearing so much about.

But now that I've already got tendinitis from playing the thing for hours on end, I've come to realize that there's nothing innocent about it.

On the contrary. It's pernicious. Not only is it as addictive as gambling but it also elicits and abets the worst and darkest instincts in human nature.

What's more, it allows you to act them out at your own warped discretion.

The guy was right. You can do anything. Anything at all. The sense of freedom--no, unmitigated license--is intoxicating. It's as if you've been handed Plato's ring of Giges, making you invisible, unaccountable, unencumbered by fear of retribution and monstrous as a result. It's the ultimate ticket to ride.

There you are, a lone figure in a ripe dystopia where every door opens, every fence can be climbed, every car can be stolen, every pedestrian can be beaten to the ground.

Everything is permitted. Nothing matters.

There are no consequences, and so the urge to see what happens if you do "this" or "that" is irresistible. Flattened by a truck? Just get up again. Crashed the car? Steal another. Someone in your way? Whack him. And all of this mayhem at the jerk of a joystick. Not exactly the most adaptive use of those handy opposable thumbs, but devilish entertainment nonetheless.

But as legions of protesters are poised like locusts to descend on New York City to protest the World Economic Forum beginning today, it strikes me as not in the least surprising that the wired generation (of whom these legions are mostly composed) should have turned to anarcho-terrorism as a form of political protest.

Weaned on video games such as Urban Chaos and Grand Theft Auto III, which are virtual seminars in sociopathy, and neurologically conditioned through hours of practice to indulge their basest urges, it makes sense that today's extremists behave badly in the real world--a world they no doubt have difficulty distinguishing from their free-for-all fantasies.

Scenes from Seattle in 1999, where a World Trade Organization meeting was beset by rioters throwing urine and scrap metal at cops and tossing newspaper boxes and trash cans through store windows, could be stock footage from any of the PlayStation or the Microsoft Xbox or the Nintendo GameCube games you can rent at Blockbuster.

Same goes for the melees that erupted in 2000 at the World Trade Organization meeting in Melbourne and again at the G8 economic summit in Genoa last summer.

The law enforcement tendency to use nonlethals such as tear gas and rubber bullets lends an even greater sense of unreality to these outbursts, which may be why everyone was so shocked when a rioter was killed by real police bullets in Genoa after he threw a fire extinguisher at their police cruiser.

The deterrent effect of using deadly force combined with the no-nonsense aura post-Sept. 11 also may be why the New York Police Department is promising to institute what amounts to martial law, complete with sniffer dogs and checkpoints, for the next four days while the meeting is going on.

But I'm all for it.

If they can make it real, maybe the authorities can jolt these pseudo-road warriors out of their cyber-induced taste for wanton destruction and confront them with the harsh lesson that when real blood and nasty fallout are involved, anarchy isn't all it's mocked up to be.

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