Monthly Archives: September 2015

If Video Killed the Radio Star, What’s the Rockstar doing with Video Games?

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Morality issues are a lot of fun. Firstly, you get wildly opposing views stemming from them (issues of morality), with neither side willing to concede an inch of ground to the other. Secondly, there’s a whole load of hyperbole in use because hyperbole is, simply put, hyperbolic – and so it just sounds good. Thirdly, there’s always the narrative about the damaging effects of whatever the morality issue is about, which invariably involves the “misguided” youth of the world. But in amongst all the fun there are serious issues being raised.

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BBC’s The Gamechangers is one attempt at picking through the morality issue that resides around the popularity of violent video games. Focusing on Rockstar’s hierarchy as they launch “GTA: Vice City” followed by “GTA: San Andreas,” the usual, well-worn topics come up where notions of copy-cat behaviour of violent killings, misogyny, and gangster culture are rife. Do video games that allow you to wander around beating prostitutes, to shoot people indiscriminately, to hold gun battles with the police, and to do a whole host of other “morally corrupt” things, really turn players of the game into sociopaths who are willing to do similar things out in the “real” world? It’s unlikely that there exists an easy answer to such a question.┬áThe closing-shots of The Gamechangers tells us that there is no scientific evidence to date that can back up such a claim.

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Interestingly, a few days after the show, BBC’s Horizon explores the issue with lots of soundbites from “scientists,” because as we know, scientists know everything about everything (except dark matter, black holes, large scale physics versus quantum physics, time, infinity, and other trifling matters). As is often the case with Horizon‘s programmes, the issue is left problematically ambiguous, with some scientists saying that there is a causal link between playing video games and becoming more aggressive/becoming desensitised to violence, whilst other scientists claim that real-world youth violence has decreased over the last two decades (the period in which some of the most violent games have been released, with an estimated 91% of children in the U.S. today believed to be regular players of video games), with the overall picture being that with over thirty years of research into video gaming there is no conclusive evidence because academics continue to disagree on the subject.

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Nevertheless, The Gamechangers is an interesting show in that it provokes debate whilst not allowing its own position on the morality issue in question to side with one at the expense of the other. For instance, Bill Paxton’s “fundamental Christian” is shown both sympathetically and pathologically. Likewise, Daniel Radcliffe’s character, the “immoral” games producer, is shown to be flawed but also vulnerable. In this respect the show does not attempt to interfere with viewer reaction/opinion, allowing for multiple viewpoints to form – not a neat conclusion, but perhaps a more realistic one than another plain old dichotomy of “good versus bad.” And when all the hyperbole is cleared out of the way, when the emotive issues are kept in check, we may then be able to ask: is the GTA franchise just another example of society being reflected back at us in its own particular medium of the video game, and if so, what are the implications that arise from this? That’s where The Gamechangers seems to get the balance right, because it’s not about curtailing conversation, it’s about adding to it and growing the debate.

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When Music Spoke (to something)…

Listening to the radio throwing out songs from the early 80s, 1984 to be exact, it becomes apparent that much of what was in the charts back then had some sort of political motive about it. For instance, in a small snap shot, where three songs from the Top 40 played back to back, there were themes of Thatcher’s stranglehold on Britain, nuclear annihilation, and the influx of cheap, yet powerful narcotics, respectively.

After switching on the radio the first song to be played is UB40’s “If it Happens Again I’m Leaving,” which, according to the radio show host, is a tirade against the damaging effects of Margaret Thatcher’s government, and is considered to be a protest song displaying the group’s discontent at the Conservative party victory at the general election of 1983.

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The next song out is Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Two Tribes,” a song that mocked the ideology of nation-state foreign policy that relies heavily on the destructive capabilities of nuclear weapons. Released at a time when the threat of a nuclear war was most real, with leaflets being shoved through households’ letterboxes detailing the actions one should take in the event of such apocalypse (hide beneath a mattress, largely), the band appeared to have tapped into things most visceral.

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And the song following Frankie’s is Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel’s “White Lines.” Listening to the song as a kid required said kid to ask of an adult – “What are White Lines then?” Most adults seemed reluctant to answer the question, and so one thus had to rely on older kids for an answer. Having got said answer, said kid then speculates at what such stuff looks and tastes like (perhaps said adults might have been better providing an answer in the first place).

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The resulting feeling, then, is a lament that conditions seem no longer to exist where such awareness-raising is able to take place on a mass scale. For sure, there are bands/artists that produce protest music, but they appear to have more of a cult-like status. Bands with massively popular reach, where messages can spread across all manner of borders, would appear to be rather bland in terms of political leanings. And in an age where issues relating to the three themes above seem very much to be relevant and most pressing, perhaps it is a good idea to listen to music from days gone by, for one never knows in what ways one’s sensibilities might be aroused.


@PeteDoherty and @libertines Opportunity and Anticipation

With the return of The Libertines…

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and so ends what was meant to be a joyous moment of speculation before heading off to an event that promised to be the stuff of legend, judging by the responses from those lucky beggars in Glasgow and Bristol who actually got to see the band play – the first few words being written prior to finding out that tonight’s gig in Manchester had been postponed. However, positivity rules, and so the unfortunate situation is being looked upon as a blessing – even more time to savour the build up to the concert that will eventually take place, all things being well.

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It’s perhaps an interesting time, in terms of popular music, what with Kanye attempting to run for president, and U2 sticking music on devices without permission, and Daltrey and Townsend pretending that a generation exists that will allow them to die before they ‘get’ old, and where Las Vegas hosts artists for months at a time, and where the notion of ‘owning’ music that does not have a physical form is commonplace but at a time when vinyl is making a comeback at extortionate prices… Music, in general, just seems so dull, so corporate. So perhaps it is a refreshing change to have a touch of unpredictability back in our lives once more. Frustrating, yes. A tad annoying, certainly. But who can maintain such emotions when thinking of the cheeky rascal known as Peter Doherty?

He’s a poet, without a doubt. He’s a good, perhaps great, musician. He oozes charm. He takes risks. And occasionally he lets folk down, but it’s not the end of the world. It’s only rock ‘n roll. The best moment of live music I’ve ever experienced is a Babyshambles concert in Middlesbrough somewhere in the 2000s. Saw them in other towns, but that one concert eclipsed all others. Saw him doing solo stuff too. Now it’s time to hunker down and wait for the return of The Libertines to Manchester. Tick… Tock…


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