Moral Combat

MoralCombat_main Monica Potts in The American Prospect (via Zoe Pollock over at Andrew Sullivan):

I eventually got the hang of The Sims, the best-selling computer game in history, and my Sim self became productive and happy. She always reached the top of her career, her children always did well in school, and she always had enough money for a comfortable simulated life. Another pattern emerged as well, one that I feel powerless to stop: My Sims are conservative. I'm in complete control of them, but for some reason their lives aren't anything like the life I consider ideal in the real world. I'm a feminist graduate of an all-women's college who has vowed to never change my name or end my career to raise children full time–though I would never undervalue the work that many women do in their home. By contrast, my Sims rarely remain single long into adulthood. My wives always take their husbands' last names. They don't just have children; they bear lots of them. And they leave their careers to take on the lion's share of care-giving duties.

In fact, all of the video games I play tend to have a decidedly anti-liberal tilt. From the seemingly innocuous Sims to more obviously hawkish games like Call of Duty, many video and computer games seem to have a built-in conservative worldview. After all, they have to sell in the heartland as well as on the coasts. It's always difficult for liberals to figure out how much they should enjoy pop culture that contradicts their values. Skipping Fox's 24 because it promotes torture, for example, would have meant missing out on a tense and exciting drama–and missing out on the water-cooler talk about it the next day. But liberals who enjoyed it did so while making our criticisms known. Jack Bauer, we pointed out, might have been a less threatening protagonist if there hadn't been a real-life Vice President Dick Cheney. Video games are just the newest medium through which our social mores are expressed, and questioning whether they do so accurately and responsibly is a natural corollary to their ascendancy.

Whether prohibiting the sale of violent video games to minors violates the First Amendment is the subject of a Supreme Court case this term. But if anyone who wanted to promote “traditional family values” actually played a game like The Sims, they would love it. There are plenty of other games of which conservatives should approve as well. Sim City, which preceded The Sims, has players create a virtual metropolis instead of a virtual family. As a Sim City expert, I can tell you that things function much more smoothly if taxes are low and city government caters to corporate interests. In the most recent version of the game, low-income housing is associated with higher crime rates, which necessitate more police stations. Low-income housing, however, packs in more workers per block, and I need all those workers in order to generate more revenue. To keep them productive–if employees are unhappy, they go rogue, which, in the game's terms, means striking and shutting down their textile factories or meatpacking plants–I have to lull them into complacency with plenty of movie theaters, bowling allies, and pizza shops where they can “blow off steam.” These workers produce until the city's coffers are full enough for me to raze their tenements and put in expensive brownstones instead. My cities become a checkerboard of tony lofts and corporate office buildings, peppered with the occasional opera house or art gallery no working family could afford to visit. Those cities also always end up polluted: Wind energy is fine in theory, but old-fashioned petroleum and coal facilities really make them run.