Ideology Revisited: Metal Gear Solid 3

Dear Mr. Moses:

In your article “Every Hero a Killer?…Not”, you use certain video games as an example to make your point about “heroism” and violence. I don’t disagree with the article, and videogames are certainly open to criticism in this respect. However, you call Metal Gear Solid 3 an example of Pro American ideology. You cite an Amazon reviewer who described how the game shows America’s greatness. First of all, Amazon reviewers are hardly an authority on anything, including the storylines of videogames. If this reviewer had paid attention to the story, he or she would learn that it does anything but show “America’s greatness.”

The story does involve the player controlling an American agent, but by the end of the game you see that the plot is much more than simply Good Americans vs Evil Russians. In fact, you realize that your character is being used, for somewhat nefarious purposes. The game also portrays Kruschev in a good light, and the main villain, while Russian, is a rogue who is trying to overthrow the Soviet government, and ends up killing many Russian soldiers. Another major character in the game, who is supposedly an American defector to the Soviets, turns out to be acting as a triple-agent, and when certain events occur, the US government abandons her, and orders her killed. You, as the main character, end up carrying this out and killing her. It is a very bittersweet ending, and when this soldier returns to a hero’s welcome in Washington, he at first refuses to shake President Johnson’s hand, in front of the cameras. Afterwords, he goes to visit this female soldier’s nameless grave, and salutes the tombstone.

As this game is actually a prequel to the other games in the series, fans know that this character ends up disillusioned by the government he serves, and ends up becoming a mercenary. Whether this changes your opinion of the game or not, I hope that I have at least showed that the game is not as ideological as you may have thought, at least not in the pro-American, neo-conservative kind of way. The game was also made by Japanese designers, as well as written and directed by a Japanese producer. Other games in the series have dealt with Gulf War syndrome, the American hypocrisy with nuclear non-proliferation, and corrupt US Defense Secretaries. There is even a question raised about “videogame soldiers,” and whether they are being desensitized to the horrors of war. These games are certainly not full of right-wing ideology, and while they are violent, they are rated Mature, and the violence is not thrust upon you. There is always a non lethal option to take.

So, like I said, I don’t disagree with your article, but as a big fan of the game, I don’t agree with your using Metal Gear as an example. Hopefully I’ve made my case. Thanks for reading.

Desmond Dapena


The Prophet "Rabbi Al" Speaks his Nightmare

Originally Titled: The Most Rev. Dr. Al’s “I’ve Had a Nightmare” speech excerpts

“I’ve had a nightmare that the only place where the sons of sharecroppers and the sons of slave-owners may sit down at the table of brotherhood is in the racially-integrated mess tents constructed on the depleted-uranium tainted soil and sand of oil-rich and militarily stategic nations subjugated by the Amurrakin Empahr all over this God-forsaken planet. I’ve had a nightmare this night!

“I’ve had a nightmare that these sons will unite in a strange and terrible botherhood, not to share the wealth of freedom and peace for all, but to create a plantation spanning the four corners of the globe wherein are imprisoned the new slaves of all nations under the watch and lash of an amoral and malevolent oligarchy. I’ve had a nightmare this night!

“I’ve had a nightmare that scholars, intellectuals, and fence-sitters all across the socio-economic strata of our society will wait until we are past the detour sign on the road to ruin and there is no sustenance left, save serving the war machine involuntarily for one’s daily bread and shelter and uniform; and a flag-draped coffin becomes fair currency for a young life and a family’s tears. I’ve had a nightmare this night!

“I’ve had a nightmare that we may, indeed, have to let our heretofore peaceful and creative protests degenerate into physical force against the unresponsive Leviathan that is beholden, on paper, to follow the lead of the consenting governed; though it may be too late to defuse the whirlwind we may reap as the fruit of our inaction, based on fears, based on lies. I’ve had a nightmare this night!

“I’ve had a nightmare that I may someday soon thank God Almighty that I am dead, dead; dead already…”

Peace, Rev. Al (Alright, so I’m Jewish–so sue me!!)

Remember, we stole it first at Peacefile

CounterPunch Readers on Christian Left

My Dear Mr Moses:

I read your article in Counterpunch (Jan 17) with with bemusement and frustration. Rev King was a rare abberation in the history of Christianity. In the main, Christians love peace like wolves love vegetarianism. I don’t have the answers — I barely have the questions. But I do know that the humans as an organism and an organisation will change and embrace peace only after they reject organised superstitious tyranny. Christianty is based on the notion that someone must lose for me to win, a value system that can never bring peace. Thanks, Jack

Aloha Mr Moses,

You are absolutely correct when you state that “a leftist rejection of the Christian left in America is a certified guarantee of defeat.” Far too much time is spent deriding Christians, as if we were all of the Robertson/Falwell “Christianist” ilk. We’re not.

While I agree that Christian Zionists and other Fascists for Jesus deserve a real thumping, there are groups, like CMEP, and pastors like Jim Wallis of Sojourners, who are making (at least) a dent in the insanity, and doing so in a manner that jives with what they believe. Our support of these people could counter the nasty, hateful neocon version of Christianity spewed by the likes of Coulter, Delay, Dobson and of course Robertson and Blow Them All Away in the Name of the Lord Falwell.

Thanks for reminding the readers of CounterPunch that King was a Christian — and a radical. Reminds me of someone else.

K Lowell

Subject: Virgin Birth

Dear Greg: Maybe it’s because of the tendency to believe in, rather than to know, “truths,” that people are so easily misled. A guy heard a burning bush talking? And took its words to heart? And then people took the man seriously? Come now… And there are definitely WMD; and the “turris” hate our freedoms. And the moon is green cheese and that irresistable tingle in your naughty bits is bad bad bad–let’s have a “two minutes’ hate” (“1984”) instead of a real release. We are definitely doomed if people keep waiting for the Big Parent in the sky to protect them. Any real faith in one’s ability to handle life must, and does, come from within anyway: “God” helps those who help themselves; or as Islam says: tie the camel to the hitchin’ post (don’t just “trust” it to Allah) AND pray to Allah that all we be well. The great Christian believer (and questioner), Hermann Hesse, said in his book, “Demian”, that “…we create gods, and they bless us.” We make up friends to hold our hand in the terrifying icy impersonal universe of “black velvet futility” as Kurt Vonnegut put it in “Sirens of Titan”. You cannot count on people who believe in magic. They have no backbones–or else they keep marching off the cliff (or pushing others off) with religious fury. They are so easy to manipulate when so deluded. Peace, Al

Thanks Greg for that article. I’m a menno in NYC and passed this around to some of my friends here. I hate to see the religious right lay claim to the moral high ground, and it’s good you remind us of history. I see both sides, being from the conservative evangelical camp before I evolved into this very left wing stuff. The polarization of this political thought lately is just obscene. We have no dialogue. It will have to swing back and it’s good to remind the left to look for support within the ranks of the “enemy.” Anyway, just thanks for writing and thinking. Susan in NYC.

There are occasionally religious leftists who have both courage and intellectual integrity like MLK. However they do not believe in power to the people, they believe in power and glory to Almighty God, the same god that has oppressed people all over the world throughout history. The religous have deluded and cretinized the population to accept their power systems and their positions in it. Religion has traditionally been an anti-people ideology which conceives people as sinful, willful and above all disobedient to the Devine and earthly authority people are supposed to obey.

That 80% of the US people give lipservice to the delusions of religion is simply part of the overall political and ideological false consciousness of the population, since a non-corporate political party is not permitted in the political arena in the US power system.

Morley, L.A.

One of the above writers in reply to my asking permission to post comments says: “Sure, use it anyway you want. I’m surprised you want to. I tend to comment on CounterPunch and Z- net articles to clarify my thinking. I don’t know what I think unless I read what I write. You are only the second person out of many who is actually interested in the topic s/he is writing about. I don’t think Americans are interested in ideas. Certainly academics aren’t, they’re too busy doing research.”

So I’ll reply with an idea. In evaluating widespread belief in the virgin birth of Jesus, do we allow for a religious mode of belief? On this question, I think fundamentalists (of the right) and atheists (of the left) speak with a solid front: no such thing as a religious mode of belief. But I think King, following Alain Locke (whether explicitly or not I don’t know) certainly worked with a religious mode of belief that neither atheists nor fundamentalists would be able to share. In this way, either one can speak of faith as a mode of experience or most likely one is not a religious leftist of any sort, whether Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist. There is an art to this mode of belief, but again, you’d have to have a certain view of art to grasp its essential nature. We’re not talking home deco here, although William James does allow the home deco religionists their place as the “happy minded” sort in his Varieties.

King and the Christian Left:

No Lip Service to Nonviolence Here

By Greg Moses

ILCA Online / CounterPunch / Dissident Voice

All religions, said Simone de Beauvoir, have “embarrassing flexibility on a basis of rigid concepts.” Practitioners and believers who swear to core principles find themselves fighting each other from opposite extremes of the political spectrum.

At the time she said it, in the second chapter of The Second Sex, Beauvoir had three great religions in mind: Christianity, Marxism, and Psychoanalysis. In each case there were right wingers and left wingers then, and in each case there are right and left wingers still.

Today, as we blow out 76 candles to celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., I am thinking that in a nation where 79 percent of the people believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, there is no good reason not to imagine the possibility of a revived and renewed Christian left.

My thoughts today are drawn to fresh reflections on the New Year’s day activism of Chicago trainees for Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), who challenged a toy store on the question of marketing violent video games. The activists are training to go to places like Hebron, Colombia, Iraq, and Grassy Narrows, Ontario, where epidemics of violence rip through bodies and forests alike.

But the CPT action is less than half of what’s on my mind this morning. I’m more concerned about what happens in a country that is 80 percent Christian when left activists refuse to pay attention to the Christian left, simply because it is Christian. In terms of hardball shrewdness, if nothing else, a leftist rejection of the Christian left in America is a certified guarantee of defeat.

As King once warned bourgeois America that we must not be afraid to say that Du Bois was a Communist, so we might warn the American left: we must not be afraid to remember that King was a Christian.

Paco Michelson, a CPT trainee from Huntington, Indiana, tells me by telephone that he has played “all the games” that he was protesting against on New Year’s Day. He was the one who pretended to play video games upon a coffin, as activists read the names of Americans and Iraqis killed in war.

“I still think the games are fun,” says Michelson. But as a matter of social conscience, he also thinks it would be better if these killing games, rated M for Mature and singled out for violent content, were not sold as toys.

Michelson understands how the image of Christian inspectors is bound to make folks wary. What CPT did in Chicago, taking things off shelves, looks a lot like censorship. But on this birthday of King, our great national icon of nonviolence, we have to demand an answer to the question: so what are we doing about our cultural addictions to violence? especially as the consequences of that sickness are so clearly played out in the body counts of Iraq?

“It’s a conflicting issue for Americans, our addiction to violence,” says Michelson. “I don’t think it’s a very popular thing to think about.” He wrote the CPT press release that claimed a “direct connection between ongoing violence in the Middle East and the impact of violent toys on children.”

Amy Knickrehm served as emcee for the street theater, orchestrating readers who called off the names of people killed: three Iraqis for every American. Knickrehm explains that the ratio of Iraqi to American casualties of war is actually closer to a hundred to one, but the group wanted to cover the names of Illinois natives killed, and if they had read 100 Iraqi names each time, it would have been a very long day.

Although Knickrehm has many friends who play the video games, and although she sees no effects that the games have on her friends, she thinks that keeping the more violent games away from kids is something that her friends would support.

Seven years ago, Knickrehm joined one of the peace churches, the Church of the Brethren, partly because she kept seeing the red baseball caps on the heads of Brethren activists at Chicago street actions. For peace churches such as The Brethren, Anabaptists, Mennonites, or Quakers, a commitment to pacifism goes back to the time of Menno Simons (1536-1561) for whom the Mennonites are named. But that is another story.

What’s crucial for today, King’s birthday, is a reminder to the American left that there are some Christians who have been persistently organized against war for more than 400 years, and they have often been as isolated as they were two weeks ago when they asked a toy store to stop selling war games to children.

When the living King talks about nonviolence, he has a radical and comprehensive vision about a global way of life. For King, the education of our children is seamlessly connected to the violence of our war zones. Toy stores are socially and morally intertwined with Falluja and Hebron. And King often expresses that vision in the language of his Christian faith.

Today, on his birthday, as we survey the eighty percent of Americans who subscribe to Christian concepts, the left cannot afford to ignore those who have never just paid lip service to King.

CounterPuncher Responds to Vid Games 4 Kids

Dear Greg,
Great piece. I’m amazed more and more how militaristic we are as a culture. About 15 years ago, I remember scoffing at the whole “say no to war toys” movement. In the past few years, I’ve come to scoff at my former scoffing …. Toys ‘R Us … How sad.
Brian J Foley

Another CounterPunch reader writes:

If the christian group is striking the “roots of America’s violence”, maybe games aren’t the place to start.

As a Christian, i learned our heritage from Adam and Eve is evil, corruption and pain. That’s part of all humans, no matter the place, games they play, etc. As they told me, the only way to not share Adam’s gift is to be cleansed by Jesus. I belive it to be true. But even then temptation to sin(in effect, all that is evil) is an uphill battle.

People were thiefs and murderers before games settled in. And games create more obese, spoiled geeks than soldiers. We’re not in this stupid war because Bush played Fable. We’re in it because of the monetary and political interests that placed him at the top. Converting more people to Christianism is a more usefull than playing censor.

And you know the worst part? What is today’s “bad influence” will be tomorrow’s “that was better than now’s” And to the record: wich ones a worst infuence, Elvis or Marylin Manson? You answer the later and i’m right.

Gabriel Jacinto Ramirez Cruz

Reply: Ah, human nature. What do we have the right to expect from ourselves? King argued that Liberals systematically underestimate the problem of evil in human affairs. The fall from the Garden of Eden is therefore a classic reminder that something stirs in the shadow side. The email argues that Christians should be busy with the missionary life, not “censorship,” if salvation is to be achieved. On the other hand, I think about King’s Christian activism, and maybe my problem is that I think about it too much (see story above). He was not so much involved in the missionary solution.

For the record, I respect both Elvis and Marilyn Manson, which I hope doesn’t prevent me from respecting Christian activists, too. Where to start is a question with many answers. Certainly, a clear focus on monetary and political interests is crucial. A focus on video games should not obscure anything else of importance, including the broader interests of the culture industry. To mass produce obese, spoiled geeks? Why should the culture industry worry about that?

And this reminds me also of Gandhi who said the important thing always is to exercise your courage. A passive life is not worth living. Therefore, a soldier’s life may indeed be morally preferable to many. That’s why William James suggested a moral equivalent of war. My goodness, what an email! –gm

Christian Activism Challenges Gory Games for Kids

Every Hero a Killer? Not:
A Spring Syllabus for America 2005

By Greg Moses

Indymedia Chicago / Counterpunch / ILCA Online / Global Resistance Network / Dissident Voice

“Every hero must learn to kill,” says the online invitation for Fable, the Xbox video game by Microsoft. “You can save those in peril and aid those in need. But you are also free to be as wicked, violent and dark as you wish.”

For me, this promo also describes the reality game being played across the globe by the USA. Send the tsunami relief supplies if you want, but you are free to drop bombs on Falluja. Like the game Fable, we are invited to choose the kind of hero we want to be. And we are buying an ideology that says in order to be heroes we must be ready to kill.

So I am pleased to get word via email that a group of activists in Chicago, while training to join Christian Peacemaker Teams, kicked off their new year by inspecting the video-game shelves at a local toy store.

According to the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), Fable earns a rating of ‘M’ for Mature, which means the game is not recommended for children under the age of 17. In addition, ESRB tags the game with descriptors for “Blood, Strong Language, Violence, and Sexual Themes.”

On a recent visit to the online video-game page at Toys “R” Us hosted by Amazon.Com, Fable was one of three headline games featured in a limited-time offer, along with Metal Gear Solid 3 and Ace Combat 5.

Like Fable, Metal Gear bears a Mature rating. The Playstation game by Konami Digital is described by ESRB as having “Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language, and Sexual Themes.” One review by an Amazon.Com user from South Carolina (does AFB mean the writer is also from an Air Force Base?) gushes that, “Awesome movies and great story that highlights America’s greatness make this mind-challenging game the ultimate must-have for serious Metal Gear fans.” More ideology in a box; along with the game you get a double shot of America’s greatness. Another reviewer recommends the game to “spy theorists” who will thrill to the intrigue between Cold War agents and double agents who vie for an enormous sum of covert money and control of a Soviet weapons genius who must be stopped from putting his “nightmarish weapon” into the wrong hands.

Although the ideologies are heavy handed, there is something eerily compelling to these games as you click your way into richly visualized landscapes of peril. You drive the story with your hand clinched, eyes locked, and floodgates of adrenaline at full rush. Open the leather-and-gold binding to the virtual book of Fables online, and a magic pen in blood-red ink warns you, “this is no fairy tale.”

“There once was a boy with a mind of his own. Alone in a dangerous world, his destiny, the paths of good and evil were his to follow.” The letters appear like invisible ink swabbed by an invisible hand. Tubular bells and violas invite you to turn the page. And there stands an old hag on a rickety ladder, raising her crook to an apple tree. With one tab you can fill her basket with apples and bake her a pie. With the other tab you can rock the old hag’s ladder until, yes, she falls to the ground dead, her blood draining into the page.

Delicious wickedness presents itself. Why sit still for a horror show directed by Hitchcock, when you can make it all happen yourself. You can shoot an arrow into a poet’s mouth, get a girl drunk until she pukes, and stab Tinkerbell to death, until there is no more room for war between good and evil. Finally, it’s just you and the dark side. And if this is the tease you get from the online promo, imagine what you could do with the real game at home.

“Toys ‘R’ Us is in the joy business,” says President John Barbour in an October press release posted at the website of the U.S. Marine Corps. One million dollars will be given to a charity, and the company will collect more donations to help get toys to children for Christmas. In September the company announces that it will assist adoption agencies in “helping children achieve the dream of finding forever families.”

On or about 11 a.m. on New Year’s Day, three pacifists in training for Christian Peacemaker Teams in Chicago walk into a Toys ‘R’ Us store and began removing the Mature games from the shelves.

“I was horrified to find so many ‘M’-rated video games for sale in a children’s toy store,” said Kimberly Prince in a press release posted at the CPT website. “Our inspection revealed that there is no system in the store to sort and display video games according to their classification. Adult-rated, violent video games, meant for those ages 17 years and over, are displayed on the same shelves as games for young children.”

Along with fellow peacemakers-in-training Noah Dillard and Jan Benvie, Prince then approached the store manager with the video games and a letter explaining why the CPT group had concerns. The manager “listened respectfully to the inspectors’ requests and accepted the letter, but explained that he did not have the authority to remove the games from the shelves,” says the press release. “However, he agreed to alert his supervisors to CPT’s concerns.”

“It seems like managers from local stores take orders from higher up,” explains Claire Evans, speaking by telephone from the CPT office in Chicago where she has worked for about six years. She helps to coordinate CPT delegations to trouble spots around the world; places like Iraq, Colombia, Hebron, and Grassy Narrows, Ontario. She attended the New Year witness, but did not go into the store.

“Store managers,” says Evans, “have limited decision-making capabilities.” She has just said a mouthful about free enterprise as we know it, with its top-down command and control structures. Recall if you will the final episode of the latest Apprentice, where the ex military guy gets hired by Donald Trump, partly because one of The Donald’s friends felt strongly that military service was a most excellent training ground for corporate culture.

Evans is a Lutheran, and she explains that folks who work with CPT come from many different denominations other than the Mennonite or Quaker peace churches which founded the organization in 1988. When I ask her if any atheists help out, she says that CPT asks participants to identify themselves as Christians.

“Toys ‘R’ Us was the first chain to stop carrying look-alike weapons,” says Evans, noting that the retailer has been responsive to some issues in the past. (I called the media relations department and left a message to see how this latest campaign might be going at corporate offices, but I have not yet received a reply. I also left contact info with CPT in case the actual participants might be available for comment, but no reply there yet, either. Stay tuned.)

The New Year’s Day activity appealed to me, because like millions of folks across the country this week, I am gearing up for the Spring semester. So I had syllabus on the brain when Simon Harak from the War Resisters League circulated the Jan. 8 CPT press release via email. As if in reply to Stan Goff’s recent call to begin a massive public education campaign, the CPT trainees had written the first lesson of the syllabus in the street, kicking off a Spring semester course about some fundamental issues in violence, mass media, and education.

The group that approached Toys ‘R’ Us was a temporary affiliation of folks brought together for training, so it is not clear that a follow-up campaign is planned. But there are millions of us looking for some alternative path to cut through the thicket of our day, and we could pick up the lesson where CPT leaves off.

I have from time to time indulged in these video games, so I don’t want to come off as holier than thou. War Craft has been my favorite weakness, sometimes for weeks in a row. I lost interest as soon I tried playing the game online, because it takes a 14-year-old kid about five minutes to exterminate my forces completely from the cyber field (yes, genocide), all the while sending me these little messages about how foolish I am to be challenging the master of the universe. Recently, I started playing America’s Army, but that’s going to go a little slower, because the Army is very particular about its training, and I have not yet qualified on the rifle range at virtual Ft. Benning, although I have tried a couple of times.

If we find genius in Poe, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Stephen King, Anne Rice, or Ridley Scott, then we know there is something sublime that stirs with images of the shadow side. But we also know from scholars such as Col. Dan Grossman of Killology.Com that these video games mimic precise techniques developed by expert military trainers who want to make effective killers out of High School recruits.

For the time being I want to set aside the meaning of these games for adult audiences, who may even belong to military occupations (an interesting pun that I’ll leave in place), and who certainly are able to make judgments about differences between combat, games, and other forms of life. I was a kid once at Ft. Benning. I know these soldiers when they come home at night as daddies, so I don’t want to say anything quick about these games under adult circumstances. Let’s deal with that issue another week.

But it does seem to me that the Christian Peacemakers have clear logic on their side when they express concern about these games, rated for blood and violence, promoted and displayed behind a logo that represents “toy joy” for children.

“Participants outside the store drew public attention to the direct connection between ongoing violence in the Middle East and the impact of violent toys on children,” says the CPT press release from Chicago. “The witness included a prayerful vigil in which CPTers read the names of U.S. soldiers from Illinois together with names of some of the thousands of Iraqi civilians who have died over the last two years in Iraq. As the names were called out, one participant pantomimed a child playing a violent video game, symbolically represented as a coffin.”

Last night I watched Citizen King on my local PBS affiliate and I can assure you that it is flatly untrue to claim, as Fable claims in its copy, and as the video industry echoes in chorus, that every hero must learn to kill. Every hero must certainly stake his or her life, which means that Christian Peacemakers and Martin Kings are heroes as big as they come. James Forman died this week. Dramatize the challenges that such heroes face, and there will be enough reason to grip your game controller as you dodge the Klan, the FBI, and who knows what else, as you do whatever is necessary to save the soul of America from demons that never really die.

With the sad and wasted 2004 fully buried in the past, a Spring syllabus is just the thing I’m looking for. And thanks to the Christian Peacemakers, a profound national syllabus is lifted up from the streets. It is a syllabus about the roots of violence that we nurture in our American life. Every hero must learn something. Learning about the roots of our own violence can help to make heroes of us all.

Philosophical Question on Draft (lifted from reply to Van Haitsma)

Philosophical questions: does an all-volunteer military under structural conditions in the USA today lend itself to becoming what Reserve Commander Helmly says it is on the verge of becoming? The moral equivalent of a mercenary force? Has the USA military in other words become most simply a corporation in which those who make war for money hire soldiers who make money for war? As the people look down from coliseum seats waiting for their master of ceremonies Ann Coulter to plunge both thumbs down, we ask: Is the socialization of military service under these conditions a method for restoring to the spectacle some moral vocabulary that cannot be uttered by pure Fox News bloodlust, greed, and ignorance? Or will the draft simply enable more death with even less purpose?