The panel was assembled to discuss youth violence. By the time the discussion ended, the artist, police chief, counselor, and professors had fired a few rhetorical shots of their own.
The panel discussion titled “Virtual Violence: Does our Recreation Recreate Us?” was held Thursday in Luther Bonney Auditorium. The discussion followed close on the heels of a school shooting in Santee, Calif. in which two students were killed and was prompted by an art exhibit by New York artist Kathleen Ruiz.
The exhibit, “Bang Bang, You’re Not Dead,” is a send-up of popular computer games. In Ruiz’s version of the “first-person shooter,” game players use a virtual gun to reanimate characters. Ruiz said she is unsure about whether computer games contribute to violence. She said she created the exhibit to start a dialogue about the issue.
The panel, which included Portland Police Chief Mike Chitwood, spent some time questioning the role of computer games in real world violence. However, much of the discussion was dominated by broader questions concerning the effects of computermediated experience in the lives of children.
Ruiz spoke of potential benefits of virtual technology. She advocated the use of computer imagery by “artists and poets.”
“Let’s give the technology to the creators instead of the destroyers and then see what happens,” said Ruiz.
Ruiz urged the audience of about 80 people, many of them parents and their children, to take an active role in computer entertainment.
“Why should you be a passive receptor? You can make your own games,” said Ruiz.
Dusan Bjelic, associate professor of criminology, disagreed and an exchange with the artist ensued.
“That’s going to cost you some money,” began Bjelic.
“Not that much,” interrupted Ruiz.
“You just end up spending money to get rid of the first problem,” Bjelic continued. “Nobody is proposing the solution that maybe we can live without these things.”
Bjelic explained that his objection to the use of computer games by children is not a reaction to their so-called violence. He condemned them as a poor substitute for the process of fantasy and imagination in children, which he claimed had been treated as “sacred” in the past.
“Who gave a right to these corporations to manufacture fantasies for our kids?” said Bjelic. “In the past fairy tales were not something you found on the Internet. They were told by specific people to children at certain times for specific reasons.”
Bjelic claimed that violent themes in childhood fantasies are not always harmful. He explained by way of a childhood anecdote involving an imaginary witch and a play sword his uncle had given him.
“One night when I was in the basement the witch started bothering me. The sword came into my hands, and I killed the witch, and she never came into my dreams again,” said Bjelic.
Violence and violent fantasies are problems created by the adult world according to Bjelic.
“Our policies towards Iraq have created thousands of dead children,” said Bjelic. “This is more violent than anything on our school yards.”
Those who seek to sanction the violent fantasies of children are often those who fantasize about violence themselves, according to Bjelic.
“How do you become a police officer if you are not fantasizing about killing?” said Bjelic.
The question prompted a response from Chief Chitwood.
“I never fantasized about getting a gun and blowing people away,” said Chitwood. “I don’t even carry a gun.”
The panel’s other professor, Woong Park, of the communication and media studies departments, defended the games.
“I’ve been a video game player all my life, Space Invaders, you name it, and look where I am today,” said Park, “I’m a professor, not a lunatic killer or anything.”
Park took issue with the games’ critics.
“I don’t think there is substantial support for their claim that violent video games cause violent behavior,” said Park.
Rich Lewis, family counselor, also took part in the discussion. He had few answers.
“I wish I could say I had answers. I don’t. I have hunches. I wish we had more answers,” said Lewis.
Junior Jo Martyn brought her 12-year-old son Logan to the discussion.
“I thought it would be interesting to see different sides. I thought it might help [my son] to make more informed decisions,” said Martyn.
Logan Martyn had made a decision before the discussion began.
“I’m going to buy Resident Evil,” said Martyn.
There was a reception for Ruiz’s exhibit in Gorham on Friday. Ruiz is a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.
Staff Writer John McCarthy can be contacted at: [email protected]