Friday, February 8, 2008

An Ironic Sense of Reality

Last night was the 11th annual Interactive Achievement Awards ceremony, administered by the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences at the D.I.C.E. (Design Innovate Communicate Entertain) Summit in Las Vegas. The Associated Press headline said all that needs to be said:

1st-person shooting games win top honors

If there really is some "higher being" of there controlling the destiny of the all-too-human, then that Divine Power must have a deep seated sense of irony, since the awards were being given in the immediate wake of two major "1st-person shooting" incidents in what the media still like to call "America's heartland."

The first incident, reported by Associated Press Writer Terry Kinney, took place yesterday morning in Portsmouth, Ohio:

Christi Layne was terrified of her husband, court records and her attorney say. After she moved out, she got a restraining order against him and had an alarm system installed.

But none of that mattered Thursday morning when he marched into a Catholic school, fired a gun and then stabbed her — right in front of her class of fifth-graders.

Officers later found William Michael Layne, 56, dead in his home from an apparent self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head, authorities said.

Another woman police say Layne attacked — they're not sure why — was being treated at a Columbus hospital. Stephanie Loop, 22, was stabbed about five blocks away from the school in an alley behind her home, authorities said.

Christi Layne, 53, was taken to a hospital in Huntington, W.Va., where she underwent surgery and "should be fine," her lawyer told The Columbus Dispatch.

Associated Press Writer Christopher Leonard did not fix a time in reporting the second incident (what ever happened to 5WH?) in Kirkwood, Missouri, twenty miles southwest of downtown St. Louis (but then Kinney never bothered to write just where in Ohio Portsmouth was, so there appears to be some balance of "sins of omission" in current work practices over at the Associated Press). Given the setting, however, it is very likely that it happened after the Ohio incident, possibly even in the evening:

Ten days after losing a free-speech lawsuit against this St. Louis suburb, a gunman stormed a council meeting, yelled "Shoot the mayor!" and opened fire, critically wounding the mayor, killing two police officers and three city officials.

The gunman, identified as Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton, was fatally shot by law enforcers. He had claimed in the past city leaders stifled and harassed him.

Given the shift in time zones and the way award ceremonies tend to be scheduled, it is most likely that the "1st-person shooters" of the virtual world were receiving their awards some time after these two "1st-person shooters" of the real world had died. It would be nice to wrap up this little exercise in synchronicity with a simple "game over;" but the awards indicate that shoot-to-kill games are going to be produced and consumed with more and more technical attention to reality. Meanwhile the same "games" will persist just as steadily in the real world, except that they are no longer games in the real world.

The latest issue of The New York Review has Tony Judt's adaptation of the lecture he gave last November upon receiving the 2007 Hannah Arendt Prize. He felt it important to unpack that "banality of evil" phrase (often just about the only thing most people know about Arendt) and remind us what she was really saying:

But if we wish to grasp the true significance of evil—what Hannah Arendt intended by calling it "banal"—then we must remember that what is truly awful about the destruction of the Jews [in the Holocaust] is not that it mattered so much but that it mattered so little.

So it is with these shooting deaths in small towns that we used to associate with Father Knows Best, the Cleaver family, and Andy Griffith. They matter so little that even the very act of reporting them according to the standards of Journalism 101 has turned slovenly.

So the evil persists in its ugly banality, but every now and then some of the irony may register with one of the journalists. So it was that Leonard took the trouble to wrap up his dispatch with a bit of background on Kirkwood:

Kirkwood is about 20 miles southwest of downtown St. Louis. City Hall is in a quiet area filled with condominiums, eateries and shops, not far from a dance studio and train station. Despite its reputation locally for serenity, the city has grappled in recent years with crimes that brought it unwanted attention.

Down the street from City Hall is the Imo's pizzeria once managed by Michael Devlin, who kidnapped 11-year-old Shawn Hornbeck in 2002 and held him for four years before authorities rescued him in January 2007. Also rescued was Ben Ownby, another teenager Devlin abducted just days before Devlin's arrest.

Those crimes got Devlin life terms on state charges, as well as 170 years behind bars on federal charges that he made pornography.

I see that Leonard did not mention whether or not one of those "shops" sold any of those award-winning video games.

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