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Seen through the night vision goggles, the laser directed by a sniper on the rooftop is sweeping the ground, uncomfortably close. A bullet fizzes overhead and whumps into the grass behind me. I'm pinned down, heart racing, hands sweating, as I crawl to cover behind a low stone wall. The air support sent to take out the Al Qaeda stronghold takes an eternity to arrive. A bullet strikes home. Everything fades to red.
None of this is real, of course. It's a computer game, a recent but not the latest edition of the Call of Duty series, the franchise now 20 years old and worth an estimated $47 billion. Overall, the computer gaming industry is expected to be worth a staggering $294 billion by next year. It's bigger than Hollywood and often the source of inspiration for movies.
You need look no further than the hype surrounding the leak of a trailer for the sixth edition of Grand Theft Auto, which won't be released until 2025, to get a sense of the global hunger for this time-sapping form of entertainment. It's been 10 years since the last instalment and the trailer's lush graphics and introduction of the first female lead character has the gaming world abuzz but not everyone is a fan.
Self-confessed gaming addict Elon Musk posted on his Twitter/X platform that he didn't approve of the last iteration of the game. "Tried, but didn't like doing crime. GTA5 required shooting police officers in the opening scene. Just couldn't do it," he wrote. For years, the release of violent computer games has worried parents, who fear kids will mimic what they do on the screen in real life.
But a couple of studies have found that the release of games like GTA actually coincides with a decrease in the crime rate. Researchers in the Netherlands noticed that crime rates dropped with the release of violent computer games because, they theorised, potential offenders spent more time at home glued to their screens.
Playing the first edition of Call of Duty 20 years ago, I was captivated by its depiction of history. Being herded into a boat by Russian commissars to cross the Volga at Stalingrad, parachuting into Normandy ahead of D-day or advancing on a German position in North Africa dropped me into the story as an active participant rather than a spectator. The experience was far more immersive than watching a movie. And I could hit pause at any time. Not once did I yearn to visit a real battlefield or shoot a real gun. And I learned to ration the time spent on the screen so the story lasted longer.
My tastes in gaming have evolved over time. There's less shooting now and much more exploring. Open world games like Red Dead Redemption II, in which you can choose not to shoot things - a moral choice that will have consequences - and be content just riding your horse over the beautiful landscapes of virtual America, I find much more absorbing. There's art in them thar hills.
When I was a kid, parents feared the release of violent movies. When the first Dirty Harry movie came out in 1971, it was met with howls of protest. Feminists decried Clint Eastwood's rule-breaking, utterly macho and morally questionable cop character Harry Callahan. Others hated its violence. Director-producer Ron Siegel revelled in the fuss it caused. "I enjoy the controversy, because if you make a film that's safe, you're in trouble," he said at the time.
Compared to what has splattered blood and gore over movie screens since - and on TV screens during the nightly news bulletins - Dirty Harry now looks dated and somewhat tame.
No doubt Rockstar Games is thrilled that the trailer for its upcoming GTA blockbuster is out and is attracting record views on YouTube and other platforms. And it will bank the inevitable hand wringing and moral panic on its release.
Far more worrying than the big game franchises are the amateur ones that make it onto platforms like Roblox. The Australian Federal Police this week issued a warning to parents this week that younger kids were potentially being exposed to anti-Semitism and other extremist ideologies via user-generated games posted on the site. It adds another layer of complexity to the already difficult task of navigating children's immersion in the digital world.
As for my own immersion, it will be a few weeks before I have the time to get back to that Al Qaeda stronghold but when I do, I'll know it's only make-believe. And it will only be for an hour.
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
- More than $40,000 in cash has been found scattered along a major road in Perth's northern suburbs in an alleged botched drug deal. Joondalup detectives were called to the Mitchell Freeway around 9.30pm on December 4 amid reports large sums of money was scattered along the roadside.
- Australia's economy hit a wall in the September quarter, recording weaker-than-expected quarterly growth and sinking deeper into a per capita recession. The 0.2 per cent lift in economic output in the three months to September marked a slowdown from the 0.4 per cent in the three months to June.
- A man has been arrested by the FBI over a domestic terrorist attack that led to the shooting deaths of two Queensland police officers. Constables Matthew Arnold and Rachel McCrow were gunned down in cold blood by Nathaniel, Gareth and Stacey Train after the officers arrived at their Wieambilla property, west of Brisbane, in December 2022.
THEY SAID IT: "To make an embarrassing admission, I like video games. That's what got me into software engineering when I was a kid. I wanted to make money so I could buy a better computer to play better video games - nothing like saving the world." - Elon Musk
YOU SAID IT: More scandals in the Royal family soap opera surely mean it's time to cut our ties with this dysfunctional British institution.
"Could not agree more, John," writes David. "The whole institution is an anachronism, firstly, and the fact that a supposedly independent state such as ours still sees fit to tug the forelock is just embarrassing. In addition to which both King Chuck and his Mummy stuck their royal noses into our constitutional fuss back in '75, something I'll never forgive. The cost of flying their royal eminences out here to the colonies is just lemon juice in the paper cut."
Paul writes: "Born in the UK but having lived in Oz for most of my life, I've been pretty neutral on the subject of the monarchy but now changing my mind. The system has worked well for us despite the ridiculous uproar over the dismissal of the Whitlam government. That aside, I would support a change to a republic, but I fear that constructing and maintaining a workable non-political head of state would be a severe challenge for a society going woke."
"Unhappy for them to be visiting," writes Leone. "All the associated expenses could be put to much better use. Can only hope if they have to come they are given a special performance by the wife of the Australian Governor-General."
John writes: "Surely the issue is the lack of political will to grasp the republican nettle."
Gwen doubts we'll cut ties: "That cunning fox John Howard managed to split the Republican 'Yes' vote in that referendum. The majority of Australians don't care about the monarchy. What they may be afraid of, though, since the Trump debacle and the raiding of the Capitol, is how to protect our democracy. If it were to go to a referendum again, the government would have to make sure they did a better job of informing the public than they did at our recent referendum (and the 'No' campaign in the Voice used the same tactics as the 'No' republican campaign, even to the point of 'elites' etc. It obviously works)."
Dallas writes: "You do realise that the Duchy of Lancaster is held by the Crown as monarch of the UK, and not of Australia? Remember how upset we get if the UK citizenry tries to tell us what to do? I'm quite comfortable with Australia retaining the monarchy. And if you care to open the Pandora's Box of fair play in Australia, why don't you start with Gina Rhinehart, Harvey Norman, etc and progress through to private school funding (asking questions like why the Smith Family has TV ads asking for people to sponsor kids at school while the government funds swimming pools at private schools)."
"I actually feel sorry for the Royal family when their private conversations are not kept private," writes Deb. "The alleged comment by members of the family about the skin colour of Harry's unborn child has been used by Meghan to draw (more) attention to herself. I would be surprised if nobody in the Royal family wondered aloud whether the child would inherit Harry's hair colour. But this would have been seen as normal and natural curiosity about the potential appearance of the child. Providing this detail to the media would not have attracted the same attention as an allegation of racism, would it?"
Old Donald writes: "King Chuck is surely mere laughing stock, John, but the alternatives might be fearsome: imagine a Trump or a Palmer (who would doubtless throw his hat in). I lost much of my deeply ingrained childhood then sometime-resident feeling for a treasured Empire when we were pushed rudely into the 'other races' queue at Heathrow some 30 years back, and forced to stand with tired kids for two or more hours, just for some very rude gentleman, with the power to do it, to thrust our passports into my crowded hands and wave us through without even a 'Welcome to Britain'. In my old age I don't know what we need leader-wise, if anything, but it sure is not what Bill Bryson might have called a pretentious, class-conscious and sustained comedy from a (very) small island."
"I am old, never was right wing," writes Karis. "Loathe the entitled, preposterous Brit Royals. They even own Channel Islands! The runaway gingerhead still wants police protection. Many women all over the world could do with that. Do away with the GG too: thinking of Mad Morrison's multiple portfolios."
Susan writes: "I like the King and the family. I am not keen on the media's criticism. I dislike the way the family has become the point of envy and frustration. People who have unhappiness of whatever type love to criticise others who have a position in society! Lay off personal nastiness!"
"King Charles might be dreary, but do you seriously believe anything that comes out of Harry and Meghan's mouths?" writes Mark. "Who would you suggest should be our leader or head of state if it is not the King or Queen? I know, ScoMo - he has appointed himself to anything that mattered. Or maybe we should resurrect Joh, or Bob Hawke - or would that be a bit smelly?"
Bob writes: "I recently read Jenny Hocking's excellent book The Palace Letters. It lays bare the plot to remove a twice-elected government with robust checks and balances in the system. The plotter-in-chief was clearly Her late Majesty, with her son and heir dancing at the success of Gough's removal. His 'crime' was to think of Australia as an independent nation. And to think we had suspected the CIA. To top it off, His Majesty's first act was to go to church to pray for his mum, while his staff at Clarence House were getting pink slips. Not only a grubby plotter, but a nasty employer as well."
"To me, the whole shebang is a form of social drama with no other purpose than attracting attention," writes Sue. "It is out there with the Kardashians, social media influencers and quite a few politicians: a whole pile of meaningless noise, not worth the effort of listening to. The sooner Australia cuts the ties the better off we will be. Would love to see a bit more of that Aussie sense of fair play in action though!"