Have you heard about the recent video game, the one where players try to assassinate President Bush? It's called “The Night of Bush Capturing: A Virtual Jihadi” (also known as “Quest for Bush”).
Part game, part art exhibit and part political activism, “Quest for Bush” was created by Wafaa Bilal, an artist whose brother was killed in Iraq by U.S. bombs. Bilal created the game to express outrage for his brother's death and, also, as a response to the 2003 game “Quest for Saddam,” where the object is to kill the former Iraqi president. Bilal believed “Quest for Saddam” stereotyped Arabs negatively, so he created “Quest for Bush” to “expose racist generalizations,” according to his website.
In “Quest for Bush,” the protagonist player-character is an Iraqi immigrant who is recruited by Al Qaeda to become a suicide bomber targeting the American president.
Naturally, there was a torrent of controversy. When Bilal was invited to exhibit the game at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., in February, RPI President Shirley Ann Jackson reportedly shut down the exhibit after a student group's blog called RPI's Arts Department “a safe haven for terrorists.”
After being ousted from RPI, Bilal moved his exhibit to the “Sanctuary for Independent Media” performance space (also in Troy), where Robert Mirch, the city's public works commissioner—who was outraged by the game's content—used his authority to condemn the building, thereby, once again, shutting the exhibit down.
When I heard about all this, I was aghast. Fu-uh-uck that! I thought. Video games should never be used as vehicles for artistic expression or political commentary?
Video games are for people to virtually shoot other people in the face with shotguns, and, as far as I'm concerned, inserting art or politics into them is like inserting vegetables into the middle of a Twinkie. However, while I certainly will not be playing “Quest for Bush” anytime soon, I am vehemently opposed to banning it. This is a First Amendment issue, and it should be permissible for Bilal's message to be conveyed without threat of government officials abusing their authority to quiet him.
That said, I do understand why Mirch, Jackson and the rest are so offended by “The Night of Bush Capturing: A Virtual Jihadi.” But I can't help but wonder: Didn't they feel at least a little uncomfortable stomping on artistic expression like that? Not to mention free speech, freedom to petition the government and the freedom to virtually blast people in the face with a shotgun—all of which are pillars of our Constitution.
I have to believe that Mirch, Jackson and all those who supported the censoring of “Quest for Bush” must feel at least a smidgeon of guilt for having smacked down both the exhibit and the First Amendment—because you can't kill one without damaging the other. That's just a cold fact of life. It's like insecticide. Sure, it kills the locusts, but it kills the ladybugs, too, and it degrades the quality of the soil, the water and the air. I just have to believe in my heart-of-hearts that even reactionary dimwits like Jackson and Mirch understand the damage their actions have done to the complex ecosystem that is the First Amendment, no matter how deeply they despise the game.
Well, I just wanted Mr. Mirch and Ms. Jackson and all their supporters to know that there's a better way to respond to art that offends you. Just retaliate virtually, like Bilal did.
For example, instead of degrading the Constitution by banning “Quest for Bush,” why not invent a game of your own to express outrage? Just gather some of your tech-savvy friends and develop a game in which you can hunt, capture, torture and kill the artist who created it.
You can call it, “Night of Bilal Capturing: A Virtual Waterboarding,” during which you play a secret agent commando-type named Biff Blastem, who marches around the city breaking down doors and shooting up living rooms to find the evil terrorist-artist sympathizer. Then, after Bilal is captured, drag him down to the dungeons of Abu Ghraib and virtually torture the snot out of him. (Players can score extra “Humiliation” points for putting women's underwear on Bilal's head and making him climb atop a naked human pyramid.)
It's virtual retaliation, man; all the kids are doing it.
I mean, that's what “Quest for Bush” is about, right? It was a virtual retribution against the person Bilal felt was responsible for the death of his brother. Same thing with “Grand Theft Auto”—wasn't that a reaction to the unethical violence perpetrated against people of color by certain corrupt police departments? However, since the object of the game is to commit crimes and kill cops, I fully understand why the police, and others, want to ban it. But to the policemen of America—defenders of the Constitution, protectors of life, liberty and the pursuit of virtual face-shooting—I ask you: Instead of going all Rodney King on the First Amendment, wouldn't it be better to get revenge by developing a game of your own?
Call it “Rogue Cop” or something, and in it, your player character, Sgt. Rampage, can burst into homes without warrants and go Mortal Kombat on the asses of anyone he catches playing Grand Theft Auto.” Then direct Sgt. Rampage to storm the offices of Rockstar Games and shoot everyone in the face with a rocket launcher.
There's really no end to the applications: People who are offended by flag desecration can virtually destroy a mob of pinko, hippie, flag-burning undead creatures who have taken over a mall in a new Xbox game called “Night of the Pinko Hippie Flag-Burning Zombies Who Have Taken Over the Mall”; and people who don't want to live in a society that permits gays to marry can create their own civilization in “SimCity: Bigot Planet”; and pro-life extremists can virtually blow up abortion clinics in “Divine Intervention 4: Jesus' Dynamite”; and those who want to permanently ban drinking on the beach can play “Operation Kegger Assault,” during which a player character named Dirk Snooty can snipe beach parties from the roof of his multimillion-dollar oceanfront home.
It's virtual retaliation, man. Nobody gets hurt, least of all the Constitution.