When A Real-Life Horror Story Becomes A Game
In gaming circles this week, there's been some controversy about a game being used to tell a somewhat different story. Back in October 2007, there was an incident at the Vancouver Airport in which a Polish immigrant was tazered to death by Canadian police officers after he caused a disturbance at the international arrivals gate. The man had been confined in the airport for roughly ten hours, and the police and security officers could not communicate with him, because he spoke only Polish. The entire incident was captured on video -- you can watch it here, but it's quite disturbing.
Although the incident didn't receive as much publicity as some others in the U.S., it did receive some media attention in Canada, and in response, a Vancouver resident named Mike Greenway created this video.
Predictably, there was some outrage from several different sectors. A spokeswoman for the Canadian Polish Congress said "This tragedy should not have been portrayed as a game. It is disrespectful to the victim, his family and the Polish community." A Canadian Police spokesperson said, "Any right-thinking person who would look at the video would be offended by that. A gentlemen lost his life and it is in extremely poor taste."
In his defense, Greenway himself responded: "The video was my view on the YVR tazer incident last October, and specifically the ineptness of the RCMP and airport staff's dealings with Mr. Dziekanski. My intent was to remark towards their conduct and maybe reach an audience that would not have had the opportunity otherwise."
And on that front, he was certainly successful. An incident that received relatively little press outside of Canada and Poland is now once again in the public eye. But the two critics quoted above put a lot of emphasis on the medium, not the message. They hold that portraying and satirizing events through video games is, on its face, disrespectful and unacceptable.
But that kind of thinking is increasingly outmoded. As stories told through gaming gain more and more value as cultural currency, satires like these shouldn't raise eyebrows any more than, say, a political cartoon on a newspaper editorial page. The controversy should be in the message, not the medium. The response of the Polish ambassador's office was spot-on: "The public was disturbed by the event. This is how the subculture reacted to it."