A Grand Theft Of Intelligence

May 7, 2008 at 11:15 am 10 comments


The launch of Grand Theft Auto 4 just made over $500 million is sales. So what does that mean for us as a country? It means that our youth are so wrapped up in virtual violence and non-reality, that as peak oil has begun to kick us in the teeth, millions of video game zombies are tuned out of our very real problems.

Last year, I wrote a satirical post (To All The Geeks, Gamers, and Non-Attention Payers) about kids having to get ready to eat one another as human society collapses. I’m no longer interested in using humor to break through.

What are we supposed to think when so many people are hot to press button combinations on a joystick to bitch slap hookers and shoot cops? Sure, it may all be in “Good Fun”, but the premise of such actions is much different than zapping asteroids or saving a princess.

If gamers today want to play a more “realistic game” they are getting one served up to them in the form of gas prices, food prices, layoffs, and war. And if they think they are immune to the effects, they might want to take their heads out of the X-Box for a few minutes and pay attention.

We are now in the most challenging time in our history as modern society begins to collapse. While we still have active social systems and a sense of order in America, the end of cheap oil and no fast alternatives means these video games could be training people for what is truly coming.

I hate to think that we could face such mayhem, where anyone and everyone could be a target of humans gone wild. Hell, people are already selling manhole covers for scrap metal. In times of desperation, if we do not keep our integrity and dignity as human beings, people who play these types of games might just snap and not be able to decipher between what is real and what is not.

When food and shelter become unaffordable or unavailable as they are elsewhere in the world, how will we maintain order? By telling people to stay home and play Grand Theft Auto? By locking everyone up in those minty-fresh FEMA camps?

Why not actively pursue that target market with enough time to waste on video games and recruit them to help the elderly with converting their lawns into food gardens or running errands? Or would they rather switch weapons with a quick flick of their thumb and simply shoot, beat, or flame throw them?

If the answer does not fall in the first category, we are in deep shit.


Entry filed under: Advertising, Personal Preparation, Profits, Sustainability, Technology, Trends, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , .

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10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bubbaa  |  May 7, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    I like this article alot. Your statement about being so wrapped up in ‘non-reality’ is sadly the way modern culture has headed.

    Maybe the masses can eat some virtual food in their games next decade…when the real food becomes less plentiful to many.

  • 2. virginia  |  May 8, 2008 at 5:40 am

    you are singing my song!!

  • 3. trippenbach  |  May 8, 2008 at 9:18 am

    Interesting post. You’re voicing thoughts I hear and read a lot. But I’m inclined to disagree on several points.

    our youth are so wrapped up in virtual violence and non-reality, that as peak oil has begun to kick us in the teeth, millions of video game zombies are tuned out of our very real problems.

    GTA 4 is a distraction – no doubt about it. But you’re ignoring the power of games as a medium to communicate other points. You’re falling into a common trap: you’re dismissing games as a medium, based on the assumption that all they are capable of doing is distracting us.

    In this, you are wrong.

    One example is particularly pertinent to this blog. I’ve had a look around it, but I’ve been unable to find any mention of World Without Oil, a game all about peak oil and the life we might live during and after the crisis. It went live last spring, about a year ago, and involved thousands of people in a real-time simulation of what it could be like to live without the black stuff. Pretty educational, don’t you think? And it was going on, in the US, while you wrote “To All The Geeks, Gamers, And Non-Attention Payers”.

    Thing is, that I agree with the core premise of your writing – as a civilization, I’d say we do have a problem with dependency on fossil fuels. We’re going to have to deal with that, and soon. It’s a good message you’re spreading. But in the context of this, it doesn’t make any sense for you to rant against the most successful communication medium now in existence. I’d say you should be embracing it, instead.

    As you linked, GTA 4 is the best-selling media release of any kind, in all of history to date. This is a medium with reach.

    And it’s a medium capable of transmitting points of great subtlety and complexity – of educating people in a gripping and engaging way. Take a look at Fatworld, for instance. That’s a game all about another problem the US has – obesity. You can read about it in Wired, or better yet, play it yourself. There are plenty more examples on Persuasive Games, and I blog about this all the time.

    You’ve got a blog, a TV show, a media network, a social network, and a local transport solution. Looks like you’re doing well on the message-spreading front. But if you really want to educate people, you should have a game, too.

    Finally, just as an aside, have you actually played GTA 4? Do you play video games at all? If you have, and you do, good. I’d say that qualifies you to criticize them.

    But if you haven’t – would you dis a book you hadn’t read? Or a movie you hadn’t seen? Or would you dis books as a medium, if you didn’t read them at all?

    You might, but that would be a position born of ignorance, and so of little consequence. It’s always better to criticize from a position of knowledge.

  • 4. peakoilboy  |  May 8, 2008 at 10:08 am


    Thank you for the thoughtful post. From a Messaging & Marketing perspective, I agree with you. Just last night I was speaking about this at band practice and my guitarist told me to shut it, because he had played GTA4 just that day and was raving about how great it is.

    So you are right, I haven’t played it, and people certainly have the right to spend their time doing what they choose. Who am I to judge anyone just because I choose to try and help society prepare for food and fuel shortages. Others will of course continue their lives as they see fit, which can certainly include tuning out in video game land.

    And as far as a medium, you are dead on accurate, video games are a massively powerful tool – much more powerful than wasted outreach efforts that are tuned out by a multitasking generation trained to block out what they don’t want to hear. I view Webkinz as a great way for kids to learn about food and where it comes from.

    I am aware of the game World Without Oil, and was a participant. I didn’t find it sexy or very effective, and I feel many gamers might rather virtually grenade launch citizens on the street (they left that part out of the WWO game).

    My argument is that there are so many issues to deal with as we hit the limits of population support systems and I suppose I am picking on video games because they are an easy target. But the overall message I am really trying to get to is this:

    Will we be able to change behavior to get people to take positive actions in time to stop collapse?

    If the Grand Theft Auto game as a medium were used to teach people sustainable behavior, and it proved to be a vehicle that got those gamers off the couch and spending part of their time building local food systems, I would have no problem with it.

    So as messengers reaching out to a short-attention span populace, we must ask ourselves:

    1. Can our messages easily be passed along by short communications?

    2. Can our message be heard and digested while our intended audience is multi-tasking?

    3. Are we continually trying to increase frequency and change location of messaging, but ultimately delivering the same message with the same or lesser results?

    4. What efforts are we undertaking to move our message from a push to pull communication?

    5. Are we in continual contact with our audience?

    6. Are we allowing consumers to feel ownership of the message and embrace it in their own creative way?

    7. How are we leveraging social technology to enable people to spread the word about the behavior changes needed?

    8. Are we providing people with an outlet and tools that allow them to share the message in a way that is relevant to them?

    9. Are we trying too hard to control the way consumers speak about the message?

    There are many reasons you can nitpick my argument, Trippenbach, and I hope you realize it is about much more than Grand Theft Auto 4.

  • 5. trippenbach  |  May 8, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    Well, I’m with you on World Without Oil. It wasn’t particularly effective, ’cause ultimately the gameplay wasn’t well designed. Not enough fun in there, so it didn’t get the huge audience numbers one would have hoped for. Still, that didn’t stop it from winning an award at SXSW. The principle is sound.

    Will we be able to change behavior to get people to take positive actions in time to stop collapse? Well, I guess that depends in part on how effective guys like you are at getting the word out. And I guess that means using every possible means of communication.

    Of course, it is about more than GTA 4. There’s simply an escapist culture out there. Most games are part of that culture. Much of what is on TV or the internet – or books, for that matter – is escapist, not terribly relevant to the future of society etc. But that doesn’t make any of these media poor conduits for good information.

    I couldn’t find anything in the archives about World Without Oil. Did you blog about it?

  • 6. peakoilboy  |  May 8, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    I didn’t blog about it, but I did like the fact that there were administrators communicating the progress of the game via e-mail (Gala Teah).

    It is a neat concept to have a game platform and a central admin that sends updates to people using communications methods outside the game, only to suck them back into it and keep it relevant.

  • 7. Bubbaa  |  May 10, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    Most of the kids that play games 50hrs a week become quite pathetic physically, they either are atrophied skinny kids or overly aspartamed/carbed up Fat kids…that tend to be lethargic.

    The non-reality kids just like the non-reality adults will just wait for other people, you know the super smart people who have ‘magic technology” that can fix the enviro & economy without anyone having to get off their pathetic ass. Yeah right…

    If things continue to boil slow enough, maybe the sheep will not notice how bad things are till they are too late, or perhaps finally enough disonnance will be injected that the non-reality kids and their materialistic parents will wake up a bit, but then they may be to afraid. Proactive change and self-change in general accounts for a small percentage of the folks, the rest only change if they get beat over the head (like a smoker who has a heart attack).

    I don’t think SIM’s permaculture will sell much…sad but true…but maybe if hungry enough a techno-junky might consider getting off the couch and going outside to eat a dandelion someday?

    *cough* Keep on trying, but remember personal change is the change that matters

  • 8. thedr9wningman  |  May 15, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    GTA is driving-by-proxy. It’s so you can drive like a maniac without the consequences. You can also be a thug without the consequences. I’d rather people play driving games than actually drive. I’ve played flying games, too. That doesn’t mean I’m a pilot.

  • 9. Melissa  |  May 21, 2008 at 8:54 am

    Harvest Moon is a great game and got me into farming.

  • 10. peakoilboy  |  May 21, 2008 at 9:37 am

    Thanks for the tip Melissa!


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