Maybe you’ve got a point.
I refer to your outrage over a new video game, the object of which is to assassinate Fidel Castro. In Call of Duty: Black Ops, the latest in the popular series from Activision Blizzard, Inc., the player is transported to Havana during the Cold War with a mission to kill the young Communist revolutionary.
As an article on your state-run news website put it, “What the United States couldn’t accomplish in more than 50 years, they are now trying to do virtually.” It says the game will turn American kids into sociopaths. That’s a dubious claim, at least according to Christopher J. Ferguson, a psychology professor at Texas A&M International University and expert in video-game violence, who was quoted in an Associated Press account. “At this point,” he said, “there is no evidence that video games, violent or otherwise, cause harm to minors.”
Youth violence in this country, said Ferguson, is at its lowest ebb in 40 years, even though research indicates that virtually all young men — up to 95 percent — have at some point in their lives played violent video games. So, Cuba, your suggestion that Call of Duty will produce kill-crazy psychos seems naïve, at best. Hysterical at worst.
All that said, it’s not hard to empathize with your feeling of pique. How would we like it if you produced a game where players had to shoot their way through Washington with a goal of killing President Obama? The U.S. government would likely have a thing or two to say about that.
Not to equate our duly elected president with your former dictator for life, but only to say, I understand where you’re coming from. Castro is a murderous thug, but he’s your murderous thug and it really knots your knickers when people try to video-game assassinate him. Message received.
But the question is, what do you think we can do about it?
We have this thing in this country, maybe you’ve heard about it, called the First Amendment. Among the things it guarantees is freedom of expression. That’s a right enjoyed by everybody — even video-game makers. Every American is free to say pretty much anything she or he pleases, and the government is legally proscribed from stopping them.
That sounds crazy to you, right? How can the government be proscribed from doing anything it wants?
In your country it’s different. Say something the government doesn’t like and they whisk you off to the ol’ gulag. You throw journalists in jail. You throw dissidents in jail. You throw poets in jail. Don’t do the rhyme if you can’t do the time, right?
And we’re not talking some country club jail with conjugal visits and a TV room, are we? No, we’re talking jails with moldy, maggoty food, roaches, rats, reek, rampant physical, mental and sexual abuse, and cells so narrow you barely have room to sit. Nor is it just those dangerous poets who get sent to such places. I hear you even lock up private restaurateurs who sell the lobsters that are reserved for tourist hotels and government-owned eateries.
Wow. Sell a lobster, go to jail. Now that’s tough.
Yes, we have some pretty draconian policies in this country, but I’m afraid ours pale next to yours. Heck, we haven’t a gulag to our name. And no law to send video-game makers there if we did. But don’t despair. Maybe your statement will get people talking about the propriety of assassinating other nation’s leaders in video games. Maybe they’ll debate whether that’s in the best of taste. Of course, maybe Activision Blizzard will tell them to take a flying leap.
That’s kind of how freedom of speech works, y’ know? Everybody gets their say. It’s messy and unpredictable. But we like it. We think it works.
Anyway, thanks for listening. And tell Elián we said hi.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. He chats with readers every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT at Ask Leonard.