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Capitalists Against Capitalism

We all heard how this past weekend, anti-global-capitalism partisans demonstrated, angrily but mostly peacefully, in Washington, not far from where World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings were being held.

We're still not sure why, of course. This bunch of societal misfits just...protests. They come to town, dress in trendy black, grab a placard - any placard will do - and yell. What a pathetic lot they've become.

But I bet you didn't know that this past weekend, anti-global-capitalism partisans also ran amok in the streets of...Capitol City.

Where?

Actually, the mayhem was fictional. It took place in "State of Emergency," yet another socially irresponsible video game. Here's how plenty of PlayStation 2-owning children have spent much of their time in the two months since "State" was released.

The online magazine Salon explains that the game "is set in a very near future, when...a giant multinational corporation ['the Corporation']...dominates the entire country, devastating the environment, dissolving all democratic governance, controlling all media...The only glimmer of resistance is from...an underground affiliation of young people" with an affinity for violence.

Specifically, in the Ottawa Citizen's account, those playing "State" can "burn down fast-food outlets and loot vulnerable electronic[s] stores. Advanced players can overturn vehicles [and] toss Molotov cocktails. Extra points can be earned by punching out [a Corporation security] officer in riot gear, knocking him to the ground, and jumping on him." Murder is by no means taboo; in the game's "chaos mode," players are instructed, "Kill Corporation forces for bonus points!"

Apparently the plan was for "State" to be even more explicitly political - and bloodier. (It's thought that September 11 was a factor in the modification of the game's violence.) Salon reports that among the changes, the rioters' monolithic bete noire no longer is "the American Trade Organization"; that police officers are not killed; and that "there are now significant penalties for harming civilians. (Initial descriptions of the game suggested that offing bystanders would be part of the nihilistic fun.) What has remained, however, are distinctly leftish, even radical politics." And enough gore to satisfy the average ten-year-old.

The audience for a non-violent politically themed video game would have been minimal, but throw in the gritty violence and you attract young gamers who might also absorb the ideology. Salon notes that one anti-globalist posted a hopeful web message to that effect, adding, predictably, that "pirate copies [of 'State'] should be made widely available to limit the s-thead companies [sic] profits as much as possible."

That company is Rockstar Games, which also manufactured last year's ultraviolent best-selling game, "Grand Theft Auto III." In "GTA3," bystanders, and police officers, are killed. It takes something that vile to make "State of Emergency" seem almost acceptable by comparison.

As with "GTA3," many - far too many - reviewers have applauded "State." "Mindless, guilt-free fun," declared Troy Oxford of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. "Rockstar has shown a propensity for [issuing] incredibly fun, very adult games," wrote David Canter of the San Diego Union-Tribune, and "State of Emergency" "continues this tradition."

Evaluating this game from the perspective of adults, that might be true. But these reviewers know full well that "State" will be played primarily by those who play games - children. In that light, it is anything but "mindless, guilt-free fun."

Bret Dawson of the Toronto Star was more perceptive: "This is not the kind of game you should feel good about enjoying...Maybe just once, gamers could stand to back up a little, think good and hard about just what it is they're taking pleasure in, and maybe do something else, like practice shooting aliens or crashing cars or sneaking around military installations stealing secret documents."

Get ready for "State" in another medium. According to the Glasgow newspaper the Herald, New Line Cinema, part of AOL Time Warner, has bought the film rights to the game.

It could be that in anti-globalist-propaganda terms, "State" will backfire. The more popular the game (which stands third on the latest rentals chart) and, eventually, the movie are, the more those views will be associated with anarchy. Look for someone to try that twisted logic as a defense.

Perhaps that's what New Line and Rockstar Games have in mind, though I seriously doubt it. No, it's likely that what they have in mind is money, even if they earn it from a product which more than hints that business is evil, and which further desensitizes the young to mindless violence.