Custom Game Maps != Terrorist Threat

For those of you haven't heard, a young Chinese student was arrested the day after the Virginia Tech shootings and denied the ability to graduate with his peers. Read more about it at FortBendNow. Why was he arrested? Apperently, two parents reported to school officials that he had created a game with his school as the backdrop. That "game" was Counter-Strike - and his contribution was simply a custom map that resembled his school. He and his friends would apparently play the game together. When he was arrested, police searched his house and found a hammer - which he used to fix his broken bed - and then classified him as a terrorist threat.

If you've read thus far, you're probably thinking one of two things.
  1. This student is a terrorist threat. He created a virtual simulation of committing violent acts at his school. This kind of thing cannot be tolerated.
  2. What is the world coming to? They arrested one of our more creative young minds.
If you can't tell - I hold the latter opinion. I'll attempt to explain below.

When I was in middle school, I'd already gotten to play Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. Certain members of the media still refer to these types of games as "murder simulators" or "mind-altering virtual experiences". I'd refer to them as "pretty fun" and "completely harmless". Playing these games was fun - in the same way that Mario Brothers was fun. You traverse a level and stop/kill the bad guys. In Mario - you jumped on their heads or spit fireballs at them. With first person shooters (like Doom and the like), you shot the bad guys. Doom was certainly creepier, in the same way a horror movie is creepy, but in no way made me want to purchase a gun and shoot anything - in the same way that playing Mario didn't make me want to spit fire or jump on people.

Years later, I read a magazine ad for a 3d editor called Pie in the Sky software. This software let you make 3D maps (levels) just like your favorite first person shooters (it looked like a mix of Wolfenstein 3D and Doom really). The idea of making your own 3D world was really interesting. My imagination flowed as I'd daydream (quite often) about recreating many of the places I'd seen/been to. These places included: our dear lease (where I'd daydream for hours sitting in the deer stand with my Dad), our house, parts of my hometown, and of course - our school. Later in college, I got involved with playing Half-Life, Counterstrike, and a mod called Natural Selection. Was I seeking a way to shoot at people/aliens? No. The games were fun. Their atmosphere and level design were most interesting to me. How did these people create these detailed virtual worlds? Can I create my own? The creative mind (especially one of the engineering/architecture type) is constantly looking for inspiration to create something new. Not only do we want to create something, but we want to interact with it. If all we wanted to do was create, we'd be artists - not engineers or architects. This leads me to the creative process that all creation stems from...

I was once told that there are no new ideas. All "new ideas" are simply combinations and expansions of older ones. I haven't thought of a situation which would disprove this yet. So how does this relate to the situation described above? Simple. When a person is learning to design homes, they most often start with designing and drawing what they're most familiar with - their own home. When a person is learning to cook, they start by making what they've eaten most. When a person is learning to sing, they sing along to songs they've heard alot. So...when a person is learning how to create a virtual 3D world - they start with what they know...what they've been around the most...either their own home or the school they've spent 15 years attending. This isn't problematic until you realize that the software being used to create these virtual worlds has guns and shooting stuff in it. So why do these "creative brains" choose to put their efforts into something with lots of violence and guns?

Well - because that is the most available and easy tool to use. Most first person shooting games come with a map editor and instructions can be found online for creating a new map. Commercial software to simply create a 3D rendering is often expensive and difficult to learn. The process used to create a new FPS map takes as little time as a few minutes to construct a basic room with a hanging light bulb. To fully create a home, or gosh a school, would take weeks - maybe months. A finished product even partially resembling something in real life should be considered a work of art and something that was constructed with the utmost attention to detail. But you may be asking - if there are other tools out there, why choose one that uses guns/violence? Simply put, there are no 3D world creation software that is as free and interactive as the ones included with 3D FPS (first person shooter) games. I've tried multiple "Home Creation" software packages that all cost $69+ and none of them compare to the realism and atmosphere you can create using a built-in game editor like the Half-Life/Counterstrike editor Hammer.

I've tried my best to explain what was going through the mind of the young man who's life has been forever changed by false accusations. Some of you will still think that anyone creating a map of their own school has to be up to no good. I can't change that. I can, however, suggest a possible future for those like this young man. They go on to create: the buildings you work in, the special affects you watch at the movies, the videogames you and your kids play, the bridges you drive over, the "3D tours" of homes you're looking to buy, and will eventually build the "3D tours" of the schools you will look to place your children in. The beginnings of their talents will spring from videogames and map-making software, much like this young man's did. We should encourage and pay attention to these young minds, for their lights are the brightest ignored spots of genius in our society today.


Laura said...

You're awesome!!!