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August 24, 2012, Friday

‘I take the terrorist’: Tuesday afternoon at my local Internet café

Whilst the country is trying to come to terms with whatever bizarre, criminal and heinous motives the perpetrators of this week’s Gaziantep’s bomb blast may have had, and in particular who precisely was the mastermind behind it all, a question springs to mind that initially seems unrelated, yet at closer inspection becomes part of the broader “living with terror” cycle.

The issue at stake is whether, after three decades of enduring domestic terror, Turkish civil society, and in particular its younger generation, may have become more aggressive in everyday life too. In other words, is there an ever-growing undercurrent of tolerance to violence, acceptance of it as a legitimate means to either threaten another or defend oneself?

There are various ways to test whether such a shift has in fact occurred and, if it has, whether the makers of video games, terrorist acts themselves or society in general are to blame for it. One method is to switch on the television. Chances are a number of Turkish stations at almost any given hour, excluding mornings and early afternoons, will be running programs where violence and bloodshed seem acceptable and normal, where men rule over women and where a gun has turned into an accessory of a “cool” 21st-century lifestyle.

Another chance to discover whether this assumed permissiveness towards violence and its metamorphosis into a daily phenomenon is real is to head to your nearest Internet café.

In most cases, this online world consists of guns, other weapons, villains and a few heroes thrown in for good measure. Those who play online games spend hours chasing gangsters, aliens and, increasingly, terrorists. It appears far more youngsters frequent such places than in other European countries I have been to.

Traveling extensively in Turkey, I often rely on Internet cafés, as a wireless connection may not be available everywhere or my VINN may need a top-up and a column has to be sent there and then. Often I am the only adult in an entire room filled with computers, and actually have to explain that I need a Word-enabled computer instead of one reserved for gamers. Given the noise levels, it is impossible not to listen in to what my fellow -- under-age -- visitors are up to. In many instances, one young player sits in one corner of the room and another gamer sits somewhere else and both (or even more) shout commands at each other resembling a script to the game itself. In other words, using foul language, swearwords or and other inappropriate phrases. From time to time the owner of the premises tells the teenagers to refrain from talking whilst playing, but that is nothing more than a brief interlude of peace for more work-inclined Internet café guests.

I am not against children playing online or Playstation games per se. Yet there seems to be no control whatsoever as to the high levels of violence, the shooting and killing that gamers under the age of 18 are allowed to access. And many of these “games” depict the good guys versus the bad, and the bad guys in many games are no longer bank robbers but terrorists of whatever description. A very unfortunate sign of the times, yes! But imagine: If children see on the small screen that there are terrorists, and that they are part of a game, why would they be surprised when later at home their father explains that children have been killed in a Turkish town by, yes indeed, terrorists? What they have played earlier that day has become reality; reality once more becomes a game tomorrow. As a consequence, has an individual’s level of acceptance of this cycle of violence risen too? If a supposedly fantastical game depicts men acting macho and women as nothing more than extras, how does this impact a child?

Most probably, when I am back at my local Internet café, another child will proudly exclaim, “I take the terrorist,” meaning he will play the role of the villain against his friend, who will have opted to take on the role of good guy.

To say I am deeply worried about how aggression and violence have become part and parcel of young citizens’ leisure pursuits is an understatement. Whether real-world terror or game scriptwriters or other societal developments are to blame is a matter for a future article.

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