The gaming world is not one where you find many dissenting viewpoints, at least on matters of morailty. Sure, you’ll get the usual “GEARS OF WAR UZ THE BEST FL**CKING GAMEZORRS EVAR” versus “STFU N00B GRAND THEFT AUTO ROOLZ111!!1!1!!”. But when it comes to matters of morally compromising game content – particularly violent content – the game community presents a united front.
Every so often, there is a violent incident and “they” attempt to blame it on video games. “They” are never gamers themselves – “they” are always mothers, teachers, advocates, priests, newspaper reporters, or crazy-go-nuts Florida lawyers. “They” are rarely ever gaming insiders, so it’s very easy for the gaming community to band together and dismiss these claims as coming from out-of-touch outsiders with no business commenting on gaming.
Only recently did a respected insider speak out against game violence. Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, Pikmin, Nintendogs – as “inside” the game industry as it gets – spoke out against video game violence in a teevee interview. In a message forum that i frequent, even Shiggy, one of the most respected creators in the industry, was dumped on by the violence-worshipping hive mind.
World’s Tinist Violin
The game community lacks a moral conscience, and that unnerves me. i live in Canada, a country where the goverment is structured such that an opposition party monitors the majority party’s every move. The game community needs its own Jiminy Cricket, because it’s getting a little out of control. i’m offering myself up as that cricket.
i’m a professional game developer of over eight years, and a lifelong gamer. i have written and published many video game reviews for national publications, and have written and appeared in lots of game commericals for Nintendo and Microsoft. i have been playing games since the early 80’s, back in the stand-up arcade days. i am as much a game community insider as you’ll ever meet. And, as an insider and this industry’s self-professed Jiminy Cricket, i have to get something off my chest:
With Bethesda’s upcoming megahit Fallout 3, the video game industry has gone too far.
You think that might be a little over the top, fellas?
Fallout 3 is the sequel to a highly regarded video game franchise set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia. In the first two games, you must survive and scavenge from a barren wasteland scarred by a nuclear catastrophe. The world is bleak, grim, and violent – and a whole lot of fun, thanks largely to the surreal and somewhat saracstic 1950’s motifs peppering the game. Most notable of these is Vault Boy, the games’ cheerily-drawn mascot, who depitcs various Perks in the game. Perks are special abilities that range from night vision to sharp-shooting to reduced drug addiction. (Yeah, really.)
Vault Boy gives Fallout its quirky retro flair
Flash forward to now, as Bethesda Softworks has released its first-person update of the franchise with Fallout 3. i was excited when i heard the sequel would be built on the Oblivion engine, so i snapped up whatever bits of news about the game i could find.
Then the video previews started rolling in. i was dismayed – sickened, in fact – to find that the new game is unreasonably violent and gory. In every video i watched, the player character was shooting enemies and the camera was zooming in for a slow-motion close-up of bloody geysers spurting from dismembered leg stumps and arm-less shoulders. In one particularly unsavoury clip, the player punches an enemy so hard that his fist goes straight through the enemy’s head and knocks it off his shoulders – all in a glorious fountain of blue-black blood. All in borderline pornographic slow motion with extreme close-ups.
i’m not a big fan of gore, but i did still want to play the game, so i rationalized this. i figured the designers must be demo’ing the game with the famed “Bloody Mess” Perk turned on – that’s the one where people die as violently as possible. But the more i watched the videos, the more it seemed that gross, spurty violence was the norm for the game. Fallout 3 was summarily crossed off my Christmas wish list.
Fallout 3 makes Santa angry
When i was cruising IGN, an online video game magazine, i came across a video where the Fallout 3 designers were discussing the morality in the game. “This oughta be good,” i thought, and i clicked “play”.
What follows is an abbreviated transcript from the video. These are the actual words of a few of the actual Fallout 3 production team members, as they speak over the afore-mentioned shots of exploding heads and fountains of blood:
I often try to start playing as a good character, but there’s so many tempations in the game. There are just so many instances where it’s like, you know you’re talking to someone, and – i dunno – your gun goes off by accident, and you blow their whole head off and you’re like “Whoops! That was … fun. Let’s do that again!” Once you start going down the path of evil, it’s a lot of fun.
Istvan Pely – Lead Artist
It’s a real joy buzzer to be evil. It’s something we wanted. There’s some evil Perks that are almost too engaging not to pick.
– Todd Howard, Game Director
But i think for a lot of players, there’s this inherent, sort of, you know, it’s the i-get-to-do-something-that-i-could-never-do-in-real-life. I’m living out my darkest fantasies, you know what I mean? I can talk to an old lady or an old guy and have him be a character, and then I can KILL him, and – you know – really FEEL like i KILLED a person. And then i can, like, you know, pick up his head and put it on a shelf. And i look at it, and it’s like “i was talking to that person five minutes ago, and now i’m not.” You know? So it’s THAT type of thing. It’s – we’ve really crossed that line between the – you know – between reality and fantasy there.
Emil Pagliarulo – Lead Designer, Writer
Gaming industry, let me be your mom for a minute. Let me be your Jiminy Cricket and say this to you: this game is not good. This is not a good way for you to spend your time, either as content creators or content consumers.
Is Fallout 3 going to drive some people crazy in the brainpan and cause them to run out into the streets killing people? i don’t know. That’s the claim many of the video game outsiders make, so i’ll leave them to it. That’s where the argument has been for many years, and there’s no sign of movement from the entrenched insider attitude that games don’t cause you to flip out and kill people.
Lighten Up, Mom
The counter-arguments have always been “it’s just a game!” and “It’s fantasy, not reality!” But listen closely: here are some game deisgners working on a title, bragging about the fact that they’ve “crossed the line between fantasy and reality”. They’re delighted that you can decapitate someone and keep the head as a trophy on a shelf. They talk about all these details gleefully. They are delighted with themselves.
This all has the ring of pre-schoolers saying dirty words to each other. When i was in day care, there were these two little boys my mom told me not to hang out with at the playground. i didn’t know why. Every day, they would mysteriously disappear into this orange play tube. i was always curious about what they were doing in there, so one day i joined them.
There, in the orange tube, far from the meddling reach of their moral watchdogs, the grown-ups, the boys would say words like “fart” and “wee” and “bum-bum” to each other and giggle maniacally until the recess bell rang.
Watching this Fallout 3 video, i am reminded of those boys – so pleased with themselves for wallowing in territory they were always cautioned to stay away from.
Think of the Children!!!
Another defense the insiders always troll out is where they say “It’s rated M! For MATURE! It’s alright as long as kids don’t play it.” Of course, kids do play it. They always get their hands on it. And thanks to the blind-spot adults seem to have towards video games, it’s far easier for a kid to get ahold of an M-rated video game than it ever was for me to find a mouldy old 70’s skin mag in an abandoned tree fort in the forest when i was that age.
But let’s leave kids out of this. i’m talking to you, Joe Gamer and Joe Game Developer. The reason why we put content warnings on things is not to protect the children. We’re not saying that such content is okay, as long as you’re an adult. The things we put warning labels on are not alright, even if you ARE an adult. The things we try to keep away from kids – cigarettes, pornography, excessively violent imagery, profanity, gambling – are things that are bad for people. These things are bad for people of any age. They’re bad for you. They’re not healthy for you to consume, and they’re not healthy for you to create.
The danger is not that we will create or play a game about killing people, and then go out and kill people. It’s much more subtle than that. As any musician can tell you, you become proficient at what you practice. The more you do evil, the more you want to do evil, and evil comes to you more easily. And by its creators’ own admission, yes, Fallout 3 does enable you to practice evil. By the giddy enthusiasm demonstrated by the creators, i’d say the game probably encourages you to practice evil.
Jack Thompson would probably call Fallout 3 a murder simulator. Whether you like him or not, it’s tough to disagree at this point.
Garbage In, Garbage Out
It may be a much more difficult thing to prove in a lab, but i will make the claim, without benefit of scientific research, that a gamer who spends hours upon hours playing a game in which he aggresively and graphically murders hundreds or thousands of game characters, shooting their limbs off and shattering their skulls into tiny fragments – i’ll wager, with assured accuracy, that that person will exhibit more aggressive, downright dickish behaviour to his fellow man than the guy up the street playing Rock Band.
So as your Jiminy Cricket, gamer, let me assure you: it’s okay for you to take a pass on Fallout 3. There’s no reason anyone should think less of you. You’re making a moral choice not to fill your head with unpleasantness, with nasty things. You’re choosing to not practice evil. You are meditating on the true joys of your human existence – patience, kindness, humility, gentleness, and love.
Forget the chart-breaking sales. Forget the hype. Don’t feel pressured by a single-minded and amoral mob to “live out your darkest fantasies” in a video game.