CONTENT WARNING: HERE BE TITTIES
The State of California wants to ban violent video games. That’s the take-away many gamers are carrying around with them after entirely misunderstanding and misinterpreting the latest news about violence in gaming.
There’s an incredibly ugly and empty-headed collective knee-jerk reaction among gamers that you can provoke by stringing the words “violent” and “video games” together in a sentence. The moment you do that, comment threads and boards fill up with angry, reactive comments from gamers shouting down the argument, denying up and down that real-life anything is connected to the video game world … unless of course video games are shown to produce positive benefits like improved hand-eye co-ordination and visual-spatial skills.
Video games are fine as long as they turn us all into Wizards.
Relax, gamers: no one’s trying to take your video games away. California does not want to ban violent video games. If you’re the age of majority, you can purchase and play all the violent video games you like. You can smoke, drink, lease a house, rent a car, and crank your joystick to an alarming array of pornography until you pump yourself into a pulp on your rec room floor. If that’s how you want to live your life, go nuts. The world is your sleazy oyster.
[watch local news outfit CityTV interview me on a segment about aggression and gaming]
Wait Until You’re Older to Destroy Your Brain
California figures that perhaps allowing minors to purchase products that essentially have them chainsaw-murdering innocent bystanders and hookers for forty hours straight may not be such a hot idea. They’re looking to prohibit the sale of violent video games to minors. Prohibiting the sale of harmful materials to minors and outright banning it for all citizens are two very different things.
Are Violent Video Games Really Harmful?
But wait – are video games that have the player ripping characters’ heads off with their spinal columns still attached, setting other characters on fire and urinating on them, and dry-humping the corpses of their amputated enemies really harmful to impressionable minors whose brains are still forming?
Yes. Yes they are. Now let’s move on.
i think what’s really interesting about what California’s trying to do is that for seemingly the first time in their blood-soaked history, Americans are waking up to the idea that maybe violence should be treated like sex? They prohibit the sale of Nasty Cumsluts 4: The Sluttening to little kids, because it’s harmful to minors. Maybe a game where you kill a guy bare-handed with a plastic bag, or one where you punch someone in the face so hard his head explodes, is similarly detrimental to our youngfolk?
In Canada, we have a history of restricting violent material more vigorously than sexual content. Growing up, any movie that had as much as a single boob in it would get an R rating in the USA. In Canada, a movie like Road Trip, where Amy Smart flashes her funbags for a solid five minutes, gets a 14A rating. (That means if you’re 14, and your name begins with the letter “A”, you’re good to go.) In the USA, Road Trip was rated Restricted. i think it’s because Canadians recognize that handguns and chainsaws are far more dangerous than a cute 20-year-old’s tits.
Put it away! We’ll all be killed!!
The Yanks haven’t quite reached that conclusion yet. In a country where a teenager was shot to death for egging a guy’s Mercedes on Hallowe’en, they’re still puzzling over the concept that racking up a high score by murdering pedestrians with your car may not be such a hot way for an 8-year-old to spend an afternoon.
There are no bewbz in gaming. Game developers don’t draw nipples on their character models, because breasts are deadly weapons, and guns are sexy objects of adoration. Seems a bit backwards to me … in real life, breasts are life-giving, and guns are life-removing. Game developers are clearly terrified of landing an ESRB Adults Only rating for their title, which means that 8-year-olds can’t buy their game in Wal Mart or other major retailers, and their games won’t be made available on major consoles. They’re so afraid of that punitive rating that nipples are furtively doled out like notes being passed around in class. God of War has nipples, but the sex is off-screen. No on-screen simulated Skinemax-style gyrating for poor old Kratos. There are a few other exceedingly rare examples of nudity in other titles. i don’t know if i’ve ever heard of a dude’s wang on parade in a mainstream video game title. Anyone have an example? (Oh, wait – i just came up with one. And surprise – it’s in a Grand Theft Auto sequel.)
Stop – please. These skin-free polygonal puppets with bad motion capture are getting me all hot and bothered.
You also rarely hear a video game developer say “we really had to tone down the violence, because we were worried about getting an AO rating.” It’s never the violence – always the boobs. Manhunt 2 is the only example i can really bring to mind where the team received an AO rating due to violent content. There was also a big stink over Bully. For the most part, it’s business as usual with swords and guns and dismemberment, but heaven help us if Lara Croft lets slip some sweater meat. And vagina? Vagina is right out. Don’t even ASK me about vagina.
(Note that both Bully and Manhunt 2 were by developer R*, creators of Grand Theft Auto. The Manhunt 2 AO debacle was likely due to the company’s Hot Coffee scandal in GTA: San Andreas which shook confidence in the industry’s ESRB self-rating system. What happened with Manhunt 2 was political – a response engineered specifically to restore confidence in the ESRB system, and to keep the ratings power within the industry. The industry doesn’t want the government involved in legislating content, because they will not be able to peddle as many copies if fewer people are able to buy games. It’s also worth noting that the Hot Coffee mini-game contained absolutely zero nudity – just low-poly character models grinding against each other like those puppets in Team America: World Police. More on the South Park guys later.)
Here’s the Part You Scrolled Down to Look At
Just to compare the film and video game industries with respect to their content ratings, here’s a screengrab from a movie that was released twenty six years ago that was rated PG in America:
Spoiler alert: vagina.
i would have liked to have embedded a YouTube version of that scene from Sheena: Queen of the Jungle, but you won’t find any nudity on the American-owned YouTube. That shit gets banned. What you WILL find on YouTube, and in abundant supply, is stuff like this montage of gore from Fallout 3:
Show this video to almost any teenaged boy, and what reaction will you get? Smiles.
[read my condemnation of Fallout 3]
Currently, any kid in the second grade can walk into a video game store, plop down sixty bucks’ worth of birthday money and, if the store so chooses, that kid can walk out with a copy of Fallout 3. He can’t do the same with the Blu-Ray re-release of Ass-Eaters in the Sexth Dimension. He’s too young. The State of California wants to make it illegal for stores to sell this kid harmful content like Fallout 3. Any store that breaks the proposed law can be fined up to $1000. An ill-informed parent could still buy the game and give it to his child. That would still be legal.
I Reject Your Parental Responsibility Argument
Please, folks: before you pipe up and troll out the ancient argument that parents should be responsible for monitoring the content that their children blah blah blah, please look around you. i grew up in numerous poor neighbourhoods, and spent some time as a child in a women’s shelter. i am the son of a father who abandoned his family, the child of a physically abusive stepfather, and the product of single parent mom who worked for 25 years with the Children’s Aid Society (child social services), the clients of which saw far worse things than i ever did. It doesn’t take a rational thinking person very long to recall that there’s no such thing as a parents’ license, and that not all parents can be relied upon to raise their children responsibly. It takes a village. Often, in matters of public protection and the protection of minors, the government acts as our village.
[read about how kids wished their parents would play video games with them]
Excessive Violence is Beneficial for Teenaged Boys Only
The gamers who argue the most vehemently against perceived attacks like California’s proposed law, i suspect, are teenaged boys who really want to be able to play these games without restriction. They don’t want adults to know what really goes on in these games, because they won’t be allowed to play them any more, and instead they’ll be forced to play horrible bargain-basement titles like Super Mario Galaxy 2, Braid, Rock Band, Geometry Wars, Puzzle Quest, Portal, and any number of garbage games that aren’t worth their time or money. Their minds are fully formed, they argue! They’re not impressionable! They won’t be psychologically screwed up in any way, shape, or form if they play an overtly violent video game.
[read about a study that found gore does not make a game more enjoyable]
There was an episode of South Park called Ginger Kids in which Cartman decided he was prejudiced against “gingers” (red-headed kids), and spent the episode tormenting them. It was satire. It was funny. The aim of the episode was to lampoon racism and bigotry.
Hot tip, children: don’t aim the needle of your moral compass towards South Park.
After the episode aired, numerous schools across the country reported that red-headed kids had been physically assaulted on “Kick a Ginger Day”. The movement was led by a 14-year-old with a Facebook page, and it had 20 000 followers. Kick a Ginger Day was an idea that minors, their brains not yet fully-formed, cooked up after watching South Park. They didn’t get it. They couldn’t piece together that the show was satirical, and that the creators were hoping to effect the opposite behaviour.
No adults were reported to have participated in Kick a Ginger Day.
What Have We Learned?
- Certain gratuitous depictions of violence are as age-inappropriate for minors as certain gratuitous depictions of sex.
- Love triggers AO ratings, not war.
- According to vocal gamers on the Internet, video games are only allowed to affect people in positive ways. Spatial reasoning yes, murderous rage no.
- Teenagers apparently can’t be trusted to understand satire, or to grasp the difference between a content ban and a prohibition to protect children like themselves.
- It’s better to have a loaded penis aimed at your face than a loaded gun.