Tag Archives: Violence in Gaming

Visiting Video Game Exhibit Smells Like Victory. And Rec Rooms.

It was my great pleasure to speak on a panel last night to kick off the Ontario Science Centre’s new GAME ON 2.0 exhibit. Here’s me, next to Assistant Professor Sara Grimes from the University of Toronto, and James Everett, a designer at Ubi Soft Toronto:

Photo by Douglas Gregory

Marc Saltzman, who is essentially our evangelist to the unwashed mainstream masses, moderated. We spoke briefly about a number of heavy topics, including violence in games, women in games, and whether consoles were doomed. (No, yes, and yes in my opinion). As usual, i played the contrarian; as an audience member, i can’t bear panels where everyone is polite and agrees on every topic. We’re competing with reality teevee here, folks … some idiot has to take his top off and gyrate while standing on a chair. And it might as well be me.

And Speaking of Exhibition…

The exhibit itself is fifty flavours of cool. Clearly curated by someone who know what he’s doing, the gallery (on loan from London) features most of the game you’d expect to be in there, coming off as a living, breathing “50 best” list from any reputable games magazine. This is very much an exhibit for the masses, so you won’t see any fruity indie games (but who really cares about those, anyway?) The one notable exception was Ian Bogost’s A Slow Year, which looked downright important encased under glass.

A Slow Year is the token black guy in an overwhelmingly blonde-haired, blue eyed collection of games.

No – this is triple-A in all its rapidly fading glory. You’ve got Halo, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Rock Band (or was it Guitar Hero?), Dance Dance Revolution, Tomb Raider, /New/ [Super] (Mario) World/Bros/64 – most of what you’d expect to be there is there, and the bonus is that it’s almost all playable. But as i waxed nostalgic, i was delighted to turn corners and see some delightful surprises, a few of which i’ll ruin for you here:

The exhibit kicks off with playable, original versions of Pong and SpaceWar. SO awesome. On one wall were mounted original animation cells from Don Bluth’s laserdisc hit Dragon’s Lair, right across from some original character napkin character design sketches of Mario from Donkey Kong (although these looked like they may have been prints?) There’s a nice (if slight) nod to educational gaming with the NES Sesame Street carts, a big collection of units from the ever-evolving GameBoy line, and one very early pinball machine with an analogue score counter!

The value of this exhibit to me is that i can take my daughters there and tell them tales of WHEN I WAS A BOY like a crotchety old coot, and enthusiastically take them through the history of this craft to which i’ve devoted my life (and to which i’ve committed their well-being). One hot tip, though, is to avoid March Break like the plague – that’s when the Science Centre becomes a zoo, and the Toronto Zoo becomes … well, just take my word for it.

Study: Video Games Can Make You Less of a Cock

i write a lot about violence in video games, and i’ve spoken to the press a few times about it. People who are anti-game-violence are always looking for that smoking gun – the kid who shoots up his school, and leaves a note at home that says “Halo made me do it.”

i’ve never claimed the effects of murdering hookers for 40 hours straight in Grand Theft Auto are 1:1. i don’t think that murdering video game hookers means you’re going to go out and murder a real hooker. i do however believe very strongly in the garbage in/garbage out concept: playing violent games may not turn you into a rampaging murderous psycho, but it’s not very far-fetched to believe they may turn you into a bit of a dick. Cutting people off on the highway, treating wait staff poorly, raising your voice more often … i think these are the results of practicing aggression and putting your brain on constant offense.

Chet from Weird Science

True story: i keep pictures of Chet from Weird Science on my desktop for whenever i write blog posts about a-holes.

Four Dead in O-Hi-O

It looks like i may have my smoking gun to back up my wild claims. A study out of Ohio State shows that playing calming games may make you a better contributor to your society, while playing aggressive or violent games may make you more of an asswipe.

During the first experiment, participants were asked to compete against another player — who did not actually exist — in pushing a button as quickly as possible. The winner would be awarded a small financial sum; the loser would be punished with a brief noise blast. Before each trial, participants could determine how much their competitors would receive if they won, and how strong a noise blast they would receive if they lost.

“Those people who had played violent games punished their partners the most and rewarded them the least,” Bushman said. “Those who had played relaxing games gave the lowest levels of noise and most amount of money.”

Before you go all knee-jerk on this (as gamers are wont to do), chill out: no one’s going to take your crappy violent games away. You may still freely choose the way in which you feed your brain. It’s very satisfying to me, though, to have a study that not only extols the virtues of gentle fare, but also demonstrates the real risks involved in meditating on aggression.

Zynga Rich, You Jelly

i feel like i’m on an endless rant over this Zynga thing. It’s like a Grateful Dead tour … i just keep following the issue around in my VW minivan, and when i finally catch up with it, i dance around naked and bask in its glory. And then they name an ice cream flavour after it. Or … wait. What’s happening?

hippie

Haighters gonna Haight.

A few people took exception to my saying that the stink over Zynga and the horrible scads of filthy cash they’re earning, perhaps at the expense of crazy people, was due to jealousy. “No!” cried The People. “It’s not because i’m jealous that they have more money than the Federal Reserve fresh off a print run. It’s that Zynga (Playdom, Playfish) develop games that are shallow.”

Shallow Is as Shallow Does

Oho! i see. The problem is not that social game developers have enough cash to make papier mache pinatas for their kids’ birthday parties out of fifty dollar bills. It’s that their games don’t deliver a satisfying experience. It’s that they’re shallow.

Let me tell you about some shallow games, because i’ve spent my life playing them. And it’s been most of them.

i’ve played a game called Blue Dragon, a Japanese RPG where you keep pressing the “A” button for about 40 hours until you win. (Blue Dragon is also known under its import titles “Final Fantasy”, “Dragon Quest”, “Phantasy Star”, “The Secret of Evermore”, “Earthbound”, “Pokemon”, “Star Ocean”, and a few hundred other names which escape me.)

Blue Dragon

The game manual is one page, with a 72 pt font that says “PRESS A”.

I’ve played a game called Double Dragon, where you press the joystick button for about 2 hours until you win. (You may also know this game as “Final Fight”, “River City Ransom”, “BattleToads”, “The Simpsons Arcade”, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV”, “Bad Dudes vs. Dragon Ninja”, and many more.)

Double Dragon

Double Dragon has kicking AND punching. Are we deep yet?

I’ve even played a game where you continually pressed a button to win, which i think was called Zaxxon / Xevious / Centipede / Bangai-O / Silpheed / Commando / Rambo: First Blood Part II / Contra.

Zaxxon

Does the isometric illusion of depth translate to gameplay depth?

And all in the name of playing a game with a little more depth, i even tried a game where you’re a guy, and you have to punch another guy using a combination of buttons until the other guy falls down (or you murder him). That one was called Mortal Kombat / Marvel vs. Capcom / Street Fighter / Killer Instinct / Clay Fighter / Virtua Fighter / Tekken / Pit-Fighter / Bloodstorm / Time Killers.

Mortal Kombat 2

Technically, i did have to reach pretty deep into that guy’s body to pull out his spine.

And if i ever really wanted to blow the barn doors off, i’d play this game where you walk around a 3D maze with a gun, and you SHOOT enemies with it, until all the enemies are gone. Sometimes, i’d play that game with other people in a “death match”. That’s a game mode where sometimes i would kill the other players, and sometimes the other players would kill me. Then we’d get a score sheet of who killed who. Then we’d play again. The next time, i would kill the other players a number of times, and they would kill me a number of times. The numbers sometimes changed, you see? That one was great. It was called Wolfenstein 3D / DOOM / QUAKE / Serious Sam / Duke Nukem / Call of Duty / Halo / Shooty McBang-Shoot.

Wolfenstein Hitler

Hitler in a mech suit. Here, we’ve attained THEMATIC depth, because Jews.

For 25 Points, Define “Shallow”

What’s shallow gameplay? Is it gameplay where you strategically place assets and efficiently use time and resources to maximize profits and dominate the game board, as you do in Farmville / Restaurant City / Cityville (or Dune II / Starcraft / Act Raiser / Populous / Age of Empires / Sim City)? Or is a “shallow” game one that you don’t enjoy?

Harvest Moon vs. Farmville

Warning: ONE of these games has shallow gameplay. But just one.

When we think “film”, we think of the best-in-class examples, like Citizen Kane, The Shawshank Redemption, Taxi Driver, and Lawrence of Arabia. We don’t necessarily call to mind Dude Where’s My Car, The Hottie and the Nottie, and Good Burger (although i’d really like to put in a good word for Good Burger, because it’s awesome. Check your Netflix listings.)

Good Burger

Well, he’s no Sidney Poitier, but … aw, who am i kidding? He IS Sidney Poitier.

Similarly, when we think of “games”, we think of Shadow of the Colossus, Braid, Super Mario Bros, Pac-Man, Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, and Tetris. We don’t necessarily call to mind Superman 64, Night Trap, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, or the writing in Braid.

Braid Bad Writing

So … the girlfriend is a bomb? … i got nothing.

Starting with the Man in the Mirror

Can we be honest? Just as we’ve seen a lot of crappy movies over the years that weren’t really worth our time, we’ve played a LOT of horrendous games that we really should have passed on (except that we needed to beat the high score/get the last achievement/collect all the things). Sometimes, movies we dismiss as derivative or shallow get all kinds of money and attention (Steel Magnolias please?) Other times, we approve (Academy Award Winner Heath Ledger).

Mr. Freeze

Never go full supervillain.

So you don’t approve of Farmville? Why troll out your film critic’s turtleneck and goatee and try to pontificate over the lackluster aesthetics or shallow gameplay? Why isn’t it just good enough to say you don’t like it? “It’s not for me, but it’s okay for them to make money from it because other people seem to enjoy it.” There. Try saying that. It’s therapeutic.

Cozy Up with Grandpa Ryan

Look, i went through this. i’ve been in your shoes. Back in the mid-90′s, i lived and breathed graphic adventure games. They were witty, they were story-based, and they had GREAT characters and beautiful graphics. Then somewhere along the way, we went from LOOM to DOOM – from Zak McKracken to crackin’ skulls. Suddenly, the kinds of games i enjoyed stopped being made, because everyone was into running around and shooting things and not having to think. This brought an influx of the wrong kind of people into games: jocks. The very people who tormented me in elementary school for liking video games were now the industry’s target demographic, and would be for decades.

Biff Tannen

Know what? i f*ckin’ LOVE Turok.

Sure, i could rail against those games – talk about how they’re vapid and shallow and uninteresting. i could smoke my unfiltered cigarette through one of those long holders and sip red wine from a high-heeled shoe, and then splash it on some fashion model i keep around my studio apartment to brighten up that corner near the Bauhaus-designed furniture set. And i did, actually. i did just that.

Critic

Fable? More like FEEBLE. Muh-huh. Mmmyes.

But eventually, you just gotta say “that game is just not what i’m into.” Stop feeling threatened. Game genres fall in and out of favour. Are you worried that casual games become so popular that no one will make your empty-headed idiot shooters any more? It could happen. Then you’d become a niche player, like those of us who scour the bargain bins at Wal Mart looking for games that scored above a C- on JustAdventure.com. LOOK UPON ME: THIS IS YOUR FATE!

Bargain bin

Hmm … Scarlet Pimpernel: The Graphic Adventure Game. This looks promising.

The bottom line is that social game developers have made a LOT of money creating games that you don’t enjoy, and you feel threatened and resentful (and perhaps a little jealous) because the games that are getting so much attention aren’t the ones you enjoy playing. Do you really think that convincing those Farmville-addicted moms to play a metroidvania platformer is the answer? How will you choose to articulate your feelings? i like collecting little lost cows, and you like shooting space demons in the head. Be very careful who you’re calling shallow.

Who Do You Sue for Damages After the Zombie Apocalypse?

Against my best judgment, i accepted a guest post (The 10 Commandments of Zombies) from someone trying to advertise her pre-paid cellphone site. A high school friend of mine, who is now a lawyer, asked if i’d give him the same consideration. i said i’d accept nothing less than a post outlining who you could sue for damages in the aftermath of the Zombie Apocalypse. Being awesome, he obliged.

If the Zombie Apocalypse is a real concern for you (and it should be), bone up on your zombie-killing skillz at ZombieGameWorld.com (Twitter: @zombiegameworld), the best source of free zombie games on the Internet.

Zombie Game World


*********************

Identifying Tortfeasors and Causes of Action in the Probable Event of a Zombie Apocalypse

Sean P. Bawden, B.A. (Hons), LL.B.
Barrister, Solicitor and Notary Public in and for the Province of Ontario

According to an article published in the American newspaper USA Today, “Zombie hordes are everywhere!… There’s no stopping the zombie invasion.” The risk of personal and property damage due to zombie attack has never been higher.

Zombies

The Zombie Apocalypse: not a question of “if”, but “when?”

Given the number of exclusion clauses currently being inserted into many homeowners’ insurance policies, the chance that you are covered in the event of a zombie uprising is steadily decreasing.

What, then, is an innocent party, suffering damage due to zombie uprising, to do?

The “Ghostbusters” were known for asking “Who ya gonna call?” Certainly to rid oneself of the ghost in question, the answer would be “a ghost buster.” But what if the ghost caused property damage? The Ghostbusters, while concededly learned in the ways of engineering, would be of no value in a court of law. The answer to the latter question therefore must be “a lawyer!” The answer is equally true if the cause of the damage was a zombie and not a ghost.

Phoneix Wright, Ace Attorney

Who you gonna call? Dewey, Lipschitz and Menderchuck.

This research memorandum therefore canvasses the topic of possible common law tortfeasors against which one could bring a civil action for recovery of damages due to zombie uprising and the causes of action one could advance against such wrongdoers.

This paper starts by considering against whom one could even consider an action. Once the possible defendants are set out, one must also consider on what possible grounds one would be able to advance any such case.

Understandings and Assumptions

For the purposes of this memorandum the author has assumed that the presumptive plaintiff would not have insurance coverage. One should of course consult his or her own insurance policy to ensure whether or not coverage actually exists.

For the purposes of this memorandum, “zombies” will be defined to mean a reanimated human corpse, not controlled by another. Although the actual reanimation itself will by necessity be the result of a living being’s actions, this research will assume that the zombies’ actions following reanimation are the result of the zombies’ own freewill.

Voodoo Zombie

This memorandum does not concern itself with zombies whose minds are controlled through Haitian voodoo/vodoun.

Furthermore, this memorandum only considers the issue of liability, not damages. Quanta of damages would have to be assessed on an individual basis.

Defendants

In the event that one suffered “damages”, as the term is defined and understood in law, as the result of a zombie uprising, plaintiffs’ lawyers would be called upon to identify not only likely defendants, but defendants against whom recovery is probable.

Given the operation of joint and several liability, and section 1 of the Ontario Negligence Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. N.1, plaintiffs would only have to establish that a defendant was partially responsible for their damages in order to recover the entire amount of their damages from that defendant. This is to say that provided that one could establish liability against one defendant with the means to satisfy the damages’ award, the plaintiff would be able to be made whole.

For the purposes of this section, the author puts forward possible defendants without consideration of whether or not an action could actually be maintained. Certainly in the case of some, if not all, of the proposed defendants, the defence of remoteness could easily be maintained.

1. Zombies

Zombies

Joint and several liability is reassuring, as the most obvious defendant to any such action would the zombie itself. Given the novelty of the action, and the uncertainty of the law surrounding this issue, plaintiffs would be wise to name not only the zombie, but also the estate of the person so reanimated when issuing any action. For example, if zombie Ryan Creighton caused property damage, one would be prudent to name all of “Ryan Creighton”; “The Zombie formerly known as Ryan Creighton”; and “The Estate of Ryan Creighton”. By operation of Rules 7 and 9 of the Ontario Rules of Civil Procedure, R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 194, one would also be prudent to name a litigation guardian for the zombie and estate.

Whether or not one’s estate could be liable for damages caused by zombie actions is yet unresolved in Canadian law.

2. Re-animator

Re-Animator

Creating life has its consequences. Indeed even if one does not bring the life itself into creation, having care and control of a living being is enough to ground liability if that creature causes damage to another: c.f. Dog Owners’ Liability Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. D. 16. Bringing people back from the dead is inherently risky.

It is this author’s considered opinion that any person who reanimates the dead must be considered a party to any action in which, as a result of that reanimated corpse’s actions, damages result.

3. Family of the Deceased

Family

Zombies only result from reanimated corpses. By logical extension, where there is no corpse there cannot be any zombie. Cremation removes this possibility. By failing to cremate the deceased, families burying their dead have created an undue risk to the living.

Of all the defendants considered in this memorandum, the defence of remoteness is strongest for these defendants.

4. Cemeteries and all those Working at Cemeteries

gravedigger

I ain’t sayin’ he’s a gravedigger …

The geographical starting point for any Ontario zombie uprising will be a cemetery. Home to, in some cases, thousands of corpses, cemeteries are fertile ground for the coming horde. Intuitively one considers the failure to keep zombies within their gates as the grounds upon which one would advance a case for zombie damage. Why else do they build those fences if not to keep the zombies in?

5. Casket Manufacturers

Casket Maker

Of course, cemeteries would have less to worry about if casket manufacturers would simply make a sturdier product. The failure to design a casket that would contain a zombie surely puts these parties in the spotlight in any product liability action.

Causes of Action

The rule in Rylands v. Fletcher

When thinking about zombies rushing out of cemetery gates, the first cause of action that comes to one’s mind is the rule in Rylands and Fletcher.

In Rylands v Fletcher, [1868] UKHL 1 the House of Lords established that,

The person who for his own purpose brings on his lands and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief, if it escapes, must keep it in at his peril, and if he does not do so, is prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of its escape

Fido

Zombies are likely to do mischief if they escape. However, cemeteries do not bring zombies onto their land. Cemeteries bring the dead – not the undead – onto their land. And it is not the escape of the dead about which one is concerned.

As such it is this author’s opinion that one could not successfully use the rule in Rylands and Fletcher to maintain an action against a cemetery for damages resulting from a zombie uprising.

Intentional Torts

It is questionable whether or not the zombies would be committing “intentional” torts. In order to establish liability one would have to establish, likely via expert evidence, that the zombies were capable of understanding the consequences of their actions. It is difficult to comment on whether or not one would be successful in this regard. Furthermore it is questionable against whom one would have the right, or ability, to collect.

Negligence

Without question, the general heading of negligence is the most likely cause of action to be advanced in any such case.

In general, the elements of negligence are duty, standard, and causation. Remoteness, although a defence to the allegation and not a ‘true’ element, must also always be considered in the analysis.

For reasons of remoteness, the family of deceased persons must be stricken from the list of potential defendants. Clearly it is too remote, at least at this time, to hold someone liable for failing to cremate his or her loved one when there is yet to be a single reported case of zombies causing property damage. Similarly, even if one could defeat the remoteness argument, policy reasons would invariably defeat the suit.

Urn

Cremation: not necessary to protect against zombie liability

Interestingly, one must consider what the standard of care expected of a zombie is. If the movies provide us any indication, it is that we must expect that zombies will cause damage. No action would therefore lie against the zombie in negligence.

Girl Zombie

Zombies: off the hook for damages

Clearly persons choosing to reanimate the dead have a duty to the public to ensure that, if successful in their attempts, zombies do no harm. The failure to properly ensure proper safeguards for the public would fail to meet the standard expected of them, the result of which is that if damages result, liability should follow.

Frankenstein

Re-animators must perform due diligence to ensure their charges do not commit vandalism

Casket makers must be alive, no pun intended, to the chance of corpse reanimation. Given that the intended user of their product is dead, their duty of care in manufacturing must attach to the living. The living expect that caskets will keep the dead within the confines of the casket. What other purpose is there for a casket if not to keep the dead within it? The failure to manufacture a product that can withstand not only the weight of the deceased during transportation, but also a ravenous zombie hell-bent on destruction fails, in this author’s opinion, to meet the standard expected of a reasonable casket manufacturer.

Casket

Ask your casket maker if the product features escape-resistant latches

Similarly, cemeteries must owe a duty to the public to ensure that zombies cannot escape from their grounds. Although conceptually similar to the rule in Rylands and Fletcher, the duty here is different. In negligence the cemetery is asked to foresee the possibility of zombies and then protect against them, even though they are not expressly inviting zombies onto their land. Furthermore, given the fact that most cemeteries already guard against zombie escape (recall earlier comments about fences), the failure to build an adequate containment system may sound in negligence.

graveyard

Open-concept graveyards like this one may leave their owners vulnerable to litigation

Conclusions and Recommendations

It is never too early to be prepared, and knowledge is power. The purpose of this memorandum has been to consider, in advance of a zombie uprising, against whom to bring an action for property damage in the event of property damage due to zombie.

This memorandum has canvassed both possible defendants and possible causes of action.

Having considered both, this author has reached the conclusion that in the event that one suffers damage at the hands of a zombie, the party so aggrieved should invariably bring suit against the person responsible for the uprising. (With any luck that person will work within a well-insured laboratory against which one could establish vicarious liability.) Out of an abundance of caution, one must also consider bringing suit against both the manufacturer of the casket from which the zombie escapes, and the cemetery that similarly fails to contain it. Both are likely well-funded defendants capable of satisfying any costs award.

Although counter-intuitive, this author does not recommend bringing any action against the zombie itself. The uncertainties that would envelope the litigation would only serve to bog down the process and the chances of recovery seem slim at best. Furthermore, this author has no interest in cross-examining a zombie.

Zombie Game World

Habeas cerebrum!!

California to Ban Violent Games, South Park Encourages Assaulting Red-heads

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.

Sex Kills

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.

Pubic Enemy

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.)

Hot Coffee Scandal

Stop – please. These skin-free polygonal puppets with bad motion capture are getting me all hot and bothered.

[read about how the FTC got their knickers in a bunch when they discovered ta-ta's in virtual worlds]

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.)

[read about gory game sameness at Microsoft's Christmas preview event]

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:

Sheena: Queen of the Jungle (1984)

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.

[read about how a violent video game cost one game development team its Sigourney Weaver voice over]

What Have We Learned?

In summation:

  • 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.