Tag Archives: Violence

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.

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.

How to Sell Video Games to the Ladies

Quick OMGPOPQUIZZZ!!! You’re creating a registration form, and you’d like to know if your registrant has a PENIS or a VAGINA. Do you ask for the registrant’s GENDER, or do you ask for his or her SEX?

Female-ish warrior

Choose wisely.

The correct answer is “SEX”.

It annoys me to no end to see “GENDER” on a form asking me whether i have a penis or a vagina, because gender is not determined by that factor alone. Gender – masculinity and femininity/maleness and femaleness – is determined by a number of factors, and is not solely influenced by the amount of testosterone / progesterone / estrogen / Legolas / pepperoni in your body. i reflected on this while i read guest author Julia Barry’s How to Create/Market Games for Women article on Taylan Kay’s “The Selling Game” blog.

Sissy Boy

i comment a lot on violence in gaming, often complaining about it, as i would if i were a filmmaker who wanted to create great films, but the dominant genre in my industry was porn. Or if i was a television producer, and the top-ranking shows were fishing shows, and you couldn’t get any considerable love or attention unless you created a fishing show. It’s depressing.

But i was reminded throughout Julia’s article that i have had a far different upbringing than most men. i was raised the only child of a single mother who abhorred violence of any kind. Most of the men in my life were baddies. And today, i am the only male in my family unit save for the two cats, and we cut off their testicles years ago.

LOLCat Neuter

So when i rail against violence – when i commit to non-violence in my company credo – i’m doing so from a unique position where, through my upbringing and conditioning, i skew further toward the feminine end of the gender spectrum than the masculine end. And i’m okay with that. It helps me to appreciate and understand Julia’s perspective far more than if i’d been raised on a steady diet of blood n’ tits.

Barbarians at the Gate

With many videogames, we are entrenching a world of values where boys impress each other by being violent, and girls impress boys (and compete with other girls) in being pretty and inviting of sexual encounter.

i agree with Julia here, as long as we replace “are entrenching” with “have entrenched”. It feels like this attitude of betterment-through-beheading has been firmly set, and we are enslaved to it. This value system was already in place in other media while the pioneers of video games were creating Space War!, Pong and Zork on monstrous machines at the turn-of-the-80′s. Video games were far less visceral while i was growing up – not because we lacked the technology to depict dismemberment and disembowling, but because i believe the people creating games were kinder, gentler and more thoughtful. Dare i say it? More feminine.

It wasn’t until the 90′s that jocks got involved in gaming in a big way, thanks mostly to id software. Suddenly, there was an influx of customers whose needs were being catered to – in this case, manly red-meat-eating macho MEN with back hair and cocks the size of SUVs who wanted to kill, compete, maim, humiliate, screw, devour, shoot, mock, explode and teabag their way to that thrillingly blunt endorphin release that the more reasoned among us can achieve with a particularly stimulating crossword puzzle. Simply put, dumb, base males aged 18-35 hijacked the video game industry in the early 1990s, and they remain the ruling customer class to this very day.

Chet

Hey, FAGS. Where’s the Playstation at?

But Julia’s article gave me hope: hope of a day when we see a similar shift as the jock renaissance of the early 90′s, and game developers figure out how to best appeal to women – how to reliably give ladies their endorphin release (hint: it takes longer, but they can experience it multiple times). Then – who knows? We might see another complete shift that sees the game industry dominated with games about buying and selling real estate, improving situations through the power of colour and texture, nurturing the growth of plants and animals, stealing each others’ friends, and other more feminine pursuits.

Hope Only Exists in an Alternate Universe

Realistically, though, i don’t see this happening, unless we see a major shift in the way electronic entertainment is designed and built. The dominant programming languages, techniques and methodologies, hardware and software have all been designed by certain types of men, so that the same types of men can understand and use them to create more tools and technology, which beget more tools and technology, and so on. All of these created elements play to the strengths of an analytical, scientific mind – the type of mind that is most often found pulsating inside a body that has a penis. PLEASE DO NOT EMAIL ME INSISTING THAT WOMEN CAN ALSO BE ANALYTICAL AND SCIENTIFIC. i’m speaking generally here. And generally, the tools and technologies have been built by nerdy males and for nerdy males, and now that the beget-ball is rolling, it’ll be very difficult to stop.

In trying to create “girl” games … companies pander even more to gender stereotypes. Marketing games to girls shouldn’t mean making everything gossipy and pink, yet there are countless products in that vein. Games and toys aimed at the female population are often shallow, fluffy screen versions of dress-up and shopping.

The challenge here is that women – and men, for that matter – don’t know what’s good for them. i remember sitting at a panel discussion on this topic, where the game developer said that they tested a number of themes and concepts on little girls and female gamers, and the results that consistently scored the highest involved pink, shopping, dress-up, baking, and pets. The OOO (Three Rings) crew defended the sexy, skimpy female pirate clothing in their Puzzle Pirates online game by revealing that not only did pirate bikini tops sell better than other female characters’ clothing, but that they started the game with more modest attire and were hounded by their female players requesting sexier clothing options.

Pirate girl

Alright, i confess – i’m ready to swash some buckles.

So this begs the question: are less-sexualized, more thoughtful and more “3-dimensional” (as Julia puts it) games something that:

  1. all women want
  2. some women want
  3. all women should want, but don’t know it
  4. some women want on behalf of all women, who should really know better?

My suspicion is that it’s that last point, in which case i suppose i am similarly one man in a minority of men who want something better on behalf of all men. Masculinity and manhood are not proven through achieving the most headshots, or ripping the most still-beating hearts out of digital characters’ chests, in the same way that femininity is not demonstrated by combing and washing the sparkling mane of your pink flying unicorn vagina pony. A better, more balanced world, both virtual and actual, lies somewhere between the extreme ends of the gender spectrum.

Microsoft Stuffs Santa’s Sack with Gore

i took some time out of my schedule to hit X09, Microsoft’s annual holiday preview event for the Xbox 360 and related platforms. This is the nth year i’ve attended as a journalist, although truth be told my game journalism days ended when i woke up to the fact that i couldn’t make an honest buck from it. (So, too, ended my volunteer work, my origami hobby, my devotion to fatherhood, and my patriotism … if it wasn’t profitable, i decided to cut it out of my life.)

Crying little girl

Sorry, sweetie – you’re not economically viable.

Microsoft usually wears its heart on its sleeve at the X events. You can tell by looking around the room where they’re hedging their bets for the holidays, how they’re hanging their hopes. One quick glance around the room at this year’s events spoke volumes about the company’s holiday strategy: no kids, no families, and no casual gamers: just pure, unbridled core players with a penchant for blood n’ tits. God help us.

Generic First Person Shooter

Where have i seen this game before? Oh yeah – EVERYWHERE.

In the past, i’ve written for Whoa! Magazine and GamePad, two Corus Entertainment kids’ properties, and The Magazine Not For Adults (formerly Disney Adventure magazine), so my kid-dar is pretty finely honed at this point. i’m pretty adept at sussing out which titles will be M-rated at launch, and which ones will be T-rated but still inappropriate for the audience (realistic war games never made the cut, by my insistence). i strolled down one wall of the This is London night club in Toronto dismissing each game in turn: first-person shooter, first-person shooter, South Park-themed tower defense game, first-person shooter, third person stealth espionage, first-person shooter, first person shooter. And so on.

And sequels! i caught a glimpse of Splinter Cell: Enough Already, and Grand Theft Auto: Repeatedly-Sodomizing-a-Dead-Horse City. And the game landscape was the blandest, most unoriginal i’ve ever seen it.

Variety Doesn’t Sell

In previous years, there had been Xbox Live Community Games (now Indie Games). There had been friendly characters like Spongebob Squarepants and Banjo Kazooie. There had been Scene It! and You’re in the Movies and Viva Piñata. It’s not that any of these more accessible titles were necessarily any good, but at the very least i got a sense that Microsoft was trying to court a broader audience, trying to sell a system that everyone could enjoy.

Viva Pinata

Viva Piñata: obviously, since it is brightly coloured and features neither blood nor tits, only children are allowed to play it. Or fags – it also appeals to fags.

Well, we now see where that strategy has led them. Whether it’s because Microsoft itself has abandoned all hope, or whether the third party publishers saw abysmal financial returns on their family-oriented products (or indeed, whether the PR company wanted to look cool in front of the members of the gaming public who were invited for the first time this year), Xbox Live is no place for kids, families, or guys like me who don’t go in for blood n’ tits games.

Innovation Schminnovation

i counted on one hand the number of non-FPS, non-M-rated titles, and i had fingers left over:

  1. Tony Hawk: Ride, the one with the skateboard peripheral
  2. DJ Hero, the one with the turntable peripheral
  3. Rock Band: The Beatles, the one with the guitar and drum peripherals

Aaaaaaaand … that’s about it.

Rock Band: The Beatles

Not into first-person shooters? Good news: we’ve got all this extra crap you can buy.

So to you gamers who are slow to take a chance on innovative new franchises – you who want only more of the same, and who are happy with seeing a bigger number next for your favourite game’s title, you’re in for a real Christmas miracle this year.

You’ll run downstairs and slide on your knees to the foot of that tree, soft naked bottom peeping out of the bum flap on your pyjamas, and gaze with wonder at the gifts upon gifts that Santa left you. You’ll tear open the wrapping on each one in turn, eyes wide and mouth agape, imagining the thrills and unbridled delight each title will offer. And when the shredded paper has all been tossed to one side and the shrink-wrapped cases of your new Xbox 360 games sit glistening in the warm glow of the Christmas tree lights, you’ll marvel at the spectacle of a dozen or more new games to play for your Xbox 360 video game system.

And they’ll all be exactly the same game.