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Censorship Entertainment Games

On the Advent of Controversial Video Games 343

Posted by Soulskill
from the making-pixelpeople-explode dept.
eldavojohn writes "At some point in the history of video games, violence became uncomfortably real for censors and some parents. In addition to that, realistic use of narcotics has entered mainstream games. While gamers (of adult age) have by and large won the right to this entertainment, a large amount of games have arisen lately that challenge a different aspect of video games — inappropriate or sensitive topics. We've covered it before on Columbine to Fallujah, but I noticed through GamePolitics recently a large trend in severely controversial video games. Where do you stand on these titles?" Read on for the rest of eldavojohn's thoughts.

First I'd like to discuss the basic complaints many people have over these video games. The phrase "too soon" gets thrown around a lot. But what are the specific complaints about these controversial games? I've tried to divide them up from most serious to not-so-serious attributes (which a controversial game may have one or more of, and which is by no means a comprehensive list):

  • Human life was lost.
  • People who survived the situation or are survivors of victims of the situation still remember it, as it happened less than one generation ago.
  • It spins the situation too much as novelty or entertainment and thus disrespects those involved and/or detracts from the gravity of the situation.
  • It deals with a very real life issue that some people aren't comfortable discussing, such as: race, religion, sexual orientation, slavery, politics, the law, prostitution, drug use, etc.
  • Stuck in a think-of-the-children mentality, the "M" or even "AO" rating does not deter groups and people like Jack Thompson from arguing that it is not appropriate material for minors and therefore should not be distributed. Popularity of a title and great game mechanics may exacerbate this.

I'm going to start with an easy game to discuss: RapeLay — an obscure title by a Japanese publisher that focuses on forced sex situations. There is something special about sexual crimes that make them even worse than murder in the United States. I don't know why, but Hot Coffee in GTA3 drew far more criticism than the normal killing rampage in that game and games before it. This same phenomena occurs at parties where they play games that a murderer is at the party. Yet, if a rapist was at the party, people would probably be mortified. While the sentencing isn't as harsh, sex offenders are registered and tracked for the rest of their lives while murderers can be released or paroled under good behavior. I see RapeLay as nothing more than a game concentrating on a particular crime — a less serious crime than many I commit in some of the games I play. I've no desire to play it, but people who derive entertainment from that have a right to it. RapeLay is merely another adult game like Dangerous Toys for the Dreamcast.

Nothing could be more recent than making a simulation game where you're a Somali pirate invading other ships. You have an impoverished community with people starving to death and people being taken captive. A player is most likely deriving entertainment from horrible situations on other continents today. This isn't Disney making three Pirates of the Caribbean movies based loosely on a very real and life-threatening situation four hundred years ago. This is completely a function of when it happened. On the other hand, piracy on the water has been a classic platform for games, and if the game is historically accurate, how much different is this than an in depth news article? Keep in mind that this is the same game company that partnered with the History channel to bring you WWII and Vietnam games in the past. I think it is very much arguable that games based on war can be informative if done correctly.

A quick note on a more wide spread release for the Playstation 2 is a game that some Hindu groups say is offensive to their religion. Along the same lines, several online games have depicted Mohammad which is a no-no in Islam causing unrest. These situations are offensive to a small part of the population and — unless done in very disrespectful ways — aren't going to gather much more controversy. They're no Muslim Massacre: The Game of Modern Religious Genocide, but they are reportedly offensive to some groups of people. On the other end are religious games that gain controversy by targeting non-members of that faith. Left Behind: Eternal Forces was controversial because of violence against non-Christian characters in the video game. Video games like Ethnic Cleansing express extreme prejudice and hate towards a particular ethnicity or nationality. Murder and violence are still murder and violence whether you are religiously motivated, racially motivated or have no clear motivation (like GTA). It is difficult to argue that these games should be outlawed while claiming that it's our right to enjoy games like GTA. Is it because these games are used for propaganda or recruitment tools and mainstream games are not? Is it because of a controversial message in the game? If so, I would like to know why this is any more dangerous than murder in video games.

None of these games faced the wide distribution that Six Days in Fallujah was looking at. And that game is now canceled, the deciding factor most likely being that it was a big name publisher with wide distribution channels. Not that the content was any more or less controversial than some of the games Kuma has made about Vietnam and WWII, but it would have had a wider release and been about a present day war that is still in progress. Books written about the Iraq war have to be careful; news about the Iraq war has to be sensitive to families. Games — a form of non-necessary entertainment — have to be even more careful if they want to enjoy popularity and avoid criticism. As a society, we are just not ready to accept games as a dignified medium. Other mediums faced this same barrier and overcame it, and it's good to have these games testing the waters.

In the United States, it's easy to claim freedom-of-speech this and freedom-of-speech that, but the lawsuits will flow from interest groups with money — no rating system will satisfy them. Letting the popularity (or lack thereof) of a title speak for its quality and message is not enough for some people. The general populace do not yet accept games as an art form like books and movies. Entertainment and even edutainment are not seen as appropriate ways to portray current events, and they may not be for a long time.

Where do you stand on controversial video games? Should publishers and developers be able to release whatever they want? Super Columbine RPG? RapeLay? Six Days in Fallujah? Are they protected by free speech? Will games forever be entertainment and therefore never be able to cover current topics? How would you effectively regulate content if I should be able to play a game like GTA but not Six Days in Fallujah? Do these titles hurt the social standing of gamers and gaming as a medium?

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On the Advent of Controversial Video Games

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  • by twidarkling (1537077) on Monday May 11, 2009 @01:53PM (#27910011)

    Six Days wasn't cancelled. The developer is still working on it, last I heard. Konami simply decided they wouldn't be the ones publishing it.

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Monday May 11, 2009 @02:08PM (#27910253) Journal

    At one point Lolita and Ulysses were nothing more than "juvenile self-indulgence" ...

    Um, since you bothered to link to Wikipedia, need I say more than "citation needed"?

    On Lolita from Time Magazine [time.com]:

    First published in France by a pornographic press, this 1955 novel explores the mind of a self-loathing and highly intelligent pedophile named Humbert Humbert, who narrates his life and the obsession that consumes it: his lust for "nymphets" like 12-year-old Dolores Haze. French officials banned it for being "obscene," as did England, Argentina, New Zealand and South Africa. Today, the term "lolita" has come to imply an oversexed teenage siren, although Nabokov, for his part, never intended to create such associations. In fact, he nearly burned the manuscript in disgust, and fought with his publishers over whether an image of a girl should be included on the book's cover.

    Ulysses was banned by the U.S. Customs Court for being "obscene" and pornographic in 1921. It wouldn't be released in the United States until 1933 [wikipedia.org] when that was repealed:

    In United States v. One Book Called Ulysses, U.S. District Judge John M. Woolsey ruled on December 6, 1933 that the book was not pornographic and therefore could not be obscene, a decision that has been called "epoch-making" by Stuart Gilbert. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling in 1934.

    Wish I could provide better sources for you but they do show up on the list of historically banned books [wikipedia.org].

  • RapeLay (Score:4, Informative)

    by VampDuc (1540415) on Monday May 11, 2009 @02:19PM (#27910417)
    Games of this nature have been around for a long time in Japan. They're known as "eroge" or "galge." There's not much difference in the terms, but the games range from just trying to date someone to full-blown rape. The games are generally pornographic in nature, but not always. I (a girl) have played some of these games, not because of the pornography, but because they are games that have subtleties rarely found in other, more violence based games. At their basest, they are simply text-based adventure games with a very narrow set of goals.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 11, 2009 @02:21PM (#27910437)

    I find no subject untouchable. Fuck anyone who disagrees.

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdo ... g ['ish' in gap]> on Monday May 11, 2009 @03:20PM (#27911387)

    I agree as far as the majority of games go, but there are some games that do try to use games as a medium for provoking thought and representing ideas, sometimes while still be interesting to play. Chris Crawford's Balance of Power [wikipedia.org] (1985) is a pretty good example, I think, a game about Cold-War brinksmanship that wasn't just a wargame, but also aimed to illustrate some features of the Cold War and brinksmanship through its gameplay.

    More recently, there's been a collection of much smaller games, usually Flash on the web, trying to say something about serious issues. They're mostly smaller because the current niche with the most legs seems to be games that respond in a timely fashion to current events. So, for example, in the wake of the 2006 E Coli spinach scare, an indie game studio came out with Bacteria Salad [shockwave.com], a farm-simulation game that makes some points about the tradeoffs in small vs. large farms. And in the wake of the Kerry "don't tase me, bro" incident, another indie designer made a game [escapistmagazine.com] about how people do, or could, respond to police brutality.

    The book Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames [amazon.com] (2007) has some decent coverage of the subject, about half an overview of games that already do include some actual expressive content, and half a manifesto of sorts that more games ought to, if the medium wants to have an impact in society besides entertainment.

  • by cptnapalm (120276) on Monday May 11, 2009 @03:24PM (#27911445)

    I took that test a ways back. Came out basically the same for both.

    One question about said test, though, it would seem to me that if you are more familiar with one type of face (whites for whites, blacks for blacks) then you would have a faster time of decision with the more familiar than with the less familiar. Just a thought.

    Not gaming data, movie data but has to do with violence in an entertainment form: http://www.nber.org/papers/w13718 [nber.org]

    Violent movies with large audiences is good for a reduction in crime during the movie and an even greater reduction later that night.

    I had something derogatory to say about your gut feeling about the "subjugation of women" but opted not to do so for fear of derailing something that might actually be interesting, unlike a flame war (unless it is vi vs emacs).

  • by Anivair (921745) on Monday May 11, 2009 @03:36PM (#27911641)

    As you may have guessed, I don't like playing the bad guy. I never want to be in that mindset, it's a dangerous path to start.

    Totally. I play a lot of video games and as a result I'm a savage killing machine. Just on the way to work today I killed a few hundred people on the freeway for bonus points. There is no dangerous path. It's fiction, just like killing trolls.

  • by celtic_hackr (579828) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @02:08AM (#27918367) Journal

    The problem here is many of these games are cover highly mature content, which I as a parent am free to prevent my child from having in the house. I am free to not allow my child to visit houses where these games are. Free to discipline my child for obtaining and playing these games against my wishes. Free to turn the channel on movies based on these games. Free to block shows containing this content.

    However, my child will still be bombarded with the violent commercials these video games and movies advertise. Commercials I can only react to after the fact, or record all our TV use and strip out the commercials. Not to mention that there are a great many people who are bad parents and allow their children to play these games and watch these shows. Which means I now have to police every aspect of my child's life, because I never know where the next GMAXII may show up. At least most "normal" porn depicts a useful and necessary function in life. While some might say reducing the excess population is also useful. I'd have to vote that one down. Sex is necessary to preserve the species (well, maybe not anymore due to technology). Death will come to everyone eventually, and thus killing isn't necessary. Hmm, maybe we should just get rid of both, and then there wouldn't be any more need for controversy? Nahhhhhh.

  • by monkey13 (1552371) on Tuesday May 12, 2009 @10:28AM (#27921715)
    As someone currently working on Six Days in Fallujah I'd definitely say it's not over, however I can't say much else. With all the controversy I really hoped people would wait till they saw what we're making or play a demo of the game before casting judgement.

    I have little doubt that we will ship the game at some point and that people will still have their issues one way or another, regardless of the end product. I'm glad we got people talking on the subject and really hope we can prove that games are a valid medium for more than just sci-fi monsters, criminal activity and cute platformers.

    I also think it's crap personally to lump Six Days in Fallujah with RapeLay and games of a shock jock nature. Since the some of the Marines in the battle approached us on making the title we're not trying to "Cash In" on the losses of others. Contrary to that Fallujah is an honest attempt to make a documentary structured game that still is a game and fun to play. It's very much a fine line but I feel we're doing a very good job of staying honest to the subject matter while making it a compelling experience.

    That's my take on it and I hope I don't get fired for posting about it. I just felt it would be interesting for people to hear from someone on the development side. We all very much believe in the game we're making and wouldn't be doing it if we thought it was either taking advantage of a situation or doing a disservice to those that served and those caught in the conflict.

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