So what are we to be active against?
We are opposing the unfair treatment and scapegoating of games in relation to, and by, other media, most notably, and particarily, in this instance relating to the Hot Coffee scandal and its fallout.
Primarily because there is no reason that videogames should be scrutinized any more than any other media/artform/whatever.
Videogames, or interactive entertainment, or- heh- “murder simulators” are different beasts to the media outlets we have had previously- but this doesn’t make the artform automatically evil.
There are, however, three main things that we should be particuarily vocal about.
Game ratings are already arguably more strict than other ratings for other mediae. Admittedly, the only situation where the two ratings are truly comparable is in the UK, where the BBFC rating is shared between the top tier of Games With Questionable Content and films- only the modern Grand Theft Auto series, Manhunt and the occasional out-and-out (in-and-out?) porn game have really contained content that would get a film an 18 rating, despite the large number of 18 “certificates” handed out to games in recent times.
Also you could highlight the inadequacies of Australia’s capped game rating system in relation to its film rating system.
The problem with this is that it stifles creativity in the artform. Supposing Jack Thompson had got his way a bit ago (which he half did), three games, one of which contains a pair of mannequins dry humping, another which Kind Of Implies Sex, A Bit, and a third with no packaged sexual content at all will be relegated to a handful of specialist shops- bearing in mind the major retailers in the USA will not stock games rated AO, the country’s highest videogame age rating- which will be a major factor in the titles being commercial flops, making edgier content more risky- this will set back sexual content in videogames, and therefore the artform as a whole, years.
When one of them contains all the sexual content of a music video shown at 5PM, and another the sexual content of Teletubbies, this seems more than a little daft. Especially when it’s not fucking real. Or real fucking, whatever.
It is clear that when games are bought up on topical debate programmes, they’ve lost before they roll the cameras. The media likes its scenarios and sensationalism. It likes its heroes and villains, and Jack Thompson and Games respectively fit these moulds nicely.
However much, there is aparrently little effort made to make the playing field at least seem level.
First and foremost a lack of positive coverage on television as a whole is a factor. The only time games come up in the mainstream media is in these news and debate programmes, painted “evil”, which in a case of trial-by-media as most of these cases are, is very harmful to the artform’s public image.
On top of that, as there are few “true” games programmes on mainstream television, the networks do not have a known face- the “true” programme’s presenter- to wheel out to field questions on the games industry’s behalf. Even if a publisher shows less reluctance to field media questions than Rockstar have shown over the last few months, they can’t appear on all the channels at the same time- there’s eight news channels broadcasting in the UK, god knows how many there are in the US, each of whom will need to provide their own experts, but decide not to because that wouldn’t fit the agenda. Let’s face it, they usually do it with other controversies.
Having games experts “on staff”- as much as they can be given how modern television stations operate- should also diffuse situations relating to simple misunderstanding of the medium.
Even if all the personnel boxes are checked, such features often show scant disregard for those “fact” thingies, creatively interpreting and selecting statistics and studies to help along their convenient Little Red General Public And The Big Bad Games Companies story.
We’re back to stifling of the artform’s creativity. This tips the balance from truly edgy, challenging and adult content to shock value LETS TRAFFICK DRUGZ AND KILL HOOKERS ROFLOL content, which can very easily make money in the short term off the back of the controversy.
Most importantly, however, this is irresponsible journalism, and that affects everybody.
The Real Issues
Obviously the same-old same-old Games Turn Normal Human Beings Into Raging Psychopaths stories can be discarded simply by looking at nigh-on any statistic relating to crime over the last few years, or the multitude of studies which have spectacuarily failed to find even the most tenuous of links between playing games and becoming violent.
But where the crimes are occurring, little thought is given to why exactly the crime found itself happening- how the guilty party (IE- the nut that holds the wheel, not the scapegoat or anybody else in the chain) found themself in a situation where crime was the only option, how they came to acquire the tools to commit the crime, and why they weren’t where they should be at the time of the crime happening.
It’s worth pointing out how when there are many factors, that any one could be of greater importance than games- taking schoolboy violence into account (q.v. the Manhunt Fiasco), a change in diet- as prompted by Channel 4 programme Jamie’s School Dinners- showed increased attention spans, and most importantly a reduction in playground fights. If a change in diet can be so beneficial, then perhaps the root of the problem could lie there? While exclusively blaming food for Columbine would be as bad as blaming games, if something this simple can have a massive effect on the world, then perhaps it’s worth exploring other angles when trying to solve problems.
Sweeping the real issues underneath the carpet will only result in the issues coming back up again and then you’ll have to find another scapegoat. The world’s never going to be free of bad things happening, but that’s no reason not to try.
So if we can get people to sit up and listen, what should we expect them to do?
Many alternatives can be taken. Bringing game ratings in line with any equivalents (ONO) would be very beneficial. However, the reason violent games are so shocking might be because we’ve not really seen it before, making it all the more horrific- look at 18 films from the beginning of classification and 18 films now, for instance- so this might not be quite so easy.
Education is an important factor, naturally- parents and indeed children should be told more about the ratings system, and most importantly to treat it as a guide, not gospel, and preferably by the people who put the thing together. What is suitable for one 15-year-old might not be for another. Considering how there is no shortage of positive (if non-mainstream) gaming media, so there’re no excuse for not knowing what’s in a game before you’ve played it.
Ultimately, no matter what the ratings board, the industry, and the retailers do, it’s all for nought if the purchaser isn’t going to play along.
Wal-mart et al could start stocking AO games, so that the rating isn’t such a kiss of death.
The media should start to play a little fairer. I know gaming is stealing advertising money away from television, but you know what they say about what you should do if you can’t beat ‘em. It seems to be beginning to work for Comcast and MTV in the States, so there’s no reason why it can’t start working for other outlets.
In turn, the industry could afford to come and join in too, even if just for the PR.
The Real Issues
Identify the real issues, and chuffing well do something about them. Alternatively, just find another scapegoat. It’s worked well so far…
Overall, the real reason we should be fighting is because if we- the people these things effect- don’t, who will?
If we let them get away with this sort of thing, then we let them move onto whatever they want to do next. Selling BBFC-rated games to minors is already illegal in the United Kingdom, yet that hasn’t stopped Giselle Pakeerah from getting big, comedy BBFC ratings slapped on game boxes and still having the cheek to complain that it isn’t enough.
As the western world’s compensation culture increases, then this can only get worse. One of these suits is going to bring down somebody major.
Sorry to bring up the comics code again, but as much as I like Mario games, I don’t want it to be the only thing available to me for the next fifty years. But even if it does happen, we shouldn’t just sit here and let it.
The reason Jack Thompson and The Daily Mail get things done is because they get up and try to do something about what they perceive as problems, (despite the financial incentives, natch) and in turn, we should do so too.
Now you know what you’re fighting for, and who you’re fighting against.
It’s just up to you to fight.
This is a rejigged forum post from the a_b forum, shortly after a series of "ROCKSTAR GAMES ATE MY HAMSTER"-type scaremongery stories in the mainstream press following the industry's unfortunately-timed Manhunt Fiasco/Hot Coffee double-whammy.
Definately closer to a balls-out rant than anything balanced, like the articles The Escapist and even CBS did at a similar time, so there's a few direct attacks in there (No love for the Pakeerah family, folks) but then I don't form opinions to make friends.
Website (C) Mark Kelly 2002-5.