Once again we find ourselves in the midst of a moral panic centered around video games. But any ‘old-school’ gamer will tell you we have been here before. From the 1973 Atari video game “Gotcha“, in which the player controls were meant to represent women’s breasts, and by squeezing them the player would facilitate control of the game.
Or the 1982 (Atari once again) title “Custer’s Revenge” offering depicted rape scenes in 8-bit.
We have always seen creators push the boundaries of possibilities & acceptability with the advancement of new technologies.
Which is why in 1992 with the launch of Midway’s (later Warner Bros. Interactive) Mortal Kombat series, we saw critics become more vocal of video game violence, with the introduction of the video games rating system. But the trend still continued with the 2002 release of a game made by a white supremacists’ group called The National Alliance with their game “Ethnic Cleansing“, using the Genesis3D engine.
Right through to the truly shocking 2006 Illusion Soft title “RapeLay”: a stalking & rape simulator released in Japan where the player stalks & rapes a mother & her two daughters.
Which takes us to the latest addition to the annals of modern outrage & moral panic, which is Destructive Creations’ debut title Hatred: an ultraviolent game where the main protagonist is a single man bent on massacre. And although not as morally questionable as the other titles on this list, it is the first modern game in recent times where we are presented with incentives for killing “innocent people”.
So we can see that as technology advances, and like any form of modern art, we have seen gaming being used for both good & for most definitely evil, as in the case of RapeLay or Ethnic Cleansing.
So anyone looking for examples of controversial games can find something that will upset them. But can the accusation really be made there is an increasing problem with the industry?
Ever since the reaction to Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, with its “No Russian” scene, where you are given the task of committing a massacre at an airport from the first person perspective, and the reactions to it worldwide. We have seen a far greater willingness on the part of developers & games companies to conform within the “acceptable” limits of creative content, in society.
This is perhaps as a direct result of antagonists of old such as Jack Thompson right through to Anita Sarkeesian of today. But more likely it is down to the practical aspects of making money and gaining access to markets, more than anything else.
As we saw with Volition Inc. in 2010 that Saints Row, which due to drug use & an ‘alien anal probe’, was denied a classification by the Australian Classification Board. This subsequently made the developers remove these elements to gain a MA15+ rating, thus rendering the co-operative mode incompatible with non Australian versions of the game.
Or from the most recent reactions we have seen by developers in response to Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes Vs Women series. Or even people like Blizzard’s Ex Chief Creative Officer, Rob Pardo who, along with other’s from the industry was reported as saying,
“The interesting thing, I think, with games, is that we actually have an even better ratings system than movies but there’s still kind of this general misunderstand with the older generation that all games are like Grand Theft Auto.. It would be like saying ‘We don’t want anyone to go watch movies because all movies are violent.’ But people don’t say that because everyone really understands movies as a medium.”
So in any market, demand inevitably decides what is supplied. And we have seen, and are seeing, a healthy willingness towards self regulation by the games industry to conform with the demands of the markets it serves. To the point where some may argue it may be going too far.
So it seems that contrary to the current popular trend in the mainstream media to demonize gamers, developers & production companies. The industry on the whole has always been at the forefront of self regulation and concerned about developing projects well within the bounds of social and acceptable standards. Even more so compared to other entertainment industries such as music & television.
And looking through the history of some of the most controversial titles, we have to come to the conclusion that whenever the boundaries have been crossed, just like television & radio, the industry, motivated mostly by self preservation, has always been at the forefront of redressing the balance. Rather than resisting any change, unlike many other industries.
Will this ever change?
With the advancement of new technologies & distribution platforms, such as Greenlight, most likely. We are bound to see more powerful hardware and software developments, and a far greater number of people enter the industry. And ultimately controlling their own content. And so we could ask, are we ready for it?
It would seem from practice the answer is more so than most, as the games industry at the end of the day is a business.
So what do you think?
Is gaming going too far?
Or do you ever see a future with the need for some kind of legislation or regulatory body?
Let us know your thoughts.