Last week, news broke that Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number was going to be banned in Australia following a verdict from ‘The Australian Classifications Board’ after they refused to rate the game. This is only the latest in a string of recent decisions to directly censor certain aspects of videogames, albeit only in one country. Other very recent attempts to remove games depicting violent adult content include GTA 5 being taken off the store shelves of Target and Kmart across Australia and Hatred being removed from Steam Greenlight (Though it was later restored to the service by Gabe Newell himself).
I’d like to go over the recent case of Hotline Miami 2. This is the official statement from the Australian Classifications Board:
The computer game is classified RC in accordance with the National Classification Code, Computer Games Table, 1. (a) as computer games that “depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that they should not be classified.”
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number was mainly banned because of a specific scene depicting the player controlled character seemingly sexually assaulting a female character, though the way the scene is set up is in the form of a movie set, therefore a fictional event, and therefore there is no actual sexual assault going on. The scene in question is not sexually explicit in any way, and the extent of the nudity shown would be allowed on any network TV show (One might also consider the fact that this is a highly pixelated graphics style).
There was also the recent entry in the Gamergate debate, when ABC published their news story on violent video games and harassment in the industry (We recently had an interview with someone involved in the news story. You can check that out here). In this news piece, the reporters put a focus on “Violent depictions of women being beaten, raped, and run over by cars” and showed gameplay from Grand Theft Auto 5 in which they chose to solicit a prostitute and then kill her, also running her over in the aftermath.
This is obviously a gross demonstration of misrepresentation and forcing agendas down the throats of the viewers. Grand Theft Auto is a violent videogame, which is also why it is a mature-rated game (17+, clearly labeled on the box), therefore a game made for the adult audience. The fact that ABC reporters choose to showcase scenes of prostitutes getting run over by cars is interesting, since you’re just as likely to find yourself taking part in bicycle races, harmonious underwater explorations via submarine, taking in the beauty of nature, or being a law-abiding citizen. Any of these things are possible in the game, and they only present a fraction of the thousands of different scenarios, which are all free to be created and explored in the sandbox world of Los Santos.
But ultimately, the depiction of a Tennis mini-game is not as controversial as killing hookers and using terms such as rape and violence against women in your news broadcast. And linking violent videogames with violent or aggressive behavior is obviously much more interesting than mountain hiking. ABC purposefully put together the segments of gaming violence and online harassment of media darling Anita Sarkeesian, as if to poke the dated and unfounded assumption that depictions of violence in videogames actually cause violent behavior in real life.
I’d like you to think for a second: Has there, say in the last 15 years, been any case of rape in a mainstream videogame title? Personally, I cannot think of even one. Looking towards the East, to Japan, you can find niche markets of this controversial content if you go looking, but even in Japan, these games are not accepted in the mainstream.
Obviously, the claim that violent videogames cause real life violence has never been proven and has been discarded by courts time upon time again. We have already been over this subject more times than any of us care to remember. Mad headhunters such as the disbarred attorney Jack Thompson (I’m sure some of you remember him) have been going at this unholy crusade for years, but they’ve all ultimately lost the fight, though the war still seems to live on.
It is a truly sad state of affairs: Gaming is not taken seriously by a lot of people. The idea of gaming as some sort of toy, lives on in the minds of some, and though our beloved medium has made great strides these past few years, the infantilization of gaming remains clear. It all comes down to the assumption that games are for kids, and therefore depictions of violence, especially those of sexual of nature, do not belong in the unique storytelling elements of gaming.
I believe we are in a transitional phase, where gaming is only just beginning to be accepted as an artform, and as a valuable and powerful tool of storytelling. One thing needs to be made perfectly clear: The assumption that games are for kids is as outdated and invalid as the belief that the earth is flat. The fact is, that the average age of a gamer is 34, the average age of the most frequent game purchasers is 39, and there is a bigger percentage of gamers above the age of 50 than there are gamers under the age of 18 (according to the ESRB). With this knowledge, we know that gaming mainly being the pastime of teenagers is a blatant misconception.
This idea of “protecting the kids”, “will nobody think ABOUT THE CHILDREN!” is ancient, and other mainstream mediums have gone through the same controversies as gaming is going through right now. Looking at TV from the 80’s, you couldn’t find rape or sexual abuse anywhere, hell, good luck even finding any kinds of nudity on television from that period.
Now, TV is quite a different story, featuring topics that were once but a whisper in the wind. Game of Thrones, arguably one of the highest rated and most popular TV shows of all, is not too shy to feature very high levels of gratuitous nudity, and its most recent season even featured a rape scene (Don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil anything!). Sons Of Anarchy has done it, Scandal has done it, freakin’ Downton Abbey has done it.
Rape is an acceptable tool of storytelling in film and TV now, because these mediums are greatly respected. They are recognized for their potential to evoke incredibly powerful emotions and who would argue that TV and film is not art? That acting and film making is not an expression of emotions, and that they do not deserve the respect they hold in today’s society?
These mediums get the respect that they deserve, and as a result of that, they have been freed from their chains. They can freely explore taboo subjects and frequently do so. Mainstream film and TV portray murder, sexual violence, depression and mental illness, drug addiction, extreme violence, neo-nazism… There is really nothing “untouchable” or sacred by film and TV standards, just like painters and sculptors can create whatever they so desire, however when it comes to videogames, we are being held back by the notion that it is a medium catering to children.
As I mentioned, sexual violence is extremely taboo in gaming, and we have rarely ever seen any form of it whatsoever, but why not? That is the question I believe needs to asked. Why can’t we discuss such serious subjects in games? Why can’t games feature sexual violence, not as an act of entertainment, but as a powerful tool of storytelling. Why must our medium be held back by assumptions and unfounded allegations. GTA 5 is a game made for adults. That’s why it has a ‘Mature’ rating. Gaming has a rating board (The ESRB), and it should be clear to anyone buying games of a mature nature, that it is indeed NOT a game designed for kids because of that very rating. There is a lack of understanding here, and games aimed at children can perfectly coexist with games made for adults (like they already do), just like the same is true for TV and film.
Banning a game which has been created by adults for adults, is absolutely nonsensical and we shouldn’t stand for it. Maybe this would be acceptable in an Orwellian society, but most of us live in democracies. Australia isn’t a authoritarian police state, so why can its citizens not enjoy a videogame when they are of adult age. Some might say that it is not only gaming as a medium and as an industry which is being infantilized, but also its users.
It is censorship, pure and simple. It is a clear violation of our freedom of expression in my view, and as human beings we should not stand for that. It is one thing is to disagree or be unfavorable towards a certain consumer product; it is something entirely different to ban that consumer product from use to an entire country. Censorship. There is no other word for it.
This question needs to be asked: Why can’t I, as an adult, decide which videogames I want to play? Video gaming is not a medium that only caters to children or underaged individuals, and it should not be treated as such. How is gaming ever going to evolve into something greater when it is constantly infantilized and ‘put in the corner’ to protect a minority of users that don’t have any business playing games that they don’t qualify to play according to the ESRB rating system?
What I have concluded to be the focus of the concern, is the interactive nature of videogames. It is the dimension that TV and film lack, and it is what makes videogames such a unique and invaluable medium. Videogames have mechanics that do not work in any other medium, and the fact that the player can control the action to the degrees that we see possible in games like GTA, scares those that believe games cause real world violence and aggression. This myth will be put to bed some day, but for now, we’ll keep hearing it and we’ll keep rolling our eyes in distaste.We will always fall back to the fact that there is no evidence backing their claims. Their hypotheses are faulty, and even if we were to look at violent crime in correlation to sales of videogames ,we’d find that violent crime has gone down while videogame sales have risen. Whether or not a graph shows a rise or fall in violent crime in correlation to videogame sales, is more or less unimportant. Correlation does not imply causation, and if you were to look into a real correlation between the two, you’d have to dig much deeper than sales numbers and crime rates.
I see videogames as a beautiful artform that can entertain in a multitude of ways, and we are finally seeing progress in storytelling: Developers are daring to venture into the unknown, challenging conventions, pushing boundaries, and they are currently being punished for it. This transitional phase is hard to work through, but we will get there. It is only a matter of time. The fanatics are a dying breed, and their tales of old will soon be forgotten. Our medium will keep expanding, and it will keep pushing the boundaries, and it will be accepted as an artform. And once that happens, the infantilization of gaming will be nothing but history.
What did you think of this editorial? Do you agree or disagree? What do you think about the implementation of more mature themes in videogames?