Friday, 9 May 2008

Drugs, sex, violence, murder, expletives and nudey bits and all before breakfast

This could end up being a bit of a long post as it's something I feel relatively passionate about.

Not sure exactly what images have been conjured up in your mind from the time and what assumptions you have made about me from them, but to put some of them to rest, at least, I'm talking about computer games, more specifically however those aimed at a more mature audience, such as GTA IV, which I may have mentioned before, but the list of games rated at either M (Mature) or AO (Adult Only) which I equates to essentially an 18 rating in the UK (ESRB), I'll be referring to the US ratings a lot in this post just so that it matches with reference material.

I was prompted to write this post after reading this post on Gamespot (the place I get a good deal of game related info from). Furthermore I watched this video over on x3f (another source of 360 gaming info). Both these articles (well article and video) highlight the growing concerns over violence and various other things in games. The first article shows a more sensible side to the recent abundance of attacks (aimed at GTA IV) that of looking to control the selling of M or AO rated games to under age gamers, which to be honest seems a little on the late side (in terms of GTA) and also seems like something that should have been going on since the ratings came into place. Surely the ESRB was set up to try to stop games reaching the wrong age groups and no doubt it was set up by the government as a way of controlling games, but it doesn't seem to be enough. It makes sense, to me at least, that a game rated as 18 get sold to people aged 18+ and the same goes for 15 and 12 etc. Now this obviously requires the person doing the selling to be aware of the age limit and not be afraid to ask someone who they suspect isn't for for of them being a young looking 20 year old. It also requires them to not be an idiot and sell it to someone who is blatantly under aged. Personally I think that if something is rated as an 18 then it should only really be bought by people aged 18+ as the ratings are there for a reason, they're not ridiculous and I'm 23 so I don't have to worry. Obviously if I was 17 I'd be a little annoyed, but I'd still have the game as I got it over the intermapipes where no age verification was required (a flaw if ever there was one).

I'll admit that when I was 13 (back in 1997) I played GTA (an 18) and Fallout (a 15) both games I was not old enough to play, legally. However I have hardly gone around killing people in gruesome ways, yet *. I also watched a variety of 18 rated films way before my 18th birthday and, to my amusement on telling my mother, whose response was "You didn't drink under age did you?" (The naiveity of my mum is great, I just thought it was good parenting by just letting me get on with it and not making a fuss), I did go out and get all drunk before I was 18 too oh and smoked some weed, but that's just plain illegal (I'm not boasting by the way, I'm just being honest). I'd also heard a variety of swear words whilst in primary school, had a vague understanding of sex and the like by the start of secondary school, prior to "sex education" and had seen the naked lady form before then too. Very little of this had anything to do with computer games or TV. However it all shaped me into who I am today and hasn't made me into a crazy killing machine, but then isn't that the way humans grow? using the various experiences gained throughout life to define yourself? Admittedly there are some undesirable factors in my life, which I am working to resolve but there are other factors which are to be embraced and expanded upon. I enjoy watching films with blood and violence, but I also enjoy films without all that, and I know that if I was ever faced with death or violence in real life I would not by any means revel in it. So from all this I can say that I understand why young people want to play games like GTA IV and that they'll be able to get hold of it regardless of laws because that's what kids do. You still get kids buying alcohol under 18 or even getting some idiot to get it for them. However my concerns for the tiny, impressionable minds of kids does extend to GTA IV, as I have been atleast mildly disturbed by the realism of the game, especially when running people over, and it makes me think, with the advent of more realistic graphics, should ratings and control on the selling of games be tightened, and I think the answer is yes. Back in the 90's when game graphics where all pretty pixels and funny looking, running over a "person" in gta was like hitting a collection of squares with a bigger collection of squares and associating these pixels as humans was not exactly easy as they bared no resemblance, however nowadays things are a lot different. The characters on screen look like real humans and the cars like real cars and when the two collide they provoke a similar reaction to what might happen in real life, namely a bone crunching death. One of the major points in the video is about being able to get hookers, have sex with them, then kill them. Which is indeed true. However it is not a major part of the game, as said by the lovely Cheryl K. Olson, who made some very valid points. I personally will not be attracting any hookers or stabbing them to death as I just don't think this is appropriate behaviour even in a game. Now, why put this feature in the game if it's going to cause so much controversy? Well firstly it's Rockstar, without controversy they'd have to pay for more advertising, but also, because it's real. Hookers exist in this world, so it follows they should exist in a computer generated world that depicts real life, if they where immune to death it would be a little silly. You can stab anyone in the game and reap the rewards, usually a small amount of money, but not enough to make it worth while all the time, and potentially the police coming after you, with guns. So why isn't this fact more prominently portrayed? Because that would be boring news. It seems the people want to condemn games as ruining society, when it doesn't have a great deal to do with it, in my opinion. Rock&Roll was condemned when it was popular in the 50s, as was Rock in the 60s and 70s (think I have the dates right), so was Rap music, so was the film industry and TV and now it's the turn of computer games.

The issue of sex in games has been pulled up a number of times, most recently in Mass Effect a RPG set in space which allows you to have sex! with aliens! cool huh. Well fox news jumped all over this claiming that it was full frontal nudity and you could chose what to do, which is untrue (I actually haven't played this game that much so haven't even got to that bit, but seeing it's not a major part I will probably not do it anyway) according to various gamers who know their stuff (ie. Larry Herb a microsoft employee responsible for Xbox Live stuff). Yet Fox make it out to be something akin to porn and a major bit of the game. Further more Cooper Lawrence a self help "guru" who just happens to be good looking and up her own bottom, slates it mighteously then admits that she has never played the game, thus can't really have an objective (or is it subjective) opinion. Their main problem seems to be that it depicts women as sex objects, which it doesn't and that young boys will think that that's how things work, which they don't, they generally get that from their parents and friends and the media, which is constantly showing us pictures of scantly clan men and women and essentially saying "if you don't look like this then you're a lower life form". Admittedly games will have some influence on peoples lives and outlooks, but so do many other things that are classed as normal in today's society. Unfortunately this video doesn't let the guy defending the game Geoff Keighley have too much of a say, but let Cooper spew molten rubbish into the ears of all the concerned parents who then believe it. My favourite quote so far is from the Fox video the anchor " have to pick up the box and look at the back for the rating.." Oh my word, of all the difficult parenting tasks in the world, picking up the box of a game and looking at the back (well actually it's usually there on the front, but I'll not pick holes) is hardly the most taxing, she then goes on to say that you have to be involved in what your kids are looking at, ie their lives. Surely as a parent you have to be involved in your kids lives, or pass them over to the latino nanny so they can do it for you. It shocks me that people are using that as an excuse to dislike video games. From what I've heard Fox did apologise afterwards for reporting misinformed information, however the damage is done, people are too quick to jump all over things without finding out all the facts and then not overly willing to back pedal when they're wrong.

I guess that really I have nothing much to worry about, being 23 I can pretty much get whatever I like, whenever I like, money willing. There are age restrictions of 25 in some places (Spar for instance has a very unenforced 25 limit on anything with an age restriction) but hey not long until I'm 25. However it riles me that people attack things without any prior knowledge (something that I'm probably guilty of myself, so I shall try to be more careful). I think that ideally 18 rated games shouldn't be given to people younger than 18, but it's up to the parents and even the kids to make the right decision. I also think that by telling a kid "you can't have that you're too young" you're essentially saying "this is awesome, you must get it". I believe my parents did a god job raising me, which includes the whole being a Christian thing, I'm pretty sure I would be very different if I weren't a Christian and potentially a worse person, but that is not by any means an attack on non-Christians, that is simply an analysis of my personality and how much God has had an influence on my life and decisions over the years and continues to. Anyway, my upbringing was far from perfect but it instilled a variety of qualities which I'm glad are their, and I hope to pass on to my own offspring if and when I have any. I think that one thing I would like to do is have a more active part in my kids gaming lives (if they have any, may not like computer games, leaving me to game alone in a dark room), and either playing with them or atleast vetting games that they want, because it's one of those horrible jobs parents just have to do, play games to make sure it's safe for their kids, shame really. I may also try to show them what the outside looks like too. I'll probably let them decide what they want to do, then join in.

I think that's it from me on this topic, I may have more, but I could do with getting on with some revision for my exam on Monday, hurrah.

* By means of a disclaimer, this is a joke! I am never going to go around killing people, despite all the gorey games and films I watch and hardcore music I listen to (covering metal and rap).


immedia reaction said...

I think I would be slightly less upset by the whole "hey kill the hooker to get your money back" scenario if you could purchase men for sex too and then recoup your expenditure in similar fashion...

Or would that be too unrealistic?

Also, can you play this game as a female character? How do you think people would react if the game allowed people to play as female characters and kill male ones?

I'm not sure I have a view on this myself, as someone who never got beyond playing Sonic the Hedgehog and Micro Machines about once each, and always preferred reading books, I don't feel hugely qualified to comment.

However, as Patrick can testify, I'm more than able to make pretty much anything about gender bias and why the patriarchy sucks mooseballs... so I'm trying very hard not to here.

TheTelf said...

Good post - There's enough I want to say on the whole game-censorship thing that I'll probably do it in a separate post at some point.

On Hannah's point about playing as a female character and the existence of male hookers, I don't know, having not played, but if it's anything like previous GTA games, it's assumed you're playing as a straight man, and there's no configuration options to change it.

In terms of a game in which you play as a woman and kill men, I don't think people would react differently at all - games like BloodRayne have been around for ages, with a female lead character and lots of gore.

And yes, I can testify that Hannah could find gender-bias on the back of a fun size mars bar wrapper if she wanted to...

Andy J. Wotherspoon said...

Thanks for comments guys (and gal), they where both interesting in their own ways.

I can confirm that you can't play as a female character, there are no male hookers and aside from going on a mission requiring you to pose as a single gay guy looking for love (with a shotgun hidden under your jumper so you can shoot the guy in the face on your first "date") you are most definitely straight and don't mind killing people of any colour, creed of gender.

The problem with female protagonists is that they generally don't end up being seen as a blood thirst killing machine. In the case of Perfect Dark Zero, where you play as Joanna Dark, an unsurprisingly good looking lady (sexism hoooo (thundercats reference, not me calling here a ho)) who likes to play with guns You get to go around shooting up bad guys with guns. However it differs in many ways to GTA. Firstly it's an FPS which generally limits who you can shoot (ie. bad guys, not hookers/anything that moves), secondly it's a 16, so not overly gory, thirdly you are most definitely good and trying to stop evil, nothing grey about it, and finally it's not made by a publisher who are generally surrounded in and revel in controversy.

There is also a game called Mirrors Edge coming out which has another sexy looking protagonist and again, from the little I've, seen from the only trailer that exists, you don't get to shoot people in the face with guns, particularly not civilians.

I'm not sure what would happen if GTA brought out a game with a female lead. No doubt a good number of gamers would get all stupid over it and refuse to play it (something that actually happens in the reverse with some female gamers, if they can't play as a female they don't play the game, which personally I think is a little silly as there are some fantastic games which have only male leads.), but whether on not The League of Extraordinary Degenerates would jump all over it, I am unsure of. They would probably slate it as sexist even if it was not in anyway simply because it would be portraying a female doing something which would maybe not be classed as normal for them to do.

Hopefully I haven't been in any way gender-biased or anything, but I'm sure I'll know if I have :D

immedia reaction said...

I think I'll have to go out and buy a fun size mars bar tomorrow, just to check that the patriarchy ain't screwing the sisters over somehow in the way it lists the ingredients... but you can't put anything past these tricksy male bastards. Devious they are ;P

Just to hit Andy in the face with some gender-biased grammar usage while I'm at it: you say "Thanks for the comments, guys (and gal)." Yet only two people at that point had responded, one clearly male and the other female. Your "s" was superfluous, unless you're implying I'm some sort of androgynous being. Which I wouldn't mind, I'm just askin' y'know.

(Just to clarify, correcting other people's grammar is a major part of my professional life and I'm also a congenital pedant, which is possibly why I entered such a profession in the first place. Unfortunately, I find it difficult to switch off.)

Right, actual answer follows on from this point:

"The problem with female protagonists is that they don't end up being seen as a blood-thirsty killing machine." - How is this a problem? Are you saying they should be so? Or do you just mean that they are generally not portrayed the same way as men so expecting a game in which they might be portrayed as such is unrealistic?

And it's ok, I got the Thundercats reference. I have not dispatched a squad of robots to painfully emasculate you :) Be happy! Yay!

What's an FPS?

If games are as good as all that, why can't they create female leads as well? Do you mind playing as a woman? Or are you secure enough in your sexuality? (Not intended as an offensive question) Or are you not really fannied one way or the other?

TheTelf said...

Realise your response was aimed at Andy, but thought I'd chip in quickly since I saw your comment.

FPS = first person shooter.

And personally I have no problem playing any game as male or female, and for the vast majority of games out there, gender doesn't come into it at all.

Painful emasculation? I do hope that wasn't a castration threat. That would be so very out of character for you...

immedia reaction said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andy J. Wotherspoon said...

I was referring to myself aswell when I said "guys". I didn't want myself getting jealous later on... or I'm just bad at English.

quoting you, quoting me (aah haar): ""The problem with female protagonists is that they don't end up being seen as a blood-thirsty killing machine." - How is this a problem?"

Yeah this sentence confused me to. Not entirely sure where I was going with it. I started with "The problem with female protagonist..." then kinda got lost and tried not to make it seem like there was a problem with them. Maybe if I'd removed the work problem all would've been well.

I was going to rephrase this and say something like, male dominated sector, blah blah blah, women can't do horrible thing, blah blah blah, some other lame comment, blah blah, but then I thought of Kill Bill, an excellent film with a crazy lady going on a rampage, hurrah. So really it'd work with a female lead. But it has to be done right, as do male leads, but they tend to be able to get away with it easier.

Uma McThurman did a fantastic job of being a bad-ass without coming across like some overly cocky turd who can't fight to save her life, unlike Kylie in the Street Fighter film (I can't really remember her performance, but I'm sure it was crap). Male leads tend to get away with overly hammed bad-assness, by covering it in testosterone and huge muscles and hoping no one notices, where as women come of worse, in my opinion, which is probably something to do with the gender-biases that are inherent in our culture and have brainwashed me.

As a mild afterthought to this, I also just remembered that Ghost in the Shell (an awesome animé) has a female as the main character and she kicks ass, both literally and metaphorically.

I'm unsure as to whether some of the games I own would have worked as well with a female lead, but not having any way of finding out I'm speculating somewhat.

that being said, I have no problem with playing games with a female lead. My collection speaks to the opposite however, as I have predominately male only character games with a few where you can choose, but I always play as a bloke, sorry. That being said, I may try to pick up Perfect Dark, it got a good rating and should cost £10 now, also I will most likely be getting Mirrors Edge, hopefully my new found chest extensions wont distract me too much when I'm running around and jumping off buildings, inappropriate joke I know.

Anyway I'm sure that what I've just said will continue scooping out handfuls from the Can-o-worms I seem to have unwittingly opened, hurrah.