Game Eaters

Monday, July 11, 2005

Wow, I agree with Greg Costikyan

Truthfully, I don't have anything against Costikyan's opinions, although I often take issue with the way he presents them. However, anyone who's been reading my rants against Rockstar Games (mostly in LiveJournal) can probably tell that I agree wholeheartedly with the concept of bitchslapping Rockstar Games.

I don't really believe the alleged "Sex Minigames" are actually in GTA:SA, though, and it's certainly within the realm of possibility that the sexual content has been added by the mod. Then again, I haven't actually tried installing said mod. Even then, my lack of sympathy for Rockstar arises more from its approach to violence rather than sex. Rockstar's games just don't seem to have much to say about violence besides "it sells more SKUs." Sure, freedom of speech and all that, but it's a lot easier to make a case for it when there's some clear public benefit from pushing the envelope, and Rockstar's gratuitous-violence-just-for-the-heck-of-it doesn't help.


  • Can you name any violent video games that are violent for any reason other than 'it sells more SKUs'?

    Because I'm drawing a blank.

    I'd also be interested in knowing how exactly the relatively tame violence of the GTA series is 'pushing the envelope,' or how violence in video games can be (or has been) used for the sake of 'some clear public benefit.'

    In other words, is this a rant against violence in popular entertainment or Rockstar in particular?

    If the former, coping skills are a necessity, as the American people like their simulated violence--whether in video games, action movies or other media--and it isn't going anywhere.

    Lastly, due to Rockstar not disputing the strenuous claims of the mod creator that he merely unlocked code already present in GTA:SA, it seems quite likely that the 'sex minigames' were indeed already there. I would think that only a card-carrying member of the Polly Prissypants League For Denying Basic Human Urges who also happened to be blind--and therefore unable to see the M rating on the game box--would have a problem with this.

    Just wait until the yammering censorship-mongers figure out what 'hentai games' are!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:26 AM  

  • I can name a couple of games that have a good reason for their violence. Metal Gear Solid 3, for instance, tries to engage the player into thinking about the motivations and demands of a soldier. How a soldier is supposed to perform his or her role in the context of public policy, the definition of 'loyalty' and 'enemy', and so on. The game actively permits violent actions, yet penalizes the choices through stylized consequences.

    The first Resident Evil game draws extensively on the gore and gruesomeness of the zombie genre. Violence is depicted as something that is often ineffectual in the face of undead monsters in order to generate a sense of fear and helplessness in the player.

    Deus Ex maintains violent options for solving any problem, yet many of the weapons have dual uses that are explictly used to avoid violent confrontations. In fact, if you want to, you can completely sidestep all the violent options and still complete the game through negotiation and sneakiness.

    Knights of the Old Republic uses the Light Side/Dark Side duality of the force to reinforce an aspect of their license. Deadly, damage-causing powers are enhanced with the player's decisions to become more wilfully evil, while curing, evasion and disabling are easier when the player actively keeps to the path of good.

    And these are the first four that occurred to me. There are many more that I can think of. All these games allow the player to engage with violence in an interesting way, by making them have to explicitly choose violence, and having interesting consequences as a result. The violence makes thematic sense and is there for more reasons than simply to stir up headlines. It's also well implemented as a gameplay mechanic.

    GTA is probably not the worst offender in Rockstar's lineup of questionably violent games. In fact, the fact that the police do start coming after you (albeit after you wreak a surprisingly large amount of damage) is somewhat interesting, which leads to what I believe is GTA's best component: a car chase simulator.

    I'm thinking more about games like Manhunt. The violence, to begin with, is poorly implemented. Duck, wait for a lull, step out and shoot, repeat. The storytelling plods, the character and enemies are lifeless, the whole concept feels contrived and uninteresting. When you play the game, you don't get a sense that the game designers really care about the point of the game. It just feels like it's meant to offend someone to get more headlines, and thus, more sales.

    Truth is, I have no problem with sex in games (rape, I have issues with). I would suggest that it's important for the appropriate sex descriptors to be put with the M rating (as all ESRB ratings also include a few phrases to describe what warranted the rating), but if Rockstar had not enabled the feature in its release versions, I don't really care that some modder managed to unlock it.

    By Blogger Philip, at 2:18 AM  

  • I'm not sure how I feel about this. On one hand I totally agree with Philip about violence needing (in general) to be more meaningful in games. Games need to grow up, but so does the ESRB. What passes for "mature content" is often laughable in terms of language and sexuality... and represents a conservative world view that, I'd argue, deserves to be subverted. I understand Costikyan's criticism of Rockstar, but I also don't think the ESRB's puritanical bullshit needs to be encouraged.

    Rockstar may or may not be jerks, but the fact that the ESRB doesn't seem to know the difference between GTA:SA and MGS3 is something I find a lot more scary than some lame sex mini-game that probably pales in comparison to the real-life sexual experience of the teens who will play it.

    By Blogger Matt, at 10:42 AM  

  • Better the ESRB's puritanical bullshit than the neocons'.

    By Blogger Philip, at 11:06 AM  

  • On the ESRB vs. NeoCons issue...

    I suppose I prefer self-censorship to govenment imposed censorship, but self-censorship is still a mole that needs to be wacked.

    By Blogger Matt, at 12:42 PM  

  • Can't we whack Rockstar first? My original writeup had nothing to do with ESRB's involvement in this case at all. What I'm more worried about is Rockstar's lackadaisical attitude towards the damage that it is inviting to the games industry in order to generate the controversy that spurs the sales of their own games.

    While the ESRB has slippery guidelines, at least the presence of the ESRB allows edgier games to exist on store shelves in the first place. It's flawed, but it's no Comics Code. Rockstar's apparent marketing strategy may be great for short term sales, but that same controversy gives some Capitol Hill noisemakers more ammunition in their campaign to practically halt the sales of violent games. Then it won't be just the Manhunts and the GTAs, but the Deus Ex's, Resident Evils and MGS's as well. Even games that use violence intelligently won't be able to do so with their full palette any more.

    I'm living in a country where GTA was outlawed, and even Counterstrike was banned for a short period of time. Thankfully, that pattern is changing as the government gets more gamers (such as I) involved in the process of defining the classification scheme. Would the US Government will start hiring gamers (or at least informed specialists) to demarcate the boundaries of saleable games?

    By Blogger Philip, at 3:15 PM  

  • I can see what you mean. I guess I'm just naturally inclined to see the issue from another perspective. I find it hard to really get upset with Rockstar because I don't find much of the violence in GTA very serious. It's mostly like a Warner Bros. cartoon with blood. I don't find that very offensive, frankly. Fairer game, I think, is Rockstar's exploitation of racial and political content... which is seems simultaneously clever and tasteless.

    I'm not saying Rockstar is blameless. Their "badboy" conduct is bothersome at times, sure. I also really wish they would come out of the closet and be responsible artists who are willing to discuss their work as speech. But I personally find it difficult to get all bent out of shape about Rockstar when the sheer bulk of the stupidity seems to be coming from the politicians. But that's just me.

    By Blogger Matt, at 3:51 PM  

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