HippoPotenuse
  » the skewed views of a large opinion: Persistent World Design
Monday, October 20, 2003
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(for reference: catalyst)

Does anyone claim that Steven Spielberg shouldn't have made Saving Private Ryan or Schindler's list? Was he making light, or 'making a buck' on the idea of Americans dying overseas, or ethnic cleansing?

Of course not. And while everyone in the industry aknowledges that the way to grow gaming is to drive for more mature, more interactive, more cinematic experiences; people are attempting to set a social rule on what are and are not appropriate topics for video games.

Video games may very well be considered 'art' the way people consider film 'art' in 10 years. Or, they may be relegated to 'childish' whimsy like comics.

Asking game developers to ignore certain topics, regardless of context, because they might offend someone is very much akin to the self-imposed 'Comic Code' of the 60s. Within The Code, the creators could only explore child-safe content as defined by the broadest possible American social definition of 'safe'. This has nearly killed the industry as a publicly-recognized, legitimate, artistic medium. Every American comic became trapped by the restrictive code and fell into a niche as a childish diversion. This narrowed the audience and fueled the feedback loop of only attracting 'childish' story seekers and only producing stories suitable for the narrow audience.

Compare this with the evolution of anime in Japan. Sure, we all make derisive remarks about 'tentacle porn' - but anime in Japan is an accepted medium -- it isn't just for kids. The company man on the train to tokyo, reading a manga strip with his coffee is not dismissed as a social adolscent the way anyone reading an American comic on a New York subway would be. Their culture treats it more on par with film or literature.

Why? Precisely because only a certain subset of anime is devoted to children and child-safe topics (yu gi oh, pokemon, etc) - the larger segment covers mature subjects one might find in a TV drama or film (ghost in the shell, akira). American comics have no mainstream parallel. There is a parallel in more 'indie' American comics, but the social stigma on the media as a whole mars these indies completely. Even american animated movies suffer from this, and are relegated to what Walt Disney felt was 'child safe'.

Visceral emotional response is the key to allowing people to realize that games need not only be about mindlessly pulling a trigger, stacking blocks, or collecting coins. Not that there is anything wrong with some twitch play - just as there is nothing wrong with shallow action flicks.

A game simulating the Uday/Qusay vs USAF shootout would certainly have questionable timing, if particularly identifying the subjects by name; but it shouldn't be labelled in poor taste so because of its content, but rather depending upon
its context.

If the simulation of that situation was created to educate people about the difficulties and human life risk associated in breach/clear/capture operations against a fully dedicated opponent in a populated urban setting - that strikes me as potentially reasonable. If the purpose of the game is simply to allow people to pump round after round into from-the-headlines political figures, then that is certainly tasteless.

Note it is the gameplay -- the context -- that indicates tastelessness. People always blur the issue of context in their discussions of whether these games are 'bad' or not.

Here and now is where it will be decided. It's in how we respond to the attacks against games like Vice City. Is it inappropriate because of it's context? or is it inappropriate subject matter, content, that we must 'protect our children' from in the gaming industry as a whole?

Will games be treated as an interactive extension of legitimate art?
Or an interactive extension of American comics?
 
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