This past week marked a historic moment in the history of video games. It wasn’t widely reported, but legislation for the R18+ rating has passed through the House of Representatives in Australia, after it was held up with an inquiry last month. It’s only another step towards the realisation, but it is a major one, and the furthest that the idea has gotten since it was first floated a decade ago. It is now expected to be approved by the Senate easily enough and will then progress to final approval by the Governor-General. Following this, each state and territory is obligated to pass their own legislation regarding the sale of such titles by the end of the year for it to fully come into effect on the 1st of January 2013.
You may wonder why I’ve elected to kick off this article with the preceding information, and the only response I can grant is vanity. As an Australian, I’ve felt chafed, at times, by this cumbersome restriction that prevents adults from enjoying the full, uncensored experience of certain video games. There are a number of titles that have had to be edited to enter our shores, from Grand Theft Auto to Left 4 Dead and The Witcher 2. I concede that most examples to be brought up offer no real difference in terms of the gameplay itself. It’s a simple matter of adjusting the level of violence and sexual content that is portrayed. It’s often gratuitous and immature, but it’s an important step towards gaining maturity to have every major market able to enjoy uncensored games, as films such as Taxi Driver, Scarface and A Clockwork Orange may attest to. Furthermore, it can only result in an unshackling of creative freedom. Now, there is only Germany that labours under major restrictions of what can be released and this means that developers should feel more free to examine what it means to be human in games.
Speaking of creative freedom, Tameem Antonaides, lead designer of Ninja Theory, the maligned studio behind the upcoming reinvention of Devil May Cry, was interviewed recently by PSM3. In the course of it, he mentioned that he believes that games should not be designed around what the fans insist that they want. That, he argued, will only lead to “creative bankruptcy” and thusly to the destruction of a series. He also said that the goal of any designer should be to create a product that “everyone involved is proud of”. On both of these counts, I am heartily in agreement. There is a certain, singular pleasure to be had in working on something that is entirely your own, ignoring what any detractors have to say about it in the process. While Antonaides doesn’t exactly display conviction in saying that consumers will respond to the vision of an auteur, that has already been proven in the past with artistically driven games, examples of which were rife in last week’s debut of this column. People respond to fresh ideas, and that is exactly what Ninja Theory are offering with DmC: Devil may Cry. Sure, there was a backlash to it, but that has cooled, and while it may never sell five million copies, it should still do better than any of the studios earlier titles thanks to the brand recognition and the controversy that it has sparked.
Alas, I could continue on the topic of creativity until my fingers drop off, it really is a favourite of mine, but it was not what I intended to write about when embarking on this article. I began with a look at video games in Australian politics, but an idea was brought up by U.S. Congressman Joe Baca this past week also, regarding the placement of warning labels upon all games that garner a rating of or above ‘E for Everyone’. Now, content warnings, I can fully understand, they are already in place to tell us if a game contains drug references, violence or sexual content. That’s not only reasonable, but responsible. It’s a quick indicator for parents to gauge whether that particular game may be suitable for their child, but that is NOT what is being proposed by this bigoted fool.
No, what he wants is a label affixed somewhere on the cover with the words: “WARNING: Exposure to violent video games has been linked to aggressive behavior” upon it. The statement is barely short of an outright fallacy. No unbiased study to date has managed to prove an intrinsic connection between the violence portrayed in video games and that which often erupts in the schoolyards and streets. Indeed, some have gone a way to prove the exact opposite and that people turn to games as a way to relieve the stress of their daily lives. In contrast to this, I acknowledge that, in individual cases, lines can be drawn between gaming habits and outwardly violent behaviour, but I do not, for a second, believe that this is the case on anything even approaching a large scale. There is an axiom which states that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. The same ideology can be applied here. A game will not make someone think that it is alright to go on a shooting spree or commit acts of overt violence, anymore than a film will, unless that person suffers from a disconnection with reality, is predisposed to violence or is impressionable to a point that cannot be reasonably expected in a person over twelve years of age.
As part of Baca’s press release for the introduction of this Bill, you’ll find the following: “… research continues to show that playing violent video games is a casual risk factor for a host of detrimental effects in both the short- and long-term, including increasing the likelihood of physically aggressive behavior.” At no point, however, is there any indication of the research mentioned. Okay, it is only a press release, not the Bill itself, but the least that could have been offered to give it any credence would be to supply the sources of that research so that interested parties could take a look at exactly what he is basing his assertions upon. There is nothing of the sort.
What is offered is unfounded statements by biased men that have, very likely, never played a video game in their lives, and are basing their actions upon the slant of the media, which, in concert with some defence counsels, has made gaming into a scapegoat for crime. They’ve blamed everything from petty theft to riots, murders and school shootings on games, displaying, in the process, a heavy slant towards the intended vilification of the hobby. This is nothing new, however. It is not dissimilar to what happened at the introduction of rap music and heavy metal to the masses. It is simply a case of history repeating itself ad nauseum, as we appear to need to something to blame for the shortcomings of society and those bad apples that make this world a rather unpleasant place to live.
To put a positive spin on this however, gaming has been around for more than thirty years. This means that those that were engaged with the inception of it are now the ones to lead the world into a new era, where it is accepted. It really is only a matter and with a seeming majority of today’s youth in the first world nations partaking of the hobby, that acceptance will only continue to grow. It may be another twenty years before we can put such inimitable nonsense as this proposed Bill behind us, but it will come to pass.
In the meantime, however, we will have to continue to put up sensationalist headlines such as those found in ‘The Sun’ newspaper, one of the more recent of which would have us believe that terrorists are using popular first person shooters to communicate their plans and plots to one another. First of all, I’m not sure why anyone would give ‘The Sun’ the time of day. It’s a sensationalist tabloid newspaper that, frankly, covers nonsense and not a whole lot more. Nevertheless, there is a portion of the population that is willing to take note of this kind of abject stupidity.
The article states that the terrorists use such games so that they can mask their plots as discussion relevant to what they are doing in game. The reason why they have chosen this method is that phones and e-mails can be monitored. This argument is probably the most ridiculous of all. The thought that an organised cell would be so blind as to think that gaming lobbies are completely safe from prying eyes and ears is simply incomprehensible. The assertion that they use the games as training is even more laughable. Anyone that has ever played a game like this, and has even the most remote knowledge of real weaponry knows that it is not so easy to handle and reload as pushing a button. And with the complete lack of tactics displayed by most players, it certainly couldn’t be used to simulate a realistic scenario.
The ideas in that article are flawed beyond belief, working, at best, upon assumptions made by a writer that is firmly in the camp of those that are determined to write gaming off as harmful. Frankly, I find it insulting.
Look, I’m hardly an unbiased person in respect to effects that gaming has on a person, but I pride myself on being reasonable and logical. Even so, I can’t give any weight to the arguments put forth by gaming detractors in light of scientific evidence contrary to what they’ve put forth. It’s pathetic, and I can’t wait for the day that we can look back on this tumultuous period and laugh at the foolishness that we all felt so embroiled in.