Tag Archives | Controversy

How 42-Year-Old Porn Might Screw Video Games

“Censors are, of course, propelled by their own neuroses. That is why a universally accepted definition of obscenity is impossible. Any definition is indeed highly subjective, turning on the neurosis of the censor.”

So said U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Douglas in 1968, arguing against most of his colleagues who felt that selling nude magazines to minors should be a criminal offense. The courts, he said, should not decide what’s suitable for people to read. That decision is best left to parents or religious groups.

As today’s Supreme Court grappled with the legality of selling violent video games to minors, Douglas’ dissent in Ginsburg v. New York seemed as relevant as ever.

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Taliban Scrubbed From Medal of Honor Multiplayer

The cops and robbers gunplay in Medal of Honor’s multiplayer mode will no longer include the Taliban.

Instead, enemy players will be known as the “Opposing Force.” Taliban will still be part of the single-player campaign in Electronic Arts’ modern war shooter, which will be released on October 12.

Greg Goodrich, Medal of Honor’s executive producer, said Taliban were removed from the game’s multiplayer mode out respect to friends and family of fallen soldiers, some of whom showed concern. “This is a very important voice to the Medal of Honor team,” Goodrich wrote in a blog post. “This is a voice that has earned the right to be listened to. It is a voice that we care deeply about.”

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When War Games Hit Too Close to Home

Over the weekend, Fox News kicked off a controversy by asking whether the upcoming Medal of Honor goes too far in letting players fight as the Taliban.

The debate on Fox News and the angry comments from Karen Meredith, a Gold Star Mom, don’t surprise me in the slightest or interest me all that much. Anyone who’s kept an eye on the first-person shooter since it was announced last December could’ve seen the outrage coming from a mile away.

What interests me is that even some game critics, who as a group usually rally to defend the morality of violent video games, realize that Electronic Arts might’ve crossed a line with Medal of Honor.

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GTAIV Expansion Dubbed “The Ballad of Gay Tony”

gtaivApparently not satisfied with the level of controversy in video games lately, Rockstar has announced the next downloadable expansion for Grand Theft Auto IV, and it will be subtitled “The Ballad of Gay Tony.”

The add-on will focus on an assistant to the eponymous nightclub owner Tony Prince. Players will “struggle with the competing loyalties of family and friends, and with the uncertainty about who is real and who is fake in a world in which everyone has a price,” according to the press release.

So it’s only a matter of time before someone appears on cable news channels to complain and we start hearing appeals to bar the game from release — all for naught, of course.

Normally, I’d say “let’s not jump to conclusions,” but I’m willing to bet that this expansion pack will offend people because Grand Theft Auto has always relied on stereotypes for its characters. Like Comedy Central’s South Park, GTA is an equal opportunity offender, but instead of relying on satire, it mixes horribly offensive jokes with a thin layer of compassion that gently tugs at the player’s sense of decency.

For that reason, you won’t get a condemnation from me. I’m actually pleased to see Rockstar Games state its intentions so blatantly, especially in an industry whose fear of homophobia (no, that’s not a typo) has repeatedly caused problems. Besides, this is a game for mature audiences. Those who worry for our precious children might first want to check on seemingly innocuous games, like Punch-Out.


"Fallujah" Video Game Dropped Over Controversy

fallujahFun shouldn’t have to be the be-all end-all of video games, so I approached Six Days in Fallujah, a game based on a bloody battle in Iraq, with cautious optimism. Maybe this would be the title that takes war for what it is — intense and violent, with deeper consequences than “win or lose” — rather than a shooting gallery in realistic skin.

I tweeted as much when the game’s developers at Atomic Games talked about how they would address that issue. A report that the game included the perspective of insurgents piqued my interest even further. Maybe this game would not simply be Call of Duty: Modern Warfare with specific historical details.

It could be all for naught now that Konami has abandoned Six Days in Fallujah. A representative for the company told Asahi Shimbun that the decision came after “seeing the reaction to the videogame in the United States and hearing opinions sent through phone calls and e-mail.”

This doesn’t necessarily rule out the game. Another publisher could pick it up, but will any company want to? The outcry must have been pretty bad for Konami to back down from the controversy, because usually a strong negative response from concerned groups translates into free marketing. I guess it’s easier to justify the fictionalized, cartoonish violence of Grand Theft Auto than the portrayal of an ongoing war.

The other possibility is that Six Days in Fallujah isn’t as deep and meaningful as I had hoped, and Konami knows it. Even so, I’d still like to see this game come to market. The games industry might have learned a valuable lesson on what’s appropriate subject matter for video games and how to approach it. Instead, the stigma remains that games can’t take on a serious topic with anything but pure entertainment in mind.


The Double Standard of Violent Video Game Laws

Here we go again.

This week, a federal appeals court in Sacramento heard arguments as to whether the government should uphold a 2005 law to regulate and ban violent video game sales to minors.

We’ve already seen the same situation play out in Louisiana and Minnesota, where federal courts have struck down appeals. Other states’ attempts at similar laws never made it this far.

“Aren’t you asking this court to go where no court has gone before?” Appellate Judge Consuelo Callahan asked at the start of the trial–and rightfully so. These laws die without a causal link between video games and violent behavior. This hasn’t changed, though the state’s attorneys tried to raise evidence to the contrary.

Look, I’m all for not selling these games to kids. Even though the games of my youth–Doom, Mortal Kombat–started this hysteria, I understand video game violence looks a lot different now and should probably not be encountered by children unless a parent is there to explain it.

But the same is true for all violent media, whether it’s books, movies or music. Video games are worse, critics say, because they are interactive, but the potential payoff is greater when players identify with a character, deal first-hand with moral and social dilemmas or play online and work as a team.

There exists here a double standard. This law would relegate games to the same category as cigarettes and porn–vices, both of them. Want to buy the next Halo? You might have to pull it from one of those opaque top-shelf racks, the whole thing rapped in black cellophane. I’m of the mindset that video games aspire to the status of art; to treat them instead as porn would be catastrophic.

Another double standard comes to mind. We allow youth sports, which can entail real, physical violence and aggression, because they are viewed as a positive outlet. Why not let video games slide under similar logic?

A favorite argument by critics of violent video game legislation goes like this: Guys like state Sen. Leland Yee, who authored California’s law in 2005, want to punish video games because they don’t understand the medium. A better plan might be to work with the industry to improve self-regulation.

Let’s not waste any more time and money (the Entertainment Software Association countersues every state that tries to cripple the medium) demonizing video games and the people who enjoy them.