Monday, March 2, 2009

Week of 03/02/2009

How About Having the Gamer-Haters Grow Up?
– by David Matthews 2

They just HAD to do it, didn’t they?

Rockstar Games just HAD to come up with a brand new “Grand Theft Auto” game, didn’t they? And it couldn’t be about cute little bunnies and sweet-smelling flowers, could it? No, it had to be about violent street gang action in the fictional city of Liberty City.

And they couldn’t pare down the violence, could they? Maybe show clean-cut decent people helping old ladies cross the street? Or Girl Scouts selling cookies? Or decent WASP people going to church? No, they had to have gritty bikers and drinking beer and using things like pipe bombs and shotguns and broken pool cues.

Okay, in all fairness, this isn’t really a “new” game. It’s an expansion of the original “Grand Theft Auto IV” game. That means you have to have the original game to use the expansion. And you can’t buy it in any brick-and-mortar neighborhood store. It’s something that you have to actually purchases through Microsoft’s Xbox LIVE online store and then download to your Xbox 360 game console.

Oh wait… online? Download? That’s… bad… right?

Yes, you remember the last GTA “download” don’t you? The one where you could unlock a certain “hot coffee” scene for “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” that was built into the game? Sure it was of the softcore Eurotrash-quality, but people added mods that made it a little more “descriptive”. Boy did the parents groups throw screaming temper-tantrums over that nonsense! Some even sued Rockstar Games because they were so mind-numbingly STUPID to believe that a game that was already rated M for MATURE would be safe for their precious-little tax deductions!

Oh, but that was then, and this is now. And now we have GTA IV, already getting flack for the violence and the cop-killing and allowing users to get their character drunk and then handling vehicles drunk. Oh, and they still show strippers… clothed (never mind the “live nude” signs). And you still have the main character getting some in-car action with the streetwalkers (complete with car bouncing)… clothed of course.

But the “Lost and Damned” expansion episode goes one step further. It has a cut scene featuring actual NUDITY!

And not just nudity… MALE NUDITY!

Oh the horrors!

Never mind that you can kill anyone you virtually want to. Never mind that you can drive as drunk as you virtually want to. Never mind that you have mind-numbing virtual carnage. Never mind that you have booty-bouncing bump-and-grinding streetwalker fun. Now we have some dude showing his junk for our virtual agents of chaos!

And even before the outrage can build to a crescendo pitch, we have the purists and prudes going on about how gamers need to “grow up” and, to quote Pat Benatar, “stop using sex as a weapon”.

At least MSNBC’s “Citizen Gamer” Winda Benedetti got a few things right about the subject.

“If all was right with the world, depicting sex and sexuality in video games meant for adult players would raise nary an eye brow,” she writes. “After all, adults in the real world have sex. Adults in movies have sex. So why shouldn’t adult characters in video games get it on or, you know, appear in their computer-generated birthday suits?”

On that part of the article, I’m in complete agreement. But then Winda goes off on her tangent about how game designers show scantily-clad bodacious women carrying on with actions that would cause serious chafing or uncomfortable wedgies in real-life. You can’t have bodacious women wearing metal bikinis engaging in sword-fights and drawing blood!

I take it that Ms. Bernedetti has never heard of the legendary comic book character “Red Sonia”, who travelled the countryside fighting evildoers and monsters with… yes… a chainmail bikini and a sword. In fact the concept of a scantily-clad bodacious female warrior has long been the romanticized subject of fiction, even if it’s restricted to just descriptions on the printed page and a suggestive book cover.

But I would dare suggest that maybe the wrong groups are being told to grow up.

For far too many years now, a dirty little secret has been kept from the general public. And it’s one that game designers and game promoters have known for a long time.

According to most research on the subject… the median age for video game players is 29.

Not nine or even nineteen… TWENTY-NINE!

In other words, you’re dealing with full-blown and matured ADULTS!

Not kids. Not teenagers. Not even college-bound frat-boys. ADULTS!

Adults that work hard and actually earn their own money instead of getting an allowance or starting up a lemonade stand. And many of those adults (including this writer) have grown up with video games around them.

And yet that “dirty little secret” about the age of most game players conflicts with the myth being spun by members of the media and by self-righteous moralists. It’s the myth that says that all video games are meant for little children. Never mind that the military uses games like Quake to train their soldiers, or to recruit young adults into their ranks. This is all supposed to be just for those precious little tax deductions, and if some silver-haired woman is buying “Grand Theft Auto”, then it OBVIOUSLY must be for her precious little grandchildren and not for her own entertainment.

Let’s get brutally honest here… the reason why video game designers have used sex and sexual imagery is because they are TRYING to appeal to that median age! They’re trying to come up with games FOR ADULTS!

And every time they do, they encounter Mafia-style hostility from self-righteous moralist groups that DEMAND that not only retailers NOT sell the game AT ALL in their stores, but actually threaten GOVERNMENT ACTION against any distributor that DARES to release it!

When the hidden “Hot Coffee” scene was revealed, the self-righteous groups pressured Congress to sic the Federal Trade Commission on Rockstar Games. They also threatened to target any store that continued to have the game on their shelves until Rockstar Games could re-release it without the hidden feature. Do you really think that game retailers (whose median age is actually younger than those of the game-players) would want to risk arrests and lawsuits? Most of them have a hard enough time keeping the bills paid, never mind take on the jihadist mentalities of the moralists.

So game designers and developers package their games using scantily-clad buxom women. They tease without please. That’s really no different than what TV network executives and romance book publishers do on a regular basis. In fact, your typical romance book is probably more explicit than any scene in the whole “GTA” series, and that’s with the “Hot Coffee” scene included.

And speaking of TV, it doesn’t help when you have alarmist groups like FoxNews blatantly exaggerating the content of games like “Mass Effect” simply for the sake of ratings. This was a matter that Electronic Arts VP Jeff Brown took FoxNews to task over in 2008. Their over-exaggeration of the content in “Mass Effect” was tantamount to an act of slander, and apparently all just to promote a psychiatrist’s new book.

Clearly the WRONG groups are being told to “grow up” here.

For starters, the parents groups need to get an adult life and stop trying to bowdlerize the rest of the world to their stunted child-like mentalities.

The truth of the matter is that these games have ratings and warnings in place that clearly specify that they are for ADULT participants. The content is clearly marked, and if anything, the content descriptions are sometimes overly sensitive almost to the point of hysteria.

The ESRB labels are not there for show. Nor are they written in cryptic indecipherable code. They’re there to do precisely what parents groups have been complaining about for years: give them the knowledge of what that program has so they can decide for themselves what is or is not appropriate for their children. But, as with all other tools, it does not absolve parents of their inherent responsibility of actually BEING parents.

Members of the ego-driven media also need to grow up and recognize that the average age of game-players ARE adults, and that they have every right to buy and play video games designed FOR adults. That means content that includes violence, gore, blood, offensive language, and, yes, even sex and nudity. They also need to put to end this asinine assumption of their that just because an ad for a mature-rated game appears on the TV in the middle of prime time that somehow that ad is being “targeted for children”.

Do you know who needs to grow up as well? All of those prudes that complain about the fact that sex still sells, even when used to advance the sale of video games. The only reason why sex is a potent selling mechanism is because it has been so vilified and condemned by the very moralists that those in the media give credence to.

This columnist would certainly look forward to the day when there can BE a video game release FOR adults, that contains material clearly designed FOR adults, and not raise a single hackle amongst the dysfunctional elite or their willing accomplices in the media. Unfortunately, to do so would mean getting rid of a lot of self-promoting and mutually-appreciative chatter from said groups, which they would never be willing to do on their own.

The true measurement of maturation is NOT in the use of mature content, but rather that it can be used in its proper context without needless fanfare or complaints. In that regard, we all have a lot of maturing to do.

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