The other day Shamus posted about the self imposed censorship of Indigo Prophecy also known to Fahrenheit outside the US. I played this game in it’s original form with all the sex scenes a while ago. Because of the paths I took in the game, and some of the stuff that I missed at least one of these scenes seemed a bit gratuitous to me but perhaps it was because I missed on some crucial dialog options due to the timed conversations and wonky mouse gestures. It was a good game – it had some very memorable moments and a rather unique gameplay. I highly recommend it, though I’m wondering what Shamus will make of it once he is done with it.
I bring this up because I found this image quite interesting. Naturally it was an online poll, so it was highly unscientific, and not reliable as source of statistical data. Still, I find it rather telling considering the nature of the site which collected this data. WhatTheyPlay.com seems to be a service which writes reviews for new and popular games (for all platforms) aimed at parents who want to learn more about what they children are playing, or make educated purchases. Anyone who frequents site like that to me seems like an intelligent, and responsible individual who takes active interest in what kind of content their children are exposed to. To me these are the people who actually look at the ratings when they purchase the games! Why else would the be perusing a website like that, if not to educate themselves about which video games are appropriate for their children.
In my mind a member of that community would already know that GTA is not a game for kids, so they would not be outraged by the negative coverage in the media. They should also not be outraged that Mass Effect (or Indigo Prophecy for that matter) contain some sex scenes. After all these games are clearly marketed for mature audiences. The M rating is really an equivalent of MPAA R rating and carries the same implications – adult themes, content, language and possible nudity.
But these responsible and logical adults still consider sexual content to be more offensive than explosive decapitation – and by a wide margin. It is one thing to expect this reaction from clueless masses who firmly believe that video games are “for kids” and to that tune ignore ratings, reviews and don’t even care enough to glance at the screen when their offspring gleefully decapitates hookers with a chainsaw. These are the people who are the target audience of all these video game scandal stories we see in media. It’s quite another thing to see a very similar gut reaction in people who are actually very interested in choosing the right content for their kids.
I do realize this was a loaded question, and that the presentation does skew the results. Despite that, the implication I draw from that poll are this: most visitors of the website, despite being somewhat informed in the subject, still think of video games as something targeted primarily (if not only) at kids and teenagers. When you put together sex and video games something short circuits their thought patterns and triggers a knee jerk “think of the children” reaction that completely bypasses the logic behind the rating system.
And no amount of education, persuasion and reasoning may ever change that. These people actually never played modern video games. If they did, they wouldn’t need a website like WhatTheyPlay.com. Even the name of that site suggests that games are something that is done by other, presumably younger people. Perhaps these parents played few games in their childhood – you know, stuff like Pong, Pacman or maybe the original Mario. Eventually they simply “grew out of them” and they assume that the same process applies to everyone. Gaming is something that you do as a kid – and if you are well into your 20′s or 30′s and you still play them, then there must be something wrong with you. The concept of a game directed at mature audiences is somewhat abstract to them. Let’s face it, if you would think that no one over the age of 16 or 17 could possibly have any interest in silly video games, a rating of M wouldn’t mean much to you either. This is why sexuality in these games disturbs them still. When they see it in an R-rated movie, they accept it because they enjoy R-rated movies themselves. They just can’t comprehend how an adult person could enjoy video game though – and this is why they consider ESRB ratings as a thinly veiled sham. They think “I know they say ages 17+ on the cover, but I know that’s not their ‘real’ target audience cause kids that old should already be ‘growing out’ of this video game thing”.
There are other types of media that get very similar treatment. Comic books, animation and pen+paper role playing games are really all in the same boat. In fact the comic book industry was the former public scapegoat berated the same way as video games are now all over the media. They went through a period of self-imposed regulation too with the Comics Code completely banning all depictions of sexuality, and any other content deemed inappropriate for minors. And yet today, most comics are released without the code seal, and no one really cares. What happened? Did the medium mature and gain some acceptance? Or perhaps it became more of a niche hobby these days – much less prevalent and socially visible than in the past. They no longer get the media coverage and they are no longer a hot button topic. Perhaps there will be a day when video games will be similarly ignored and existence of content directed at mature audiences will be quietly accepted.
Not to mention that the whole concept of protecting teenagers from sexual content in video games is silly. They really won’t see more in an M rated game than they would see in an R rated movie. Besides, if your kid ever had unsupervised access to the internet for at least few hours (for example at a friend’s house), then they have already seen pr0n. And if you are lucky they started of with just some regular hard core, rather than some weird vile shit like 2girls1cup. And no, don’t look that thing up – it’s not worth it, and you can’t unsee it afterwards.
[tags]video games, gaming, sex in video games, sexuality[/tags]