Saturday, August 27, 2005
Sex and Violence In Video Games.... Just Another Issue
Just when you think something is over, just when you think that the government has given up the fight against something that doesn't need to be fought against, they are now putting the pressure on Game Developers. Hilary Clinton made a statement on a Special on G4tv "It is becoming more and more simple for our youth to gain access to pornographic material."
You know even though this is a little off topic, I hate it when they say "our youth" because we aren't their youth, "Their Youth" are getting the good life. While "Our Youth" is always getting budget cuts in education, while "Their Youth" is going to private schools and getting feed with the silver spoon. I guess this is the reason why it makes me mad whenever the government tries to take Video Games away from "The Real America", and I say "The Real America" because their is a big difference between most of our lives and the lives they live up in D.C. So why the fuck can't the government just stay out of our problems?
Back to the subject at hand, I have heard arguments from some of the activists that are against video games that game developers only use sex and violence as a marketing tool to try and sell more copies of their games... So instead of arguing with these ignorant douche bags I decided to scout out some interviews to build actual PROOF that video games developers are just artists trying to expose their vision... sometimes violence is in their vision, sometimes when they have a strip club cinematic the girls show off some thong, they do this to keep the games realistic.
The first interview that I did was with an independent game developer Mat Dickie, Mat Dickie owns MDickie Games, he is sort of a word of mouth developer, and his games just happen to have a tad bit of violence in them, so that whole thing about using violence to sell a few extra copies is right out the god damn window. I personally believe that Mat Dickie is just an artist trying to show his vision in the form of video games. Here is the interview with Mat Dickie:
Joe: On average, how many copies do you usually sell of a game when it is released?
Mat: Experience has taught me that there is no right answer to that question! If i say too little then i'm a loser, and if i say too many then i'm some sort of millionaire that doesn't need anybody's support. The truth is that i'm playing to thousands rather than millions. Tens of thousands visit the site; mere thousands translate into paying customers. Nobody operating on word-of-mouth could hope for more than that...
Joe: Do you feel that as an independent game developer, that you need to use violence as a "marketing tool"?
Mat: Violence has grown to be a (rather regrettable) trademark of mine - especially with the wrestling games. That's not from a commercial perspective though. Nothing about my work is. It's more because that's what i find to be entertaining. I like that destructive gameplay of being able to smash through anything and emerging with the scars to prove it! It's not necessarily "violence" as in wishing another harm; it's just the fun of chaos. The "Big BumpZ" concept that got my work on that vibe is a good example. It was all about performing stunts for entertainment. There was never any ill will...
Joe: Do you believe that sex sells?
Mat: In my experience, controversy is somewhat over-rated as a marketing tool. I mean, The MDickie Show is one of the most "controversial" games that i've ever made - but it's also one of the least successful, so there's got to be more to it than that. Controversy only made an impact in the 1990's when it was new and exciting. Jerry Springer, Eminem, and a raunchier WWF were cleaning up. But nowadays everybody can see it for what it is. Now the WWF is a laughing stock that's constantly derided for being too shallow. Same thing with gangster rap. People are tired of the negative nonsense, so they're looking to Kanye West and co for some substance. There's a lesson to be learned there. If you attract fans for the right reasons then they stay forever. I'm a firm supporter of that route. I'd rather fail for the right reasons than succeed for the wrong reasons...
Joe: Have you received any hate mail saying that your games are too violent?
Mat: I get hate mail about everything EXCEPT that! 99% of people that write to me are obviously players, so all they're passionate about is enjoying the games. I can count on one hand the number of concerned letters i've had from parents, and even then i've always managed to win them over. Deep down, my work is perfectly honourable - so i find it very easy to defend. It was actually swearing that used to be the biggest headache. When i first started, i was cussing all over the site and in the games - and people of all ages would regularly pull me up on it. They must have had a point, because i haven't done it much since...
Joe: Do you think that the government should have the right to tell gaming artists how much violence they can use in games?
Mat: I don't particularly think game developers (or artists of any kind) need to be reigned in. I think we should be motivated to draw that line ourselves. It's all about responsibility. My stance is that you should have the freedom to do what you want, so long as you're responsible for the consequences. If you want to make controversial content and it backfires, step up to the plate and defend yourself. Explain where you were coming from. If you can't do that then it really was an empty-headed endeavour. That's what got me mad about a scandal here in England. A game called "Manhunt" was accused of copycat murders, and the developers ran away like kids that had let off a stink bomb! I would have been all over the media the next day talking people through it and defending my honour. They obviously couldn't, so they didn't. They exposed themselves as weak artists that have no method to their madness. That's the real punishment in my view. Unfortunately, it's a punishment for us all because it brings shame on the profession...
Joe: Do you think that violence in games causes violence in real life?
Mat: Only in a "straw that broke the camel's back" kind of way. Whether it's a game, a movie, or a song, these things simply dictate HOW an evil mind dramatizes itself - not whether or not it happens. It's a very easy connection to make, but that doesn't mean it's a valid one. Sometimes the weakest links are the most easily made! It comes back to responsibility again. Expose yourself to whatever you want, but if you're stupid enough to act on it then you have to accept the consequences. Your life can't go in any one direction without your consent...
Joe: What do you suggest to parents that don't want their kids playing video games with excessive sex and violence?
Mat: My stance is that you should raise a child (or raise yourself) to be impervious to corruption. Instead of wrapping the outside world in cotton wool, wrap yourself in armour! Expose your family to the real world, but make sure they know what the score is. Give them the intellect and strength to survive any situation. That's pretty much what my upbringing was like, and now i'm invincible. It's impossible for me to be misled by any game, movie, or song. I can listen to the grimiest rapper, watch the most horrific film, and still keep my integrity intact afterwards. That was a glimpse into somebody else's life - it wasn't a manual for my own. Some kids find it hard to make that distinction when they're raised by the TV. Fiction becomes fact, and suddenly there's no benchmark. That's the real problem...
Joe: Do you think that the government generally cares, or do you think that they are using video games to push the blame on something else (other then themselves)?
Mat: Yeah, it's just one of many scapegoats for politicians and parents alike. We live in a world where everything is somebody else's fault, and entertainment provides the easiest targets. That said, i'm sure any self-respecting politician needs be seen to be doing the right thing. It's good that they're on the case of dishonourable content, but to imply that it's responsible for anything else is a little melodramatic. The only crime controversy commits is against its own industry! It's a civil war in my view...
Joe: Do you believe in the FCC's right to censor?
Mat: I don't really believe in censorship of any form when you're dealing with adults. We should be able to censor ourselves. If you don't like to indulge a certain aspect of life then demonstrate the discipline to leave it alone. If you're too weak or stupid to do that then it's your entire life that needs to be "censored"! The exploits of a civilized man should never be compromised by the weaknesses of others...
Joe: What are your views on the FCC?
Mat: Living in England, i'm not exactly aware of the "FCC" - so i'll have to assume that it's like any other censoring body. I suppose my stance would be that i support their tenaciousness, but feel it's misplaced. Divert that energy into teaching people how to handle powerful material instead of dictating that they can't...
Joe: Do you think that we need things like the FCC and other rating systems?
Mat: I support rating systems as a means of communicating the content of our entertainment. I have warnings and disclaimers all over my site to that effect, so that nobody can claim they were being misled. If a product is portrayed as being designed for an adult mind and you step in there without that equipment, it's your fault when it backfires. Once again, it's the issue of responsibility. The media has to market products responsibly, and the public has to consume them responsibly. The first party to drop the ball loses! It's all just a game...
As you can see, gaming artists don't really like to use sex because controversy makes them devalue in the long run (but they use it to show their artistic vision), they hate censorship, but they believe in rating systems (because they don't want kids too young playing their games).
The next interview I did was with a highly known artist for the video game development company, The Behemouth. His name is Dan Paladin, but you may know him as Synj (for some of his early work with Newgrounds.com), I had the pleasure of interviewing him about the hit game Alien Hominid. Now this is a 2d game where you run around with a little green gun and shoot up FBI agents (or you can bite their heads off.) Now I have heard arguments about AH, just because of the fact that he looks like pokemon's "Pikachu." Some people believe that this is even more dangerous then the Grand Theft Auto, because its like a children's animation running around killing people.
I asked Dan about his thoughts:
Joe: If you could have personally gave Alien Hominid a rating (Mature, Teen, etc.) what would you have given it?
Dan: i guess i'd keep it teen.. although i never saw any of the hundreds of parents object to their young children playing at any of the comic-con's.
Joe: Have you received any hate mail from Alien Hominid?
Joe: Were there times when you guys where in production of Alien Hominid, when you said to yourself maybe this is a little too violent?
Dan: no. we never self censored.
Joe: What do you think makes Alien Hominid a fan favorite?
Dan: I think it's a combination of people's love for oldschool games with the charm of the character. he maintains a certain level of innocence in a hail of gunfire.
Joe: Let's talk about Newgrounds, Is it not true that you got your start on Newgrounds.com?
Dan: If you're talking my game development career, no that's not true. i got my start by making friends on art forums and posting that i was looking for work back in 2001.
Joe: How did you find out about Newgrounds?
Dan: A friend showed me the tupac animation where tupac had stolen mr. T's cheetos. maybe around 1998?
Joe: Do you think Newgrounds is associated with animated porn?
Dan: i don't personally associate it with that since the vast majority of the content is not pornographic. it's a good place for talented people to get a boost!
Joe: Do you think that it was Newgrounds that made Alien Hominid a success?
Dan: newgrounds is where it all started. the exposure was phenomenal. without newgrounds, you don't have alien hominid. newgrounds + alien hominid + word of mouth = success!
Joe: Lets talk about other video games, do you think that some of the latest games coming out, such as the Grand Theft Auto series, are sometimes a little too violent?
Dan: No. i think people forget they are sitting down with a form of entertainment. entertainment is allowed to be violent. it doesn't matter. all males, and a lot of females, enjoy seeing things blowing up or fighting for what is right.
If i was wrong about that we wouldn't have all seen braveheart because we walked out during: the bloody battles, or the ripping out of braveheart's intestines, or the part where his wife's throat is slit in front of him. some of the leading brands are based on violence. star wars, lord of the rings, texas chainsaw massacre, the ring.. it's all entertainment. we cheer for heroes on our TV the same way we do in books the same way we do in videogames. in my personal opinion i feel like i'm there helping the character rather than being the character.
This scare is similar to how rock music on the radio was "the devil" and how our children shouldn't be around it a few decades ago. Then it was violent shows on TV like power rangers. Now its videogames. Somewhere else in there was the scare of d&d pen and paper roleplaying to be the devil, too. See the progression? I guess all current entertainment = the devil. Then about 30 years later the devil packs his bags and inhabits another electronic device.
I grew up on violent videogames. I chopped barbarian heads off constantly and listened to them hit the ground sounding like empty melons. Then I waited for the next one to slash to death. I shot at least 589023 aliens an slayed 15,000,000 enemies in different wars. i can't even crush ants in my house because i feel like that's mean.
Joe: Do you think that the government has a right to try and regulate video games?
Dan: I have no gigantic problem with the government treating game ratings like cigarettes and alcohol, although i don't find it necessary in the slightest. as for banning videogames.. that's just wrong.
Joe: Do you think that the government is trying to step in to the video games because they actually care or do you think that they are doing this, to cause a problem, just so that they can solve it and "be the hero"?
Dan: i think that is a bit of a stretch. the government's main job in all areas is to regulate things and that's what they are doing.
Joe: Is your next game/project currently entitled "The Behemoth's Next Game" going to be more violent or less violent then Alien Hominid?
Dan: A good amount of people find slashing things with swords to be more violent than shooting things with rayguns. i plan to dismember my characters the same way i did in alien hominid if not more. they are ham waiting on the choppingblock and we're all going to laugh because its in a humorous and stylized manner. go ham!
Now after that interview you might be asking yourself, what the hell is newgrounds, and what do they have to do with video games? Well Newgrounds.com is a website where amateur animators and game designers can submit either games and movies on the internet. It is run by a man that goes by the name of Tom Fulp (interesting fact he was also the lead programmer for Alien Hominid).
Over the years Newgrounds has gotten its fair share of horse shit, basically Tom makes a "Whack a seal game" (much like the old fashion Whack a Gopher game), Tom got hate mail from Pro Animal activists (AKA PUSSIES!), a few flash artists post some violent flash games and movies, then BAM... the Columbine High School shootings occur (automatically Newgrounds is blamed.)
All of these reasons are why I decided to interview Tom Fulp, not just because the fact that there are controversial flash animations on Newgrounds, but because Tom has had the finger pointed at him (both index and middle) on more then one occasion.
Here is the interview:
Joe: What do you think makes non flash artists go to Newgrounds?
Tom: People enjoy entertainment and Newgrounds is about as entertaining as you can get! Every day we have a new supply of games and movies from across the world, thanks to the open submission system. Television is predictable; it’s very rare that something catches you by surprise. With the web you never know what will pop up from some budding genius out there.
Joe: How many hits does Newgrounds get per day?
Tom: We receive around 500,000 unique visitors per day.
Joe: Do you personally believe in the philosophy "sex sells"?
Tom: Anything on the front page with a mature theme gets at least twice as much attention as everything else. It’s not an exact science, however. Putting adult content on the front page generates a lot of traffic for the adult content, but it doesn’t seem to generate more overall traffic for the site. Overall it is best to offer a variety of content
Joe: Many parents have concerns about how easy it is for children to see pornographic images on the internet, as a webmaster to a site that has (literally) thousands of flash movies and games that have sexual material, what are some of the things that you do to TRY to keep minors from seeing it?
Tom: We added a ratings system so that you can anticipate what you are about to see before you open the content window. I’ve also been making gradual efforts to further segregate the adult content from the mainstream content on the site, although you can never please everyone. Newgrounds is blocked by every form of parental software on the market, so anyone with a filter is already safe from content on the site. We were actually blocked years ago, when our content was criticized for being too violent rather than adult in nature. We do remove hardcore pornographic material from the site, but we can’t get too crazy with policing content. Everyone has their own idea of what crosses the line and any attempt to please everyone would result in a very lame site. People even complain about the ads we have on the front page – featuring models in t-shirts. They aren’t naked. They aren’t doing anything perverse. They are just “sexy” and that offends people. We’ll never win if we try to cater to prudes and preschoolers, that isn’t the Newgrounds audience. Sorry, I know I just went off on a rant there. Sensitive subject.
Joe: I looked at the "literature" section of Newgrounds.com and I noticed that some people actually thought you were responsible (in part) for the tragedies of Columbine High School... When you got this hate mail, did it hurt, or make you feel responsible?
Tom: It irked me, I didn’t feel responsible. I have seen a lot of troubled kids come to Newgrounds and find a lot of friends. I’ve seen kids come in with angry, violent Flash movies but later find happiness in the art and grow into fine individuals. Heck, I started by making violent games. I hated high school, too. I think the web is a great place for kids to go when they don’t feel like they relate to anyone. I feel that way especially about Newgrounds.
Joe: I know that you guys probably still get your fair share of hate mail over at Newgrounds, so I have got to know, what are people blaming Newgrounds.com for now?
Tom: Haven’t been getting blamed for a whole lot lately. Either we’ve gotten too laid back or the rest of the web has gotten too crazy.
Joe: Now there have been a few flash artists that submitted to newgrounds, who have done things like kill police officers and shoot up schools, have you been blamed for these incidents, and have you received hate mail regarding these incidents?
Tom: Actually, I haven’t. Kinda odd, eh?
Joe: How many non violent submissions do you think are on Newgrounds?
Tom: There are thousands upon thousands. A majority of the submissions on Newgrounds are clean and non-violent, it’s just that people are more likely to talk about the violent and mature ones.
Joe: Do you think with the government attacking the gaming industry that they will soon go after Newgrounds.com?
Tom: Not Newgrounds specifically, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the web has problems. The FCC has already redefined the rules so that ISPs can pick and choose what sites to allow their customers to visit. For example, Comcast could now legally make Newgrounds inaccessible to Comcast subscribers. Considering Comcast and Verizon will soon account for most of the US internet traffic, that’s a scary thought.
As you can see by all of these interviews, game developers aren't angry little men trying to make people blow eachothers heads off, they are just trying to make good games in which they can show off their vision. But will the government shut down the gaming industry and win the fight? The answer is no, here is why... Taxes.
That is right big gaming companies get the crap taxed out of them every year and with games like Halo 2 (which are making literally hundreds of millions of dollars) I don't think that the government is going to shut them down anytime soon. So in a way politicians themselves are just bitching (even though companies like Bungie, Electronic Arts, and Square Enix) help support this countries economy. Scary isn't it.