Warning this article contains disturbing imagery, offensive language and nudity. If you feel you're going to be offended by them please do not read any further.
I'm not Joking
Ok I've warned you enough.
This article began life as one called censor me censor U, it was going to be me light heartedly mocking Nintendo and the Wii U for their decision to prevent anyone at all accessing M rated content before 11pm at night. Then I began to have one of those moments when my mind wanders and with Apple banning political or religious content, from the app store now for a long while we as gamers have accepted that nudity in gaming is kind of something that doesn't get out. I can think of two games with nudity on console. The Witcher 2 assassin of Kings and leisure suit larry magna cum laude. Two pretty different games I'm sure you'll admit if you've tried them. So, why ? Why are we accepting this ?
The only answer I can say so far is, it's easier than fighting it.
This is the reason why all this talk of Isms in gaming really rattles me. Not because I think someone will take away my games but because people take the easy road with it. The best example being the calls about Resident Evil being Racist. Now there may have been content in there that was actually Racist I got fed up of the game before finding it. The reason I say it was the easy road was because the game was set in African slums for part of it. So it kind of makes sense that in a country where the majority of the population is black, for the zombie to be black and reflect people who would live in slum areas. If people find some things in a game wrong / Xist then fine discuss them. However taking the easy road in any way shouldn't be accepted, hence I made my parody blog post about video game sexist to show it does have two sides to an extent and it's all too easy to take the popularist side or the one where you wont face people attacking you. This is why I'm actually looking forward to Bioshock infinite more hearing that religious people have been asked about their thoughts and parts of the game adjusted. I'm an Atheist and I consider I'm not a hugely militant one, asked my view on religion I'm brutally honest though. I don't consider this some great, "Oh god you're ruining my game" thing, also that's technically me blaspheming before someone points out I used god. Also speak now if me using god offends you and I'll happily do nothing about it as people have no idea what I'm on about when I say "Oh Bob". Ok I'm wandering off the point, time to steer back to it.
Over the past few years gaming has had a lot of controversies. The one most people will remember relating to adult content would be Fox News on about Ass Effect......... sorry I mean Mass Effect. Personally I had no issue with Mass Effect and its sex scenes, it's about on level with Star trek especially some of the films.
edited slightly for those sensitive still reading this
Mass effect 2 came out and well Bioware while they'll still deny it, toned the games down. At the time I was a little outraged, but others told me to hush down as it's not that big a thing. Well I regret hushing up, I really do. It's starting to get to a stage where stupidity lies. Games are seen as Kids things. Gamers as we know are what average age of 30 now. So what reason is there for games to avoid tackling more adult issues ? Spec Ops the line is being praised for making you feel bad, an apparently disturbing game. Now Jim Sterling actually approached an issue on a past Jimquisition saying how rape should not be in video games, this is me here and now attempting to commit near journalistic suicide and face the wrath of the internet by stating why rape shouldn't be removed / off limits for gaming.
Done badly rape is a lazy writers tool, it really is from Dr Light or whatever he was called in DC raping the wife of one of the Heroes to the most recent series of Skins (apologies if I've ruined the series for you, but it's pretty crap anyway). Done well rape is the most unsettling and disturbing toll that can ever be used. I've said about this film before and I'll say about it again. The girl with the Dragon Tattoo, not the US remake the original version. If you have not watched that film go do so now. I'm not saying its just men who can be lazy writers here either.
Now you're ready for this image.
Yes that disturbing and horrifying scene. In the US remake this scene was changed and stylised. It lost its brutality and made me realise the problem with the use of rape as a plot device. With violence it's always been stylised in media and gaming and it's not like real world violence. However when lazy writers try to use rape as a shock tool they fail because in this stylised video gaming world it's not seen as the brutal thing it really is. If you've seen The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, let me ask you something. Do you want to watch it again ?
If like me your answer will be, I could but I don't want to watch it, I'd need a reason to watch it as it's a good film, a very good one but that scene and that sequence is sticking out to you and creating the reason you don't want to watch the film again, and rightfully so. Even knowing it's not real and those are actors, you really see it as brutal and horrific and it contrasts well with later elements in the film.
Now I've pointed out an example of rape used well in narrative. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, is a true adult film, it's not nice happy gung ho film its brutal yet has a good conclusion and left me feeling I'd watched a truly great film. Not an enjoyable film but a film that is great such that it deserves respect for daring to go where it did.
So back to video games now. With series like; Game of Thrones, to an extend True blood, The Shield, Breaking bad and no doubt countless others people could name dealing with adult content and situations why not video games ?
Well it's easy to avoid it and I've realised it's not just the media that seemingly perceive games as some child's thing. It's us gamers too. People are saying "Oh I don't want to have a game be brutal , I want escapism" the misconception seemingly is that all games will go this way, there won't be fun games anymore. So are there fun nonsense films still ? Well yes, so why are we as gamers even concerned. Allowing games to have adult content and deal with actual serious issues won't take our games away, we won't suddenly see Bowser trying to rape princess peach every game. What it will allow is other games to explore these areas. Why is Spec Ops getting praise ? Because it went there and tackled something disturbing that makes people feel bad.
Now onto the core of the matter. Games need to be allowed to grow up now because at present they are in danger of getting more and more censored. Apple stopping political or religious content is a hugely concerning thing even for just IOS games. It's preventing games on IOS from tackling more complex issues. The Recent video game burning in Connecticut has snapped me out of simply keeping quiet I think. The more companies and gamers let the media dictate content the further it will push in. Ok the line of no nudity was first but with Apple a huge company moving the lines to Politics or Religion now, its suggesting the line is moving in game censorship. Video games need to be allowed to dispel the myth that they are a kids' thing. There needs to be more games like Spec Ops. More games that are disturbing and deal with adult things because otherwise people will continue to point at games as a problem and completely fail to realise that the ESRB rating were there for a reason.
Previously comic books faced a similar problem with the comic book code authority being created and famously refusing to grant its seal of approval to an issue of Spiderman, the reason ? Well the reason was in the comic, one of Peter Parkers friends takes ecstasy and believes he can fly, throwing himself off a tall building, he doesn't hit the ground, Spiderman actually does save him. The reason it was refused the seal was that it contained reference to drug use, it didn't matter that it was showing a negative impact of drugs and essentially pointing out to people why drugs can be bad, it had drugs in so it wasn't getting the seal. Marvel published it anyway, without the seal and it still sold proving that comics and their audience were ready to deal with more adult and serious themes and issues. Comics these days have actually managed to try and in some cases successfully tackle adult themes, take for example Robin and Starfire as adults in some post Teen Titan era comics discussing about their past and shock horror their sex life.
The problem is with video games, no-one is really standing up yet. Bioware rolled over about how much was shown in Mass Effect, and that was wrong especially for a game which according to PEGI still deserved an 18 rating for Mass effect 2. The disparity between an 18 in gaming and an 18 in other media is seemingly growing and I find it worrying. I find it more worrying companies such as Apple are now taking it upon themselves to further censor the market. If games grow up now suddenly the media would be able to do little but tut and point and cause outrage, however people would also begin to learn and the myth of gaming being for kids only would be able to be dispelled, just as comic books have done. In gaming recently only Spec Ops and the Witcher 2 have really been adult games, brutal and dealing with complex things. We need more like them and we as gamers have to stop saying what shouldn't be in games or accepting the things being changed / toned down for the sake of an easier time with the media.
Just for clarities sake before I get misrepresented.
I am not supporting the use of Rape as a lazy writers tool and people are completely within their rights to object to it being used as an easy shock tool. Nor am I supporting rape in any way. What I am saying is its real and it exists and it shouldn't be on some list of video gaming ultimate Taboos, nothing really should. So while it might be true there would be games using it poorly / badly, if it isn't allowed to be used at all it then means there will never be a videogaming equivalent of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Completely blocking a subject off entirely from videogames while it prevents it being used badly, it also stops it being used well as a narrative tool. Just because something is allowed it doesn't mean it will automatically be in all games and importantly you'll be able to avoid it. So gaming needs nudity, it needs adult themes and it needs people to give them a shot and let companies prove they can do these things well, not simply say it should never be done.
Let the companies try and then gamers decide if they want to play them. If the theme is done badly people won't want to play them but the harm of letting adult themes be tackled is the same in the gaming media as in any other, it's just for whatever reason gamers and the media don't want to let gaming grow up. The moment it does is the moment people begin to take gaming seriously and understand that those age rating things on boxes, mean something and it's not gaming fault you bought little Timmy the clearly marked 18 rated game that's now showing little Timmy what happens in real life, be it rather disturbing brutal things or simply the seemingly , if you believe the media, horrifying thing that simply happens between two consenting adults in a relationship (I'm talking about consensual sex here not anything else). I'm not against discussing when there are perceived issues such as the Dead island Riptide zombie bait edition. I saw it as an issue mainly because it was just gross, which oddly I should add another indie games reviewer also saw as the issue and not the "OMG sexualisation"because really honestly if you're worried that's sexualisation. I question if you've seen a bit too much of the internet, because while in some base part of my brain it still goes, "hhhmmm Boobs Ug like Boobs, Boobs good." I'd like to think I'm not quite that bad that a set of tits on a dismembered corpse would turn me on. Hey that's just me though.
So to any-one who has read this article right to the end ?
Where do you draw the line ?
How much are you willing to see be censored from gaming ?