Perusing IGN's list of upcoming PC titles I noticed the Beowulf game. Apparently it's a tie in to an upcoming movie by the same name, which is based on a book most of us had to read in high school. Like most of my class I nodded and pretended to understand the odd translations, but the one thing that stuck with me was how violent the story was. With all the talk about Manhunt 2 and the Dark Sector trailer going on, it got me thinking about the way games are treated so differently from other forms of media. First of all there's the book, being forced on children in public schools, which is paid for by our tax dollars. Then there's the upcoming movie, which if it plans on earning any money at all, better be comparable to at least a jacuzzi of fake blood. If some attention seeking lawyer was to blame either the movie or the book for inciting murder and depravity, he'd be laughed off whatever news channel he'd convinced to interview him. If he then decided to name the publisher of either the book or the movie in a lawsuit alleging the same things, he'd probably also get laughed off the bar association as well. So what's the difference between these three mediums for telling the same story?
Age. Pure and simple, it's the age of the medium. Nothing new there, most gamers over the age of fifteen have probably worked that out already. Older gamers may even remember the early days of their youth, when movies or comic books were blamed for similar things, and targeted for similar censorship. Just like today, fans of those products and their creators had to wage an opinion war while fighting off blatantly unconstitutional laws against their favored medium. The media battles and attempted censorship will continue today until video games have aged enough that the majority of voters, the mothers and father, and even the senators are no longer strangers to the hobby. When the house majority leader remembers fondly playing God of War, then gamers can let down their guard. Until that day, here's some ammunition in this information war. Lock and Load.
Straightway he seized a sleeping warrior
for the first, and tore him fiercely asunder,
the bone-frame bit, drank blood in streams,
swallowed him piecemeal: swiftly thus
the lifeless corse was clear devoured,
e’en feet and hands.
Back to Beowulf then. The above is a quote from the Harvard Classics translation. The book is common in most high school English classrooms, and I think I read it my Sophomore year. I would have been 15 at the time. A game featuring a cut scene that matched the text would certainly be rated M, or only suitable for people above the age of 17. The argument could be made that since video games are a visual medium, the same scene depicted with words is less traumatizing and less offensive. That might be true, but I bet a cinematic rendition of the scene would only warrant PG-13. So that argument is bogus. It could be said that since the description is relatively brief and in less common style of speech, the impact is lesser. That's fine until you remember what you did in English class. You analyzed and explained what you were reading meant. So let's analyze what that meant. Grendel, the horrible monster, lifted the sleeping man up, and bit into his chest. Bones broke and cracked as he drank the streams of blood. The man was devoured, piece by piece, until there was nothing left, not even his hands and feet. And there you have it, a government sanctioned description of violence that puts Halo to shame for gore. Just wait, the next page has a description of how Grendel's arm is torn off, and even further in are tales of men being dragged to their deaths, demon's heads cut from their bodies, and even a dragon being brutally slain. All in all it sounds like a good read. Should even be a good movie. I can't wait for when children will be able to watch the movie after reading the book so as to gain a better understanding of what they just read. I even can't wait for when they're told they can't buy the game, because it's been decided that it is to violent for them. Maybe if the game is faithful enough to the book, it can be banned outright! After all, children shouldn't be subjected to such violence.