Destructoid Discusses! On the matter of videogame taste

Remember the Space Invaders vs The World Trade Center game that came out recently? We do, and it became the impetus for this week’s installment of Destructoid Discusses! The gang takes the release of the controversial piece of art and brings a certain amount high thinking to the subject. I assure you, next week we’ll have a more lighthearted romp with plenty of DMV’s weird pictures.


Or maybe we won’t; that’s the nature of these discussions! 


If no one is too tired to talk about it, why don’t we discuss the Space Invaders game in respect to the idea that there is, or should be, a line drawn in the sand when dealing with certain things. Does making a game out of a tragedy make it art? Is that bullshit on a plate?

What about all the WWII games today? If 9/11 is still a touchy subject, will it no longer be in 50 years?

Do video games need to address this, or are they just games and can’t have any current social commentary?

Joe Burling

They made a movie about 9/11, so I think it’s already becoming a less touchy subject.


I was reading, a few months ago, Ben Fritz’ article about Civilization:Colonization, in which he says that it’s irresponsible for a game to trivialize colonization. Whether or not Colonization trivializes the terrible things that happened in European colonies is up for debate as I’ve never played it. He said that the game “whitewashes” the events that happened and insults the legacy left behind.

I, on the other hand, say that it’s irresponsible for games, as a medium, not to address these things. Eventually, we will  have to move beyond space marines and aliens. As with any medium, there will be some games that address this more tastefully than others. But games aren’t just for kids anymore, and we deserve to have games that deal with these types of issues.

Johnny Holmes

First off, I don’t believe in any sort of censorship at all. In my book, there should never be a line drawn in the sand about anything. As for my personal tastes, however, there are a lot of videogames and movies I wont play or watch because I personally feel bad about being entertained by the re-enactment of events of true human tragedy. I didn’t go see Schindler’s List. I hated Saving Private Ryan. I don’t like any GTA past GTA2, and I hate WWII games.
And it’s not only that the above games and movies feel bad to play and watch because they remind me so much of real human suffering, but they also just seem cheap. Can you make a movie about the Holocaust that’s not depressing? Can you make a game about fighting the Nazi’s in WWII that’s doesn’t make you feel like a hero? To rely on using real life events that are already emotionally charged for the populace takes less skill, me thinks.It also takes a lot more creativity to come up with your own scenarios and game concepts, which leads to a lot more personal expression.

In short, MGS > COD in terms of scenario and storytelling.


Would it be totally offensive to play a WWII game from the Nazi or Japanese point of view? I would think most people would say yes (Not the people here, but in the general public).

Jon-jon Holmes

Personally, I would find it no more or less offensive (or interesting) to play a WWII game from the “enemies” point of view. It is interesting to know that many people would be offended by a game of that nature, thought the average Japanese and German soldiers in WWII were just soldiers, no different than the Americans.
Come to think of it, I would be interested in a game where you play as a Nazi soldier who converts to side of the Allies after finding out how bad Hitler really is. Would I actually play that game? Probably not, but it would be more interesting that the standard “black and white, good vs evil” WWII scenario game developers continue to churn out several times a year.

I’d also play the hell out of Imagination is the Only Escape if good Luc Bernard gets it made (and gets it made well).

Jim Sterling

I actually wanted to make that game once. You start the game as a gung-ho Nazi soldier, unaware of the true horrors of his own regime, and thinking he’s a hero, then slowly you get to see the truth of the matter. Sadly however, such a game would be shot down before it even got a chance, because most people aren’t mature enough to hear about a game where you play a Nazi soldier without freaking out.

As far as the subject goes, it should be fairly obvious that I’m no-holds-barred when it comes to these things. My only requirement for anything that crosses the borders of taste is that you make it good. If you wanna make rape jokes, go for it, so long as they’re funny. As George Carlin once said, rape can be funny. It’s all about how you do it. One problem I have though, is with people compartmentalizing what is acceptable and what is not, like some people I know. I’ve known people laugh at all sorts of horrible things, be it racial jokes, sexist jokes, or whatever, but then decide that you’ve crossed a line if you touch a subject that they have a personal investment in. It’s even happened with South Park episodes or other satirical jokes — it’s always funny until it’s a subject YOU care about. That’s an inconsistent viewpoint.

Anyway, I agree that video games should be allowed to explore things that might sail close to the bone, but as I said at the beginning of this rant, most people aren’t mature enough to accept it. I read a book last year, Videogames & Art, which talked about a 9/11 themed game. It wasn’t intended to mock the event, it placed you in the role of someone trapped in the tower and it was meant to obviously bring out some strong emotions. Of course, immature people called it “insensitive” and “trivializing” and the creator was subject to all sorts of personal attacks. It’s ironic that the people who accuse games of being too immature to handle deep subjects are, themselves, being infantile in their ignorance.

Joe Burling


In BioShock, you start out helping the bad guy, then convert over after learning about the person you were helping.


Or what about the fact that, in Braid, you theoretically play as the guy who created the atomic bomb, which killed a LOT more people than Katrina and 9/11 put together?

Or what about Call of Juarez, where you kill numerous Native Americans, which very few consider to be much of a tragedy anymore?

Jim Sterling


Yeah but remember Joe, in the nuclear bomb “only” killed them darn Japanese people. American people won’t care about that when 9/11 killed real people. 

Joe Burling

(The BioShock example was just to show you that there is a game where you convert from the bad side to the good side.) 

Exactly, Jim. No one cares about people they don’t personally know. How many Americans reading this ever cried for the Japanese who were killed by the atomic bomb? What about those in the Nazi concentration camps? Now, how many people cried over 9/11?

Johnacus Holmesicus

Though I would love to see Jim’s game get made, overall I prefer games like BioShock, one that deals with real life themes in a non-real life way.
I like my games to be like weird dream, one that churns up bits and pieces of the things I know from my life experience, mix them up with all sort of screwed up stuff from my subconscious, and throw some random bits in for good measure. For the record, I like my games and movies to be like this too. Re-imagining real life is so much more fun than just recreating it.

Speaking of which, why wont some game developer do the right thing and make a Science of Sleep videogame? They made a City of Lost Children game back on the PS1, why not Science of Sleep?

John Holmes continued …

Crap, I still haven’t finished Braid!

That was one fuck-ton of a spoiler, guys.

Jim Sterling

You were warned!

Also, I totally agree that using a fictional setting to explore a factual subject is a great tactic, one that works very well. Again, I have several game ideas that explore that very thing (stuff I’ll never make as I have zero game design talent … though that means I might get hired by Atari) but at the same time, I wouldn’t mind seeing some grounded games that are about real subjects. Videogames have the potential power to be far more affecting than movies, and I want to see that power harnessed. I just don’t know if society has reached a level of intelligence that would allow it to happen without harassment or outright destruction.

Joe Burling

Why did you read the Braid spoiler, John? I tried to warn you! I’m sorry!

Each and every one of us reading this have joked about AIDS at some point or another, yet AIDS has killed over 25 million people since the 1980’s. 9/11 directly killed less than 3000 people. So why is it OK to joke about AIDS but not 9/11?

Jim, wouldn’t you say that Space Invaders meets 9/11 is a “fictional setting explore a factual subject”? (Samit, I’m not sure if the question mark goes inside or outside of the quotations there. Please don’t kill me!) Obviously, it’s in horrible taste, but is it actually bad?

Jim Sterling

A friend of mine once demonstrated this perfectly. He said this:

Why is it okay to make fun of Osama Bin Laden, responsible for thousands of deaths, but it isn’t okay to make fun of child killer Ian Huntley who, to be fair, is only responsible for two?

In our minds, we justify what is more horrible and irresponsible over another, but if we separate emotions from logic, we find that our priorities can be pretty fucked up.

I have no problem with Space Invaders 9/11, but I wouldn’t say it’s what we’re talking about. It very clearly is about 9/11. It’s not a fictional setting. In fact, it’s more like a fictional subject based in a factual setting.

Joe Burling

I have no problem with Space Invaders 9/11, either. However, I do expect a lot of people will get really upset about it. I also expect that a lot of those people will not really understand why they are upset about it.


I think the problem with people freaking out over emotionally-charged games is that people don’t expect that from gaming yet. They want to have fun and be entertained (which is totally fine.) People still think games are for kids, and the inability to see past that creates problems when designers start tackling more important themes.

As far as Space Invaders goes, the artist said something to the effect of trying to show the futility of the military-industrial complex and explore the foreignness of Al-Qaeda and Islamist Muslims in general. By and large, we still don’t understand what drove 9/11, the same way we wouldn’t understand space aliens. Is the art exhibit different because it was made out of videogame characters (which probably says something in itself about the way our foreign policy works)? If he had painted it, would that be alright?

Joe Burling

When searching through google images for “9/11 art”, I found this.


Johnny Holmes

I read the Braid spoiler because I am a total narcissist and thought I already knew everything about Braid. My mistake.

I point no fingers, good sir.

Back to the point, I have pretty mixed feelings about wanting games to move to more “real life” topics. Part of why I prefer videogames to other mediums is that they deal in the abstract so well. I’d rather movies and tv become more like videogames than the other way around.

And the Space Invaders thing, that just sucks. It’s a dumb idea trying to be provocative by blindly stabbing at the most sensitive nerve in the collective American psyche. Four years of art school was enough for me, I’m done with that sort of crap.

Colette Bennett

I have to admit the topic is different based on who perceives it. I have no issues with games about war, even if they reenact real events, as long as they are portrayed accurately. I think the thing that hits too close to home with Space Invaders 9/11 is just that people I once knew died there, and I am intimately familiar with other major tragedies that have affected me personally. Worse than that, though, is that it makes LIGHT of it by combining a beloved videogame with the tragic event. THAT is the thing I have the issue with. How is that funny? Even if I had zero connection to any of these events, I would still view it as being in very, very poor taste.

Joe makes a good point though, when he talks about AIDS. “Enjoy your AIDS” is a common internet joke, and one most of us have used once or twice. A lot of internet humor borders on offensive topics (or offensive use of words around those topics). It seems the bigger problem enters into it when someone was actually affected; otherwise, the topic is remote, and therefore open for people to consider and interpret how they will.

Art is anything a person creates, even if they smear a canvas with their own shit and try to sell it. This may be considered art to some, and if art’s purpose is to provoke people to feel and to talk about it, then it certainly succeeds.

As a total aside, I want to play Science of Sleep co-op with Tron, big time.

J’ohnn Holmes

Wouldn’t a Science of Sleep game be awesome? It could be like Silent Hill 4, except not scary and with dating sim elements.
Wait, Silent Hill 4 already isn’t that scary, is it?
I want my old Silent Hill back.


Reverend Anthony

On Tigsource right now, they’ve highlighted a game called Muslim Massacre, from the guy who writes Electric Retard. I haven’t gotten a chance to play it as my monitor can’t handle the resolution (what?) but a lot of the commenters seem to feel that it’s trying to do one of three things:

– Make an ironic anti-Iraq War criticism
– Make a literal pro-Iraq War criticism
– Be provocative and offensive just for the sake of it, with no specific intended message.

I’ve only played a few “controversial” games based on real life events (Super Columbine Massacre RPG! and V-Tech Rampage), but both of them felt extremely condescending and, especially in the case of V-Tech, offensiveness just for the sake of it. And if you’re trying to be funny, then derive humor from your mechanics and design, not just from the fact that “HAHAHAH LOOK AT ME I’M RAPING A NATIONAL TRAGEDY LULZ,” as if that’s a substitute for legitimate humor. I’m in agreement with Jim: you can definitely make funny games about this sort of stuff if it’s done right.

I also think fantastic games can be made about these incidents (hell, if SCMRPG! ended right after the massacre rather than taking the boys to Hell to fight Satan, it would be a fantastic game), but the ones I’ve seen are more borne out of their creators’ self-congratulatory “hey, look how incredibly fearless and brave and honest I am to tackle this subject” attitudes rather than showing meaningful or interesting narrative and game design.

September 12th is actually pretty good (if really simplistic), though it’s not based on as specific an incident as the other games we’re discussing.


On the atomic bomb bit, it’s not taboo because it was the lesser of the two evils. If we hadn’t dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the U.S. would have had to invade Honshu proper, where the Japanese culture would have been wiped out. Not just because of U.S. soldiers, but remember, women were being trained with wooden spears to attack GIs, and kids were being taught to dive under tanks with bombs strapped to them. So, killing tens of thousands with the atomic bomb was better than the millions that would have died, not just on the Japanese side, but on the U.S. side as well, from an invasion.

Reverend Anthony

Isn’t that arguable? If we’d only dropped the one bomb I could more see where you’re coming from, but we (many would say needlessly) dropped the second one on Nagasaki before Japan really had a chance to surrender proper.


Yeah, and I can point to bombing raids that the U.S. did to Japan that were “just to get into the history books” because of how massive they were. But if you want to simplify it to a number of deaths, the atomic bombs were the lesser of the evils.


If you want to simplify it to the number of deaths, DMV, I’m going to start calling you Joseph Stalin 🙂

Joe Burling

Yay Atomic Bombs!!!!!!

What, too soon? =(

Reverend Anthony


I get what you’re saying about lesser deaths from the atomic bomb, but my point is that we gave them a whole three days between Hiroshima and Nagasaki to decide whether or not to surrender — hardly enough time for the country to make a decision, and definitely not a long enough timeframe for the bombings to be completely free of taboo or controversy.

For the sake of scope, George W Bush didn’t state his specific intentions about dealing with Osama bin Laden, to a joint session of congress and the American people, until nine days after the September 11th attacks. That’s not a slam on Bush, just an observation about the time it takes for reasoned response.

Samit Sarkar

Aerox brought up the psychological perspective on empathy (i.e., it’s very difficult to feel for people who you have no relation/connection to, unless the media browbeats you into it) yesterday, and I definitely believe that it applies. To what Jim said regarding “consistency” in not being offended at something — regardless of your connection to the subject — I submit that it’s only human nature to laugh at everything until the butt of the joke is something you were personally affected by.

Example: take someone who had a relative perish on 9/11 — whether it was in New York; Arlington, VA; or Shanksville, PA — and you could probably get them to laugh at lots of things, like an episode of Arrested Development or a 1980s-era joke about AIDS being a “gay disease”. But the moment you bring up that fateful Tuesday seven years ago, they’re probably going to stop laughing and turn somber. Granted, they might not — making light of serious situations is a wonderful coping mechanism (again, I’m stealing that from someone yesterday) — but chances are that 9/11 is always going to be a sore spot.

I also subscribe to the “statute of limitations” theory on humor (and on mentioning a tragedy in general). World War II ended 63 years ago, so there are still plenty of people alive today who fought in it, were alive during it, or were in some way directly affected by it (Holocaust survivors, octogenarian war veterans, etc.). But in the name of Catholicism, the government of Spain executed an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people from 1476 to 1834, and nowadays, people jokingly use the term “Spanish Inquisition” when they’re being asked a lot of questions. If you make a joke today about fitting 6 million Jews in a car’s ashtray, there’s still a chance that you’ll offend someone. But no one is likely to care if you poke fun at heretics being burned at the stake.


Dyson, I’m glad to see that you’ve noticed my pride in the Motherland.


The deaths of thousands is nothing more than a statistic to you, isn’t it you pinko bastard?!


Johnny Holmes

I’m offended. 


Was the Space Invaders thing supposed to be funny though? I’m not sure. I haven’t researched it fully, but, the more I think about it, the more it makes some sense. Like Anthony mentioned, there is a certain level of the artist’s intent that needs to be considered, but, as far as I can tell, this guy wasn’t trying to be funny.

The Reverend

In an article, the artist said this:

In his interactive large installation, the players must prevent the catastrophe by controlling the well-known cannon at the lower screen border with their bodies and firing it using arm movements…Like the original, this trial is ultimately unsuccessful, thus creating an articulated and critical commentary about the current war strategy.”

So he’s a pretentious fuckknob who made something really controversial and shoehorned a really simplistic, nonsensical “meaning” around it.


If my own men won’t charge the enemy and die for the glory of Russia, even if we haven’t given them guns to fight with, they deserved to be gunned down. There’s no room for cowardice in our trenches.


Didn’t Russia gun down their own men? I think they did. Your propaganda wrapped in patriotism holds no sway over me, young Czar.

Jim Sterling

I find the 9/11 Space Invaders guy’s pretentious fuckwittery far more offensive than a million Twin Towers jokes. Just for the record.


And that’s where we ended this week’s post. Or, this is where the discussion actually starts? Maybe the artist’s game actually did cause people to question exactly how they view events? That may be the case, considering the conversation you just read. 

Any thoughts?