Monday, November 05, 2007

The Gaming Industry and the Adults Only Rating...

The Adults Only rating, one of many within the ESRB’s videogame rating system, is one of gaming’s biggest taboos. No one wants to speak of it. It’s rarely seen, but its influence is heard far and wide. Many within the industry fear it, shying away from including content that would even remotely constitute such a rating. Nevertheless, despite this, many have spoken out against it, saying that it should be accepted if the industry is to move forward, and I agree for a number of reasons.

Let’s take for example, Manhunt 2, which has revived much of the debate around the AO rating. While I fully understand that Manhunt 2 is pretty much violent for the sake of being violent, shouldn't the developers be able to express themselves however they like? Would this not fall within their right to Freedom of expression? Things far worse than what is depicted in this game have been expressed in movies, pictures and other entertainment mediums and they're deemed socially acceptable.

So why should Take-Two, or any other developer for that matter, be forced to censor their artistic vision to satisfy the “politically correct” console manufacturers and retail outlets that refuse to carry anything with the AO rating? Isn’t it highly hypocritical of retail outlets to refuse to carry AO rated games, but at the same time, stock all manner of violent horror films?

Let’s pause for a moment and examine the differences between movies, and video games. There have been countless hyper-violent horror films in which people are depicted being brutally murdered, mutilated, and tortured, and yet, none of them have been bad enough to warrant the highest rating the MPAA can issue, NC-17. Instead, these films are rated R, as in “Under 17 not admitted without parent”. Now, this sounds highly familiar to the Mature rating handed out by the ESRB, doesn’t it? Well, not exactly, because it seems that there are a number of things that are acceptable in films that would earn an AO rating in games. Things such as full frontal nudity and sex scenes being prime examples. When such a scene was depicted in a game (the infamous “Hot Coffee” mod), it led to Grand Theft Auto San Andreas being slapped with an AO rating and subsequently pulled from store shelves until a newer version, sans sex scenes, was released. All of a sudden, the two ratings don't seem so similar do they?

I guess it can be argued that Manhunt 2 is worse, since it gives the player the power to commit these violent virtual murders and that level of interactivity is what makes it worse than a film, which puts you in the non-interactive role of the observer. But…isn’t that the point? As we approach the limits of graphical fidelity, the Uncanny Valley as it were, aren’t developers looking to create more immersive experiences? To draw you into the game’s world in the most realistic and believable fashion as possible? Some developers do this with captivating stories; some achieve this through other methods. Rockstar on the other hand simply chose to allow you to simulate virtual murders with stabbing motions of the Wii remote. Some say that’s crossing the line. Others say it’s immersive. You be the judge.

I don't see why this should be singled out for expressing its own brand of hyper-violence. As of late, video games have been far more scrutinized for their depictions of violence than any other medium to my knowledge and it doesn’t make sense to me. It seems the industry hasn’t grown up with its supporters. According to the ESA, the average gamer these days is 33 years old, but apparently, the masses continue to view games as nothing more than a child’s plaything and because of that, games are subject to more attacks than other mediums.

The bottom line is, the gaming industry needs to grow the fuck up. I say this because I care, not to cause controversy and not because I want to see the ratings system destroyed. I’ve grown up. I understand that violence exists and I’m mature enough to draw the line between fiction and reality. I don’t want or need someone to tell me what I can and cannot view of my own free will and this form of censorship and sense of political correctness that follows it is wrong. I am an adult as well as a gamer. I think it’s time I’m trusted to make my own decisions.

1 comment:

EtherTwilight said...

I agree wholeheartedly, Game.