The Big Problem: A Rebuttal

Recently Nathan Hardisty (Bananahs) posted an article here on Platform Nation called The Big Problem (I recommend you read this in full before continuing with this article. I will highlight some points, but in order to get the whole picture please read his article) In it he talks about the common theme running through many games and how that may all change on November 2 when the Supreme Court makes its ruling. As we encourage different opinions and viewpoints here at Platform Nation I felt that it was appropriate to offer a rebuttal.

We are standing on the precipice, a fine moment between when we realize who we are and what we’re capable of. We might fall off our feet and wake up minutes later to find that we have amounted to nothing. Absolutely nothing. I want to make difficult decisions between who lives and dies. Who I sacrifice to save an entire planet of orphans, or whether I choose between a puppy or a thousand people in comas. I want to learn lessons on life, through myself, and only video-games can allow that.

There are video games out there that teach life lessons and offer this level of choice ad consequences, however most of these would not get the same mainstream attention, in much the same way that a self help book may not get the same media attention as the next Terry Pratchett, J K Rowling or *shudder* Stephanie Meyer. Should we shun these books as they don’t all teach life lessons? Of course not, they are simple forms of entertainment, you may like them you may loath them but it’s your decision. If it is well written, or if you feel a connection, you may even take a life lesson from these books but that isn’t what it sets out to do from page one.  Choices and decisions have been around in video games for years and in games in general for eve longer. Ask any RPG fan, the clue is in the title it is a “Role Playing Game” you are a character and in its truest form your character should be an extension of yourself. The depth and span of decision making is up to us, if we ask for it and support them, developers will have no choice but to create them.

I have no doubts that the basic shooter has a limited lifespan and will eventually be replaced. After all once Virtual Reality is established(it will happen, here is my prediction: HDTV – 3DTV – Holographic Projection – 3D Holographic Projection – Holosuite akin to Star Trek ) with games that real, who would actually want to play a game where they really get shot unless there was some sort of emotional connection to your character or some desire to keep playing? Of course if you make games too real then you verge on the problems that are highlighted in “Better than Life” from the Red Dwarf franchise but that’s a debate for another day.

I grew up in a difficult background, full of bullying and lies and seeing the worst that the working class of England go through. I have been places and experienced the highs and lows of humanity, I wish I could take you there, but you’ve already been. Through video-games you’ve been to places with little understanding, seen the worst of the worst. You’ve seen things that maybe even I haven’t seen, or experienced. Games are art, end of story..”

Every one of us has a life story and everyone will be slightly different from the next, that’s the beauty of the world, is that no one is exactly the same; everyone will have had their highs and their lows. Experiencing the worst of humanity is a little harsh, while games tend to show stereotypical scenarios, Nazi’s are evil, all Irish are Drunks Italians are mobsters etc they are very rarely supposed to be real. You’ll get more real world experience by watching soap like Coronation Street or Days or Our Lives which themselves are extreme exaggerations of reality. Art is in the eye of the beholder, while I agree that gaming has evolved far higher than some people have realized it has still a lot to achieve to be seen as “art” by the masses. However to me, most modern art that consists of simple shapes and colors isn’t art. All I see is a picture of shapes in different colors. Yet there will be thousands of people worldwide who would be willing to pay huge amounts to see these colorful shapes. For me, for something to be “art” it needs to incite some sort of emotion, whether this is love or hate, happiness or sadness is irrelevant as it is my emotions and my choice to make. Games do this for me, but just because they do it for me it I wouldn’t expect everyone else to agree with me.

I want you to do something kinetic, something that’ll probably change your perception a little. I want you to take out your video-game collection and lay it all on the floor.. I want you to make two piles, the first pile built of games with weapons in them and the second pile built of games with no guns in them.

The example makes a good point, as far as the overuse of shooting as a gameplay mechanic goes. However, I would not accept it as a valid point as a problem in the games industry as the logic can be applied to any medium or any other form of entertainment.  Let’s take the next form of mass entertainment, movies. How many films have guns in them? Thousands and what about violence in general? Even more. As for content that I would not allow a child to see, that pretty much eliminates every movie every made apart from the very obvious kid friendly movies and even then the very prudent might find things too suggestive.

A majority of our experiences have stemmed from one gigantic core of repetitive gameplay. The big giant hallmark of videogames, the flag we bear is one painted with bullet casings

This argument is poor at best and sounds like something Jack Thompson would cite as evidence that games are corrupting the youth of the world. If a person chooses only to play first person shooters then that will be the majority of the experiences, however there are so many different genres of games that the majority of your experiences can be whatever you want it to be. Guns are involved in several of the AAA titles but that’s because (at least with this generation) that is the preferred style of gameplay. Previously it was the side scrolling beat ‘em up (which itself is also inappropriate for kids) and before that it was the platformer. Even with a platformer if you look hard enough you can find content that could be considered inappropriate, for instance Bowser was seen as scary for very young kids and there are several disturbing implications about why he keeps kidnapping the princess and where did those kids come from? That is adding 1+1 and getting 5 but it just goes to show how someone can taint an experience with their own perspective.

It’s sad and depressing that the most common form on entertainment requires violence but games do not suffer alone, while there are other styles of movies out there, which makes the most? A quick look at the top 20 highest grossing movies from Wikipedia I have amended the table to highlight all those movies that contain guns, weapons or generally anything that some people may find inappropriate for children as per your experiment.

Position Title Inappropriate Content Worldwide Box Office
Avatar Violence $2,770,179,282
2 Titanic Mass death and Nudity $1,843,201,268
3 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Violence $1,119,110,941
4 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest Violence $1,066,179,725
5 Toy Story 3 A “kids” movie but some parents complained it got too scary $1,054,112,427
6 Alice in Wonderland Violence and a decapitation $1,024,298,922
7 The Dark Knight Violence,  fighting and death $1,001,921,825
8 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Death and some people boycott the franchise as it may promote witchcraft $974,733,550
9 Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End Violence and death the movie starts with a child being hanged. $960,996,492
10 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Death and some people boycott the franchise as it may promote witchcraft $938,212,738
11 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Death and some people boycott the franchise as it may promote witchcraft $933,959,197
12 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Extreme Violence and multiple deaths $925,282,504
13 Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace Fighting, death, and the main villain gets cut in half. $924,317,558
14 Shrek 2 Cartoon Violence $919,838,758
15 Jurassic Park Death and Violence $914,691,118
16 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Death and some people boycott the franchise as it may promote witchcraft $895,921,036
17 Spider-Man 3 Violence and death $890,871,626
18 Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs A kids movie which I haven’t seen so I can’t comment $886,686,280
19 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Death and some people boycott the franchise as it may promote witchcraft $878,643,482
20 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Extreme violence and a main character dies. $870,761,744

So there you have it, the top 20 movies of all time and maybe 1 or 2 are unquestionably suitable for everyone. All those other would end up in that pile. Please note that these are extreme examples again showing how your own perspective can taint your viewpoint and it doesn’t represent how I personally feel.

It’s a common exploration of cinema and we shouldn’t feel limited by it, but it’s violence with meaning. It’s not the same jarring shot to the skull multiple times, or even hundreds of times, I feel myself losing grip on the controller at times.

I would like to counter this point with movies like Saw, Hostel and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series, while the original may have been a thriller they have long since devolved into violence for violence sake. There are several games out there some of which have been included as part of the big problem illustrations that have stories and meanings.

What’s the point of shooting in a game structured around political commentary and exploration of mature thematics (Bioshock). What’s the point of stabbing a guy in the face and then running away, only to come back to a motivation that asks me to care about characters I’ve never met (Red Dead Redemption).

Video games need to be interactive, without interaction it is a movie, I applaud Bioshock for introducing gamers to concepts that they may not have considered prior to this. So what if I gain an insight into communist movement from Singularity? What difference does it make if I learn about politics and corruption for Bioshock?  Introducing ideas in a form people like is a good way to encourage further learning. Teachers the world over search on a daily basis to find ways to engage with their students to support their learning so games regardless of the actual gameplay should not be written off. For instance Grand Theft Auto 4 was recently used to educate people of the dangers of drunk driving; it has also been used in schools to educate children on the difference between reality and fiction. Surely this only goes to prove that games in the current generation can teach life lessons when used appropriately?

The gun is meant to be a symbol or a device used to kill a character. It was never invented to kill thousands of AI. Just how many people have you killed. Just think about that. Do you remember any of their names? You are a killer.

Without guns, violence or anything you wouldn’t want you kids playing, give me a way to keep a player engrossed and entertained? The Braids and Limbos are doing a good job showing creativity but these are puzzle games and will not keep the masses playing for months or years (and Limbo is violent, disqualifying it from consideration) To call all players of first person shooters or shooters in general a killer is an insult to those who play as well as trivializing the real killers of the world and the evil deeds that they commit. It is viewpoints like this that gives credibility to the argument that killers in games become killers in real life, and it’s simply not true. People who have trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality are the danger. At the end of the day, humanoid or not video game characters are just that characters, they are no more real than Frasier Crane or Harry Potter and if you cannot see the difference then there is a bigger problem than you realize.

I want to be taking my virtual daughter to school, or choosing between saving a thousand comatose patients and one little puppy. I want the tough decisions. To die for my best friend

These are noble ambitions, but without conflict they would be pretty dull games. Why would your average gamer want to immerse themselves in a simulation of everyday life. While I whole heartily support the idea of an expansive game with far reaching choices and consequences, without conflict what is there? Why am I in the position that I have to die for my best friend? Why does this one puppy have a bearing on the one thousand comatose patients?  Life is a series of conflicts and challenges, and while they don’t all result in gunplay (at least where I am) it is this conflict that makes us who we are and molds what we will become.

November 2nd could mean the difference between life and death. It could be the day when this big problem is finally realized by every publisher and developer in the world. Bringing games forward into a mature interactive medium would be the greatest thing that ever happened.

I can’t help feel that the crux of the matter has been missed, the question is not should games include violence, but should games be treated differently from any other medium. Here in the UK we happily accept age ratings as that is the norm. In America they don’t have these rules; the ratings are only recommendations and are currently not legally enforceable. That is what the court case is about, the government wants to restrict access to mature games to mature audiences only. This would require treating games differently from any other form of entertainment, which would require a change in the constitution and to quote The Simpsons “If you change the constitution, now we can make all sorts of crazy laws” that is the crux of the matter. It’s not that we play too much violent video games but whether or not games should be treated differently from movies and other forms of entertainment

Even in the event that the video games industry loses this court case, the first person shooter will not disappear overnight, they may start earning less and less as fewer people are allowed to play, this in turn would create a drive to find the next big thing which isn’t a bad thing, as personally I think that the generic FPS is passed its peak.

Don’t stand for games that lazily tell stories, don’t stand for the mediocrity, don’t stand for publishers that chicken out of bringing an authentic war experience, do not stand when the true titles come out.

There are already games that have massive branching stories such as Mass Effect or Oblivion, the problem is that a game with scope that large require many more hours of development than an FPS that can be churned out on the same or updated engine year in year out, but under the example both of these games would vanish

Support the little guy and bring to that part of the industry a large voice. I am not putting the indie market above the mainstream, but I am going to say this, they certainly innovate a lot more than the mainstream devs. Due to publisher pressure and all that multi-million bullshit, developers are less likely to succeed in getting a new strain of games through to the market.

Supporting the little guy will only do so much, as you put it they are the little guys. Even the most successful titles such as Applejack or the Maw will have little impact on how big companies will do their general business. What we need to do is support the bug guys when they take a gamble, buy Beyond Good and Evil when it’s HD version is released, buy Project Ico and Shadow of the Colossus when they are released, show that when companies take a risk they will make money, that is the bottom line, if a company experiments and makes a mistake it will cost millions, upset the shareholders and possibly costs jobs, that’s not a risk that I would like to take.

We’ve made a statement then, voting with our monies, that Heavy Rain is a good example of things to come.

Heavy Rain is not without its problems as you have mentioned, however going back to the big ol’ pile of games. Heavy Rain has a story based around a serial killer who murders children. You can gun down a complete innocent, take drugs and to top it off there is even nudity. It may be an example of things to come but even then it would be condemned to the pile of games with unsuitable content.

I don’t want to ‘play’ games anymore, I want to experience who I am and delve into my own psyche. I want to be having the most entertaining night of multiplayer, and then on the weekend go on to endure a compelling experience that’ll haunt me for years. If all we have to show, as a medium, is our ‘big problem’ then we are seriously in trouble. There is more to ourselves than just shooters, there is more to ourselves than just violence.

While there may be a market for that type of the game it will never be the norm, what you desire is an experience so real that it affects you in a very real way. Should this ever happen then we could have a much bigger problem to contend with as generations of people will have trouble separating reality and fiction(seriously read Better than Life) There will always be people who want First Person Shooters, there will always be people who like RPGs and there will always be people that want dating sims. No genre should ever be the one and only as this will lead to empathy very quickly.

If you want to be a game designer when you grow up and want to make the next Call of Duty or Halo. I want you to do something for me, change it. Or at least for a little while just do something completely different that keeps it all so fresh. A punch to the gut, a player/designer relationship device, is handy. Take away their weaponry, slice off our arms and then dump us in a military complex with no HUD or objective. Make us run, and if we die, for it to mean we have to make a choice over who lives and dies. This article was full of a little of ‘I wants’, but I want to make you think of something.

One of your “I wants” has already been and gone. The Perma Death was common with dungeon crawlers and arcades game where when you die you die. There are no continues and no second chances. There are a small number of people that would like to see this come back, but there is a greater number that do not, myself included. This is why few games do this unless it’s a tribute to what came before (Scott Pilgrim) Games do need to evolve; there is no question about that. Motion controls are the current next big thing, but I don’t expect that they will be the change we are all looking and hoping for. Single player games will continue to evolve and will eventually offer this depth and choices that we cannot even comprehend. Sadly though the multiplayer will always end with the simplest form of competition, I need to beat you and you need to beat me, it’s primitive emotion and it is  here to stay.

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  • being born and bred in the UK, I’ve simply grown up to accept age ratings on games. It doesn’t however prevent irresponsible parents from letting their sons and daughters play whatever game they feel like.

  • Yeah I felt his long ass post was a little over dramatic – interesting points of view and a good read, but he needs to get out more. Sorry! 🙂