Max Barry on virtual violence

Australia is, like Germany, one of the countries in the world were unrated media is actually forbidden – games refused a rating by the government’s media classification organ cannot legally be sold there. What makes Australia unique is that it is also one of the few democratic countries in the world where the highest age rating you could grant is 15.

Max Barry, Australian author and originator of the web game Nationstates, has spoken up on this in a recent blog post;

the game developer, like other developers before it, deleted some of the gorier parts and resubmitted it. The Australian Classifications Board noted that “large and frequent blood splatters are seen,” but now “dead bodies and blood splatter disappear as they touch the ground.” You can still rip zombies to pieces with a chainsaw, but “no wound detail is shown.” It was awarded an MA15+ classification (meaning 14 year olds and younger require a guardian present), tagged: “Strong bloody violence.”

Instead of Australia having a violent, bloody computer game restricted to adults, it will have a violent, not-quite-as-bloody game on sale to children. This is the effect of our law: to take content that was designed for adults and tweak it until it scrapes under the MA15+ bar. We’re making available to children material they would not otherwise see, clustered at the extreme end of what is acceptable.

… An interesting point, to be sure. I get into more detail in my virgin post at the Game Industry Insiders blog.

Posted on Oct 12/09 by Saint and filed under Meta-blog, Moral panic | No Comments »

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So apparently there was more to it

So it seems like Orson Scott Card, author, Mormon and reportedly rather vocal in his opposition against gay rights penned the story of Shadow Complex. Well, not exactly, the story in the game takes place in a universe of his creation and someone figured they could capitalize on this. People are now asking themselves if they should pass on the game, seeing as a small percentage of the money they spend on it may reach Card and in turn be used to further an agenda they oppose.

Shadow Complex really seemed particularly harmless to me. A small project – large by indie standards, sure, but still small – made by someone who to me seems only to have loved the Metroid games and wanted to bring them to the new generation (something I can both sympathize with and endorse, although I do not think they fully succeeded in “modernizing the Old School”), I could hardly have imagined a project being less offensive. The story irked me somewhat for being clichéed and silly, but not for taking any kind of moral standpoint – though the two could probably be related. I did not know about Card’s views when buying the game, though I had read it at some point I did not even know he had any part of it.

Though the fact that the question is raised interests me enough to write something about it, the question itself is a no-brainer for me and I do not care about the political views of some author with a slight connection to a game I might like. There is the argument of how we are sponsoring a bunch of less known developers who might be even more politically active than Card in groups we don’t know about, and there is the argument of how much extra cash such a loose connection will actually net him – Royalties do not stack to a lot in the games industry, especially not for niche titles. There simply is not enough enough evidence that buying Shadow Complex will affect the political climate in any particular way. There is also the matter of the work in question being influenced by the author’s ideals, although I did not think this was the case here the only thing you can really do is to not subject your own self to it, and if you think that the story will ruin your enjoyment of the game I guess that is a valid reason – I did not. Finally, there is the matter of principle, trying to discourage future developers from working with people with an agenda, but that I definitely cannot support. Taking a personal stand is one thing, but attacking a different-minded not by countering his arguments but by trying to undermine his ability to operate is in my opinion morally indefensible.

I liked Ender’s Game, but I did not love it. As previously mentioned, I thought the story in Shadow Complex clichéed and shallow. Regardless on my thoughts on the quality of these works, however, I recognize that the people involved created them in their roles as artists, and in my book their work is the singular thing that I would hold them responsible for when criticizing it. So in regards to Christian Nutt’s reflection, I respectfully disagree; as a child I only regarded the qualities of a specific game when judging it worth a purchase or not, I do not think I can judge a game in a different manner today – nor do I want to.

Posted on Aug 24/09 by Saint and filed under Moral panic | No Comments »

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On Faith Fighter Removal


By now it’s hardly newsworthy to state that the flash game Faith Fighter by political game developers Molleindustria has been removed from their site, citing a failure to communicate the sarcasm of the game.

Now I might well be wrong here, since the point they make in the update closing statement is valid and the new game they put up to replace it treats every religion in a slightly more equal manner, but the whole thing reeks to me of something that is at best a gross oversight and at worst a malicious (though rather clever) ruse to push a hateful agenda even further.

I do not think that it came as a surprise to anyone that people should complain about this game, and given the inspiration I don’t think that Molleindustria did either – even if that was the case, considering the games they have not taken down I do not think they would take this one down because of the complaints mentioned. I propose that they knew taking down the game would cause their players (and perhaps a large part of the gamer/freedom-of-speech communities) to loathe the religious communities involved, and that this is exactly what they wanted to achieve.

Religion aside, setting someone up to condemn you just to make them look bad is in my opinion not only dishonest but also damaging to the public opinion about serious games. I hope I am wrong, and that this does not get any bigger than it already is.

Posted on Apr 29/09 by Saint and filed under Gaming culture, Moral panic | No Comments »

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Blind Hero

A couple of nice chaps over at the University of Nevada has used the open-source project Frets on Fire to create what they describe as “Guitar Hero for the blind

Back in school, one of the toughest design challenges we had was to create a game without any visual stimuli. That might be just because I generally don’t think about interactive sound, and the idea of a music game for blind people might not be that far-fetched, but I get a kick out of seeing people create games with the severe limitations sometimes present when designing for handicapped people. And as always, broadening the target audience of videogames as a whole is a worthwhile pursuit.

Posted on Nov 19/08 by Saint and filed under Meta-blog, Moral panic | No Comments »

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FTC Report

… So basically, in America there is – despite some politicians’ continuing struggle to change this – no legal obligation for any retailer to refuse a minor trying to buy a game rated for adults, there’s only the voluntary ESRB system. There are many good reasons behind this, but to keep it short no causal link has been established between media violence and real-world aggression, so any laws passed would be based entirely on morality – a varying base, at best, and not enough to withhold free speech and produce the chilling effect enforced ratings would have on any media.

This being said it’s in everyone’s interest to ensure that the videogame industry can handle this responsibility and not sell games to underage buyers when their parents might object, and the failure of the retailers to do so is a very common target for the aforementioned politicians.

That’s why it’s interesting to see the new Federal Trade Commission Secret Shopper report; it sems game retailers only let underage buyers get M-rated games 20% of the times, little more than half of that of underage moviegoers being let into R-Rated movies (which, if I recall correctly, are actually enforced by law).

I’m in no position to argue about the need for ratings, but it’s always nice to have some proof that you’re working for a responsible industry since there still seems to be a lot of misconceptions about whom videogames are for.

Posted on May 08/08 by Saint and filed under Moral panic | No Comments »

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Byron Review Released

Child Psychologist Tanya Byron released her much-anticipated review today

The Prime Minister asked me to conduct this Review in order to help parents and their children get the best from new technologies while protecting children from inappropriate or harmful material. The objectives of the Review were:

  • To undertake a review of the evidence on risks to children’s safety and wellbeing of exposure to potentially harmful or inappropriate material on the internet and in video games.
  • To assess the effectiveness and adequacy of existing measures to help prevent children from being exposed to such material and help parents understand and manage the risks of access to inappropriate content, and to make recommendations for improvements or additional action.

The entire review is 200+ pages long so I have only read the summary and it seems thoughtful enough – Byron says she puts the children themselves at the center of her investigation and I’m certainly not going to question a professional without reason – especially since I haven’t read the methods and evidence she cites to support her suggestions. What I will say though is that the report is – perhaps unsurprisingly – hardly revolutionary if you’ve been reading up on the politics surrounding games. That parents need to be better informed of age ratings and parental control mechanisms, that schools need to educate E-Safety and that stores need to display information clearer – It’s all been said before.

I’m certainly no expert but from the store clerks I’ve talked to this comic illustrates the root of the problem – the problem isn’t with the people who care about finding the solutions, but rather with the people who don’t.

Posted on Mar 27/08 by Saint and filed under Moral panic | No Comments »

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Top Ten Media Attacks of 2007

It gets slightly repetitive, but i guess pointing out the never-changing rambling of ill-informed reporters is kind of the point of the video.

Posted on Jan 23/08 by Saint and filed under Moral panic | No Comments »

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Oh, for crying out loud…

This demonstrates rather well why I do my very best to stay away from arguing on the internet. I feel guilty writing this post since it goes against just that, so I’ll try to keep it short.

There’s no question about the fact that the casual conversation with anonymous individuals that exists on the net is more often than not pretty hostile. I used to think this evolved from a lack of surveillance, understanding and response – kids made up a big part of the early adopters, some might not have come to realize just how valuable courtesy can be and their parents didn’t really consider the internet a communication channel so they didn’t tell them to play nice – the way they would have in real life. The boon of anonymity, never being held responsible for what you said, didn’t help. It was no-ones fault, really, it was just the initial anarchy that would maybe someday form into a new kind of organized society.

I no longer believe that, though, for the general idea is the same thing columnists, show hosts and the like are doing – the same things they did in paper or on radio even before there were computers. And I honestly don’t care if it’s written in a “proper” way, trashtalking people just to get a rise out of them doesn’t get any more noble because you are paid to do it.

Posted on Jan 16/08 by Saint and filed under Meta-blog, Moral panic | No Comments »

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Will gamers save the world?

Videogames are still kind of low-profile in Sweden compared to how it is in the US; it’s not really something you talk about. Well, it wouldn’t be if I didn’t hang out with gamers and developers almost exclusively. I used to have a stance on the meaning and purpose of playing videogames, but as I grew older and the “research” became more frequent it became obvious that you can’t take everything seriously – and since you can’t, how do you decide? I chose to chalk it down as individuality, but there always come times when you need to stand up for what you do.

This article from an old PC Gamer highlights some of the reportedly positive sides of gaming; it’s blatantly one-sided but since the “other side” can get away with both that and not only misrepresenting the facts but flat-out lying, I think it’s a fair counterpoint.

Posted on Jan 15/08 by Saint and filed under Gaming culture, Moral panic | No Comments »

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Distant Worlds and Out-of-touch people

Distant Worlds - Music from Final Fantasy

… So I took the evening off to go se the World Premiere of Distant Worlds – Music from Final Fantasy in Stockholm. Sad part of it was that I somehow managed to get sick and had to leave the concert hall on two occasions (once before the break, once after), and my focus while in there was more in the lines of repeating the mantra “do not feel ill, illness is the mind-killer” than enjoying the experience to the fullest. I did manage to listen through everything though – even paying attention during my favourite parts, and friends that were feeling better (and have a more informed taste in music) confirm my vague memory that the concert was indeed good. Then I come home and get this absolutely brilliant article sent to me.

I am pretty sure Gunilla is just deliberately trying to piss gamers off. I mean, the von Oben-“these darn kids and their videogamings should learn to appreciate real music instead”- attitude is more or less a given (though it’s getting really stale), but when others stop there, she carries on. Headlining the article with “Game addiction births philharmonics” and trying to send Nobuo Uematsu on a guilt trip for making music for violent videogames is just classic, like her only knowledge of videogames comes from headlines in the “family” section of the evening press (for the uninformed, Final Fantasy is violent in much the same way as chess; it has a highly abstract, turn-based representation physical combat). To top it off, she acknowledges interviewing one of the most influental composers in game music but doesn’t have the courtesy to actually find out anything about what he’s actually done to deserve that status. I really don’t think Gunilla is that stupid, and taken like sarcasm it’s actually very funny.

On another note, while I certainly like some of the tracks from the Final Fantasy soundtracks, it is quickly becoming the pop music of live orchestra- videogame music performances (that sounds far more niche than it actually is). Everybody does it, and they even used the same general tracklist. I almost think I would’ve left during the “One-Winged Angel” encore even if my health issues hadn’t already compelled me to do so. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have gone at all if it hadn’t been an excellent occasion to hang out with some friends that I don’t see often enough.

Which is kind of why the aforementioned critics are partly right, I guess. The main reason most people go to these concerts is because they recognize the source material, and while they may well like the music a lot, they’re fond of the particular tunes and not the general style – music from a game they hadn’t played would be just as uninteresting as anything else the orchestra traditionally plays.

Posted on Dec 05/07 by Saint and filed under Gaming culture, Meta-blog, Moral panic | No Comments »