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Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Video Games, Mature Romance and a Dictatorship

It has been a while since I've found a topic worth debating about and it has come to my attention that the sequel to Mass Effect has also brought back some old discussions.

For those that do not remember, Fox News aired a report on sex in Mass Effect and attacked the game developers for showing what was nothing more than an aliens rear end.

That was two years ago and today we have Mass Effect 2 which has kept with the tradition and allows players to essentially romance almost all of the characters that accompany you.

However, the developers did not include relationships of the same sex which is an interesting choice and many people have asked why?

Well a forum user called "Menelaos1971" believes that Bioware, the creators of the Mass Effect series held back after the uproar caused by the Fox News debate. He stated that "...it was a step in the right direction for Rated M games."

Interestingly a developer on the team replied to his statement:

"It's kinda funny that this topic keeps coming up over and over again. People who claim to be old enough and mature enough to handle sex and nudity in a game seem to believe that any lack of sex and nudity in the game is a sign of self-censorship. They generally don't believe that a game can be called "mature" without explicit sex and/or nudity.

Let me tell you, folks, that as a developer full of mature individuals, we are also free to not have explicit sex and/or nudity in our games, no matter what you, Fox News, the government, or Bunky the Wonder Clown has to say about it. We have never considered it a "problem," it is simply a choice we have made and we have every right to make that choice.

I agree that a mature game does not need sex and/or nudity and that yes, they do not need to include it if they do not want to however what the developer said next, I do not agree with.

"Game development is not a collaborative effort between developers and gamers; it is a dictatorship, where we alone determine what content goes into our game. You the player make the choice whether that content is acceptable to you (and/or your family) or not."

First I would like to state that game company "Valve Software" would disagree. We the consumers are the reason developers design games therefore many studios do research on what we gamers want in a game. In regards to Valve, they are what I consider a "golden" company in this "dark" industry as they actually listen to their market and implement changes based on the feedback given.

And even now they support the modding community by posting news updates about top rated mods, purchasing them and turning them into full games and even allowing us to become developers in our own homes by giving us a place to share models in the hopes that they will be used in their multiplayer game Team Fortress 2.

It's common knowledge that games take lots of time to develop and they can always be improved so
Stanley Woo's comments about how the games industry works are inaccurate. As user Xenris states:

"Its a developers job to make us gamers happy and be open with us and ask us what we want, not tell us what we want."

Of course not all gamers are wise with their feedback. For example they may suggest an idea that would not work well in a game. As a modder myself I can understand the development process and that some ideas sound better as a concept rather than a functional element in a game.

Back to the topic of mature romance, I noticed YouTube have recently removed a few videos containing scenes of these romantic relationships and it makes me wonder what will happen to ratings in the future.

As it stands, sex, nudity and so forth break YouTube's rules and so they are inclined to remove such videos however games are an art and as the visuals get better and better we, the developers will strive to reach for "real-life" elements. Eventually nudity and sex will become an accepted thing in the games industry and that is interesting as websites such as YouTube will probably have to rethink their policy since they cannot deny the video game medium.

I'd like to hear what you have to say about mature content because I believe it will certainly shape the way the games will be made in the future.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! When I said "you should post more" I didn't expect such a considered topic. You should write like this more often.

All good points, and I don't agree either that the developer/gamer relationship is one of dictatorship although in some ways they do have that kind of power (which, should be used, as you suggested to bring their game design experience to game concepts). It's worrying if that developer thinks he doesn't have to listen to gamers, especially considering they put the food on his table. Keep that up and they'll go elsewhere, maybe even make their own game; by the fans, for the fans.

The ME games have passed me by, but I would be interested in any game that allowed you to explore relationships, and you don't need sex and nudity for that. The problem with including something like sex/nudity is that it's highly subjective what is considered acceptable, not to mention if you want to market your game to other countries where laws themselves are more restrictive. I also haven't played a game yet that actually needed nudity or treated it as anything more than titillation. My worry is that people will equate sex with love in games, the same way they do in films already (there's always the obligatory bedroom scene to show that two characters have a 'closer' relationship). While I wouldn't stop playing a game that had sex/nudity - unless I considered it derogatory - in many games, I don't think there's a need.

Of course, i'm all for freedom of expression and the developer's choice not to include same sex relationships here is interesting. Presumably, had it been included, the people who went looking for it would find it, and those who didn't wouldn't. I don't see the harm in that since it remains the player's choice what kind of relationship they want to initiate. Rather that than have all the characters flirting with the player which may make some people uncomfortable. If developers are going to include the option for player characters to form relationships with non-playable characters, they should try to accomodate as many preferences as possible, or at least give a reason why there has been an omission. I'm not suggesting that that would make the game better however, since there will always be limits to what developers can fit in a game, and it's debateable whether every game needs to explore complex relationships. However, by omitting same sex relationships, the developers are forcing their own views on players, something we get enough of with religion, thank you.

I agree with games as art to the extent that they deserve a more lofty position than mere entertainment value. However I think my mindset is shifting more towards games as cultural artefact. The developer's choices and the reaction generated in this case say as much, if not more, about society, as they do about the game itself. There's vast potential within games to explore social issues and have the kinds of discussions you've started here. Saying games are art goes a long way, but their interactive nature means that there is a real conversation going on between the developer and the gamer, and even between different developers. This conversation is much more dynamic than the rather fixed conversation between the artist of a painting and the viewer in the art gallery.

Good post.

13 February 2010 at 12:45  

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