In video games on February 2, 2011 at 11:38 pm

In case you missed it, there was a good topic brought up by Gamasutra’s Richard Clark last week. Decency in video games. In Clark’s opinion piece he discusses the soon-to-be-released Bulletstom (People Can Fly/Epic), a game that has risen to notoriety for rewarding the player for the creative ways they can kill.

They produced an aesthetic that revels in “skillshots” not only by rewarding them, but by giving them names that do little more than cheer on a sort of sociopathic obsession with causing the enemies the most pain and humiliation possible.

Now, I know what you may be thinking if you haven’t heard of this game yet: doesn’t all of these games reward you for killing – creatively, that is? And you would mostly be right. There are a lot of games that promote, encourage, reward and challenge the player to kill in many creative ways – for fun.

However, Bulletstorm is unique. This is the only game I can recall where you can actually “blow out another man’s ass-hole.” Those quotations are direct quotes from the producer of Bulletstorm, Cliff Blezinski of Gears of War fame.

And yeah, it’s possible. That commercial ends with a quick cut to a man’s anus being shot with burning bullets, and overflowing as he screams bloody murder and falls face first to the ground. In fact, it’s the sexual subtext of much of the dialogue, marketing and in-game text and actions that is most disturbing.

It may seem from these brief quotes that Clark slams Bulletstorm, something many people in the comments section felt – including a few people who worked on the game. I thought he gave it a heavy slap on the butt, kind of the way you push ketchup out of the bottle when its that rich sticky kind.

In a sense, we should expect and accept these types of things. They represent the same thing that certain types of films, books and albums represent: a wide net, capable of encompassing every possible expression of the human condition, even if that expression is, by most outside accounts, undesirable and troubling. In a way, I’m glad we’ve finally arrived at this point.

The reason why I thought this was one of last weeks must-read articles (if you’re interested in Video Game Criticism) was because of his over arching point. Should decency be a contributing factor in how we review a video game? And, if not, then what does that say about the industry – that we don’t value decency?

Clark’s opinion piece will be recognized more for the way it criticizes Bulletstorm. Unfortunately, that misses the larger point. If we believe video games are art (and let us not forget how quick the gaming community attacked Roger Ebert) then what is our art saying? Where is the criticism of a games voice, as opposed to the trite complaints and/or praise for a games mechanics?

I’ll even go a step forward.

Video games have a well deserved reputation for being a playground of male adolescent power fantasy’s. Perhaps this was ok fifteen years ago when the industry was still young –  just about to hit puberty. But, its a full grown adult now; influential and hungry. The problem, I think, is the industry doesn’t want to grow up. It wants the benefits of an adult but not the responsibilities.

Reading through the comments section gives you a snap shot of this position. The general feeling is that a game like Bulletstorm is just plain, harmless, fun; the same type of boys-will-be-boys attitude that resulted in our current sexual harassment laws.

And, speaking of laws. The industry is currently under review by the Supreme Court precisely for its excessive violence. It is a clear indication that if the industry can’t check itself, then other more powerful forces outside of the industry, will. When that happens, the industry will be have to justify a game that rewards players with skillshots called “Facial,” “Gang Bang,” and “Bad Touch,” to people who don’t know anything about games.

Personally, I’m not in anyway supportive of preventing the release of a game like Bulletstorm or Duke Nuke “Em: Forever (releasing later this year). However, the fraternal nature of the game industry is annoying and detrimental. The industry is ripe with conversation around the need for innovation in AI or animation. What I would like to see is innovation in gender and cultural representation and innovation in the voice and tone of tomorrow’s games.

For more on this subject, check out Richard Clark’s column, Reviewing with Values in Mind.


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