Wednesday, July 20, 2005


I realize, perhaps
, that some might have found my previous post offensive because I used many "naughty" words.

When human beings get offended by words it is the result of the 'spookification' that language fosters - that is, words are only a map of the territory, but are so integral to our understanding of our world that they actually shape our conception of that world. This doesn't seem so ridiculous, unless, like me, you were taught in school that we use words to represent things we observe.

Why, then, would we allow words to determine what we observe or how we react?

Spooks. Ghosts in the system. Emotional correlations. Semantic ambiguities.

Where I'm going with this: I can write without using what are commonly called swear words. I like using them, however, because I know the emotional correlations and they suit my purposes.
With this post I will refrain from using them. To some people this might appear as if I have more credibility, or am at least being more tactful, or more respectful, or what have you. Spooks.

Regarding the GTA Hot Coffee modification:

Many people see Rockstar as having backslid or misrepresented themselves. The ESRB is being painted by some as inefficient.

So what happened?

Rockstar knowingly allowed sexual content to remain on their game discs for GTA. This content is inaccessible, so far as anyone knows, by any in-game means.

It was pointed out that there could be a button combination which unlocks this mode. If by chance one exists, and if it were not placed by Rockstar, then it would be more aptly classified as a bug, since it enables code not meant to be played.

Regardless, the ESRB's job is only to classify content playable under the software license. Are we now going to demand that games get rated on any possible content on their storage medium, regardless of playability?

So someone discovered a way of altering the game code to make this locked section playable. Yes, it can be done on console games, too. The cleverness of hackers is a poor excuse for making Rockstar culpable. If I lock something away in a safe, say a pornographic magazine, and several brilliant persons break into that safe and show that magazine all over the town, am I at fault?

Maybe if it could be proved that I knowingly placed that material in a seemingly-protected position but knew the full capabilities of the thieves and placed resources in a position so as to aid them in their task. Rockstar certainly could have engineered this themselves. It does not seem to help them, however, and the negative effects seem more obvious than any sales boost.

The result of the media frenzy and the political hubris and the angry parental teeth-gnashing is that a game rated for those 17 and over is now classified as being for those 18 and over.

I'm not certain in the long-term what this hubbub may have accomplished. There was more vilification of the game industry and video games. There were many, to be fair, sincerely concerned parental groups that nevertheless have not used this as an example of why they must strive to be better (or just good) parents but as more ammo in the 'h*ll in a handbasket' theory (the lament and lie of the old).

As regards that particular theory, also known as the 'When I was your age' theory (the speaker begins 'When I was your age' to open a long and tortured half-truth concerning how much better-behaved everyone was and how much respect everyone had and how society was a perfectly-functioning machine).

It is natural, as people grow older and lose their ability to keep up with popular culture (possibly any culture at all), that they will harbor resentment. They may grow afraid of a world that is markedly different from the one they long ago adjusted to. They look upon the old kinds of obscenity and violence, wrapped in shiny new packages, as harbingers of something ominous rather than as the marching on and commodification of the status quo.

What grand culture of the past so obviously outranks that of the present?

Shakespeare? You mean the trite, cliched plays filled with double-entendres and blood? Every Shakespeare play is either a comedy or a tragedy. A tragedy has lots of guts and gore and violent sexual content (Richard III, Hamlet, Macbeth) and ends with nearly everyone dying. A comedy always had multiple sets of lovers and they get mixed up somehow and some slapstick happens and in the end everybody gets married. Deep, huh.

What of the Ancients, the originators of civilization? Ooh, we have the story of Oedipus, who killed his father on the road, thinking him a stranger, then went on to accidentally marry his mother after answering the riddle of a hideous, violent monster. Once the gruesome events are laid bare to all, Oedipus's mother hangs herself, and Oedipus seizes the brooches from her garment and drives them into his eyes. And don't miss out on the equally putrid sequel, Antigone.

For live entertainment, nothing could beat the French Grand Guignols. Ostensibly only frequented by poor, depraved perverts, they in fact enjoyed immense popularity across all sections of society. Or the bawdy variety shows that eventually became burlesques.

And for those so worried about the children, have you read the original Grimm Fairy Tales? You might enjoy Cinderella, where one of her stepsisters mutilates her own foot to fit into the Prince's slipper. Or the surprise ending where pigeons peck out the stepsisters' eyes. Or maybe Snow White, which ends with the wicked witch forced to put on burning iron shoes and dance until dead. A real crowd-pleaser. Not to mention the intimations of necrophilia when the Prince buys Snow White in her coffin.

Or maybe you might remember the Punch and Judy show? The children's play that prominently features spousal-abuse, murder, infanticide, selling one's soul to the Devil and sheer homicidal violence.

Yes, those days certainly were pure and just, media-wise.

What I'm never exactly clear on is just what these parental groups and politicians feel is allowable content for the different category groups?

How much blood is too much? How long must we linger over the violence? Is it lingering if we must focus on only one victim, like how the bat in GTA can be used to continually batter someone? And isn't that a player preference issue? Me, I like to get in maybe one gratuitous whack, but I've seen some people that make it their own personal minigame. If we're mowing down wave after wave of baddies does that sufficiently qualify as not lingering over the violence, since we spend so little time with the individual killing?

How much sex is too much? As some have pointed out already, The Sims is rated T for Teen and makes Whoopee (psst, that's a code-word for sex) a goal. That is already two steps further than Rockstar went - Whoopee is enabled in the game proper and is encouraged. Granted it is pixelated out, but there is no question what is happening. And there are a full range of nudity patches that will clear up that little, ahem, 'problem' with the game all over the web. We obviously aren't concerned with any sexual content being too much.

In BMX XXX (poorly named, because it featured no actual pornography) the rating was obvious - the inclusion of videos with various strippers elevated the game to the level of a Girls Gone Wild! video that's more a hassle than enjoyable (though I would argue that such things are for adults - much fourteen-year-old angst could have been spared by regular exposure to images of firm, bouncing college breasts - and I may have even applied to college!).

What of future games? Who will decide if the implementation warrants an AO rating? We are clearly not basing our content rating system on the MPAA's guidelines. If we were, GTA would have remained an M game. Training Day was rated R, and it contained full-frontal nudity.

So my opposition and ire comes, not from a disagreement with the usefulness of ratings, but from the kneejerk opposition against Big Bad Video Games that has currently solved exactly zero problems. Legislation is largely unnecessary. What is necessary is education, an even-temper, patience, an understanding of video games as an emergent medium and the willingness to learn new parenting methods.

I am all for getting as much information as you can about media before you purchase it. I'm cautious about going to the movies (mostly due to cost), so I will read several reviews, poll people I know that have seen it and weigh it against my interest (and available funds). I do the same with videogames. And music. And books.

As a parent this takes fortitude. You must be willing to be an arbiter, but also be flexible. Is it worth forbidding something that your child will probably encounter elsewhere (at school, a friend's house), or is it better to make small allowances provided that you are there to offer supervision? I could definitely see myself with a child, working them through Las Venturas with a camera, picking scenic points for pictures and, as they get older, let them experience more of the game.

But that takes work. Which is my other major reason for indignation.

If you don't want to put in the work, don't have children. For those who would argue that I wouldn't understand, not having children myself, well . . . that doesn't make sense. I don't have children because I don't want to put in the work. Not yet, at least.

Cross my fingers.

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