Saturday, May 27, 2006

Obligation


I am responding
to Chris' response to my response to one of his posts and I didn't want the discussion to get lost in the comments.

Chris said this: "And I do not believe we currently use our medium responsibly. Recent Grand Theft Auto games are fun, juvenile entertainment for adults - but we all know they are being played by young teenagers and children."

This, naturally, got my dander up because I am an unabashed GTA apologist and kneejerk defender of videogames. I cannot allow their honor to be besmirched.

Actually, I wondered how he could make such a broad statement.

Working in the industry and seeing the meetings, forum posts and e-mails, it's made perfectly clear that every aspect of a game gets examined over and over again, every act of violence is discussed in the context of larger concerns as well as relevance to the narrative/theme. In other words, we are responsible for our content, know it and act like it. Just because people aren't privy to what's happening behind-the-scenes doesn't mean we aren't exercising our best judgment.

And I know we aren't the only studio to do such things. Saying that studios are tossing out content without any thought for consequences, or not enough thought, is an argument from ignorance.

I then wrote: "The notion of responsibility is frequently (not necessarily in this instance) a call to not cross over a certain line. That line is typically arbitrary, restrictive and decided by the louder, more influential voices, not necessarily the most reasonable."

And that's exactly what I see happening. Developers are seen as irresponsible because they refuse to take responsibility for things which aren't their fault and are out of their control (such as the fact that children play M-rated games all the time).

Likewise, there is a tendency to downplay the role of parents. It's too hard to keep up or kids are targeted with advertising, which may be true, but hardly excuse the obligations of parents.

Responsibility, to me, is something a person takes on; Obligation, on the other hand, is something expected of you by others (the different types of social controls, which are identifiable because most of them can result in criminal action).

So what, exactly, should game developers be doing differently? What are the obligations?

More on this later, I'm sure.

2 comments:

Duncan said...

If the precedent set by the movie industry is anything: developers should be doing nothing differently. Chances are that you saw an "R" rated movie (or 18A in these days) before you had turned requisite viewing age. Perhaps you even managed to see it in a theatre. Some of us even had our parents with us.
The same things are still happening today. The same things are happening with games. It is the responsibility of the parent to vet the games (and all media) that their children consume. If they deem their children ready for it, it becomes their obligation to educate their child in good morals and the difference between fiction and reality; the difference between acceptable and inappropriate.

Movies are neither good nor bad, in their nature. Books are neither good nor bad. The ideas contained are only harmful if they are not checked against a universal morality. Games are no different. This is the same argument that nearly all media have fought (and won) against. The media is just a message. If the message is inappropriate for you, or those you are responsible for, then it is on you to filter it out.

The game developers’ obligation? Push the media to the full extent of its power. Do incredible, and controversial, things with it. Then disclose everything about it, so that there is no hidden agenda, no secret messages. Make it art, plain as day; then let the world figure the rest of it out.

Chris said...

How could I make such a broad statement? Round table fever, my friend. :) I always make broader statements in the round table in the hope of spurring debate. :D

The way I see this is that while the responsibility falls on the parents, it also falls on the developer and publisher. One party attempting to blame the other is insufficient. The design of the game is not at issue, however, but the presentation and marketing of the game is. This is a game that has been made desirable to a younger audience - we shouldn't be suprised they are therefore playing it. (And lets be honest - the publisher *wants* this game to be bought by a younger audience - it doesn't get the big sales figures otherwise).

My point was: we know that GTA is being played by people outside of its acceptible audience and yet the industry's general response is "it's the parents fault". Now that's irresponsible! Because it's passing the buck and taking none of the duty. Similarly, when the parents blame the game developer that's irresponsible! Because we *share* the responsibility to address this issue with the parents.

Clearly we can't count on parents to intercede without education - because most parents aren't game literate. But we, inside the games industry, are game literate, and we know what's going on. It is our duty, therefore, to educate the parents. This responsibility falls squarely upon our shoulders.

What are the obligations? There is only one obligation in life, the obligation to take responsibility for one's actions. Sadly, Western culture is more interested in placing blame than in taking responsibilty.

Anyway, I hope this makes my position clearer. Take care!