You know what could really help us get past all these “sex and violence in videogames” controversies? The Wii.
The recent outrage over the airport level in Modern Warfare 2 strikes me as being just as overblown as the Mass Effect controversy of 2008. Why are people making a big deal about this now? We’ve seen much worse in the past, with not so much as a harrumph from the mainstream press. More importantly, we’ve seen much, much, much worse in movies.
Andy Chalk beat me to the punch on this issue, pointing out that the airport sequence of Modern Warfare 2 pales in comparison to what you can do in Far Cry 2. And we can go back even further and find games that were even more outrageous by today’s standards, even through they hardly elicited a raised eyebrow at the time.
- In Deus Ex, almost everyone was kill-able, with the exception of a small number of plot-centric characters. Civilians, police, allies, and even children. There were people who played through the game, making a point to kill every single living soul in the world. (Of course, it was also possible to go through the entire game and only kill a single person, which people also did.) In Deus Ex 2, it had the same “kill anyone not central to the plot” freedom, with the addition that there was an entire academy of children you could murder. Classrooms. Of kids. To shoot.
- Likewise, the first two Fallout games allowed you to purge to world of life, including the kids. In Fallout 3, you could nuke an entire populated settlement off the map, as well as gun down a majority of the otherwise friendly people you meet. You could also round up people and sell them into slavery. (Although, the kids were invincible in that one.)
- In the Hitman games, you can kill just about everything that breathes. (Although the game can get to be really, really hard if you try to do so.) Plus, you know, you’re a hitman.
I’d say all of these games are tangibly more shocking than Modern Warfare 2. Either the potential body counts are higher, the killing is more pervasive, or the victims are more tragic.
Similarly, the Mass Effect controversy made a big deal out of seeing half of a character’s bum years after the Leisure Suit Larry games had given us animated cartoon boobs, depictions of various sexual fetishes, and a missile silo full of penis jokes and phallic imagery.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was pulled from the shelves at Walmart because it was possible to hack the game and see crude animated figures having awkward sex through their clothes, but it’s still possible to walk into a Walmart today and buy movies like Eyes Wide Shut that will show you something a lot more scandalous than that.
These controversies really sting for those of us that have been gaming for decades. We’ve been longing to see our hobby stand beside the other forms of entertainment media, and when the press finally turns its eye our way it does so in a negative, sensationalist, and hypocritical way, while frequently getting many details wrong.
Most gamers realize that the main problem is that there just aren’t enough of us. The baby boomers – the generation that makes up a majority of our media moguls and politicians – don’t game very much. They have no idea what the hobby is all about and the only time they hear about it is in the context of negative news. A young boy does something violent, people find out he was a gamer (since, duh, most kids that age play some games) and the game forms a handy scapegoat for everyone involved. Yeah. We gamers know this already. We’ve watched the process feed on itself over the years, dragging gaming to the forefront in the most negative way possible.
Now, the cynical answer we get from young people (and from me, when I’m grouchy) is that there’s nothing to be done about this. We just have to wait for those people to retire or die. But the alternative is for them to turn into gamers themselves.
Which is where the Wii comes in. The other two consoles are closed off to non-gamers. Even if a sixty year old politician suddenly got it into his head that he wanted to play with some of these newfangled videogame contraptions, what’s he going to do? Buy a PS3 and Killzone 2? If you’ve ever seen an adult try to learn how to play a modern action games then you have witnessed the true meaning of fail. Even “easy” mode is going to be well past the frustration threshold of someone learning to wiggle a thumbstick for the first time.
But the Wii is turning people into gamers in record numbers. Sure, they’re not going to be jumping online for a round of Modern Warfare 2 anytime soon, but they will know what it means to sit on the couch and be amused by a chunk of consumer electronics. They will probably begin to grasp that Grand Theft Auto won’t turn you into a car thief in the same way that Wii Sports doesn’t turn you into a baseball player. The veil of mystery will be pulled away, and they will “get” videogames on some level. People who go to see heartwarming dramas or romantic comedies at the theater aren’t calling for “something” to be done about violent movies, and I’m sure it’s partly because seeing movies isn’t this unknown, exotic activity to them.
Don’t think of them as “casual gamers”. Think of them as “people who are no longer going to blame and ban videogames.”