Mood: Too Early to Have a Mood.
Game: World of Warcraft, Planetside, Call of Duty, Auto Assault Beta.
OK…the tone of this blog entry will be the same exact tone you get in your voice when a very good friend of yours, whom you’ve spent your entire life defending because he’s really a good guy, but something of a fuckup, decides to get drunk, “borrow” your girlfriend’s car, wrecks it, then spits in her face when she gets angry at him.
In other words, what the fuck was Rockstar Software thinking? What on God’s Green Earth would possess those hare-brained, moronic fucks to give the right-wing anti-videogame lobby a loaded M249?
Let’s start by saying that not all game devs and publishers are the same, and they all have differing methodologies and philosophies. However, when guys like me talk about defending videogames, what we’re REALLY talking about is defending Rockstar Games.
Rockstar publishes the Grand Theft Auto series of games. Frankly, I find the games to be repetitive, annoying, and mainly a gratuitously violent driving simulator. The graphic style is interesting, and the sound design is fabulous. Other than that, the games are boring. Now, I acknowledge that millions of teenagers disagree with me, although I couldn’t tell you exactly why. I suspect it has something to do with the complete freedom you have to go anywhere and do anything…but in my opinion, doing it solo when you can do it online with thousands of people simultaneously is simply silly.
So, Rockstar’s bread and butter is catering (or pandering, depending on your point of view) to these teenagers/20-30 somethings. Frankly, they’re pushing the envelope to see how far you can go in a mainstream videogame (see also BMXXX.) There’s a place for this…but when the games became bestsellers, they also became the lightning rod.
Everyone assumes that every game on the planet must be as violent as the GTA series. That it’s not is irrelevant. If games like this exist, there must be more than one. Not technically true, but there are a few.
Whenever a teenager commits a violent crime, the first thing that they look for is videogame playing. “Oh, that poor young man played GTA3! He had his mind assiduously warped! He was such a good boy!”
I’ve written more than one article about how ludicrous this position is. Parents raise children (or don’t), not videogames, cartoons, movies, or demonic rock and roll music. If parents run out and buy teenagers gamesystems and copies of GTA3, that’s their call. I don’t know that I’d give a 12 year old a copy of GTA, but I’m not raising children, myself.
Now, as Rockstar, how do you defend the games? Yes, you pull people out of cars and kick them and beat them bloodily with baseball bats if you like. Yes, you can shoot bystanders and chat up hookers. Yes, you can go on a rampage in a vehicle, mowing down dozens of pedestrians if you like. In part of the game, you can go to your girlfriend’s house, where she offers you “coffee”, and you go inside her house, which you don’t see, and you hear the sounds of your character and her having sex. Kinda hard to defend it, really, except that it’s no worse than a light R movie, maybe even a PG-13 with teeth. And it’s cartoony, so that helps some. So Rockstar says it’s a game, it’s cartoon violence, and parents need to watch their kids.
Then, the Hot Coffee mod came out. Hot Coffee, if you’ve been under a rock, “unlocks” existing code in the GTA:San Andreas game. What it unlocks is a “mini-game” where, when your girlfriend asks you in for coffee, you follow them inside, and you’re treated to seeing her giving you head, then you play this “minigame” where you maintain rhythm while fucking her, and if you do it right, she tells you you’re the best. It’s all pretty graphic, for the cheesy cartoon style.
Initially, Rockstar said that hackers went in and modified perfectly innocent code to “invent” this game from thin air. Then, unsurprisingly, said “hackers” showed that the code was on the discs for PS2 version of the game, which is impossible to modify. Rockstar, backed into a corner, said that the offending code was locked in the game code, and there was no way to get to it, without serious intentional hacking. But the damage was already done.
The M (Mature) rating immediately got raised to AO (Adults Only) and as a result of that move, hundreds of stores around the country removed the game from the shelves.
For a start, what would possess Rockstar, who’s already under huge amounts of fire on a regular basis, to actually add something like this to a game they KNEW was going to be a best-seller? Something like this doesn’t get added as a hidden thing without a MESS of people knowing about it.
Next, when confronted with it, why lie? Why not just say “Yeah, we put it in, decided it was too much, and locked it out. It was easier to lock it out than remove the code, and so it was there.” Instead, Rockstar comes across as if they were trying to hide something.
Now, the media and the US Government are having a field day, energized with legitimate evidence that the videogame industry is incapable of monitoring and controlling itself. That game companies can (and WILL) sneak stuff past even discerning parents without their knowledge. In short, who KNOWS what’s in these games? If the parts of the game you can see are bad, who knows what lurks behind it? Even innocent games could have stuff like this, right?
“Easter Eggs,” as they’re called, have been around since the Atari 2600 days. Programmers, hotdogging, would hide messages, images, fun little things in games, just to show off. Good players (or those reading insider magazines) could do something, like walk through a wall in a certain spot, shoot a particular item, or whatever, and you’d see the thingie. Usually, such things are harmless.
This is not harmless. Putting X-Rated content in a game and hiding it from the general populace is EXACTLY what the opponents of videogames have been spouting all along. They haven’t been able to prove it, because up until recently, it hasn’t been there. Now, Rockstar’s given them the murder weapon. They thought they were clever, they hid such a thing in a game, and now, it’s gonna hurt.
Even if Rockstar doesn’t give a fuck about their image, their ability to sell games, or their reputation, I believe as a bestselling publisher, they have a responsibility to the rest of the industry. They tried to pull a fast one, and they got caught. In so doing, they’ve put the industry in a bad, dangerous light.
I’ve spent my entire life defending the industry, explaining how people are overreacting about games, about how kids don’t become violent from playing videogames, that they’re not a bad influence. Now, Rockstar’s gone and hid X-Rated content in a bestseller meant for teens, then lied about it’s presence.
I’m not defending these guys. Whatever happens to them, they deserve. They aren’t making groundbreaking games…they’re playing people like me for fools. They expect the videogamers/videogame media to defend their work…but not this time.
I believe in freedom of speech, I believe in the right to art, I believe in the right to make whatever you want, and sell it if people will buy it. I will not support hiding controversial content in places where people could potentially find it without full disclosure. I’d kick the hell out of someone who dosed my party punch with LSD without my knowledge. I might well embrace said punch if I knew it was there…but that’s my choice. If I get dosed against my will, what does that say about the person who did the dosing?
Rockstar crossed a line with me, and I suspect, a lot of the other videogame media.
Party’s over, Rockstar. Hope you can defend yourselves. You won’t be getting any support from me.