So, ok, maybe I’m a prude, but I don’t like games such as Grand Theft Auto. Not only do I not like them, I find them offensive, plausibly damaging, and utterly unnecessary. It’s a very particular sort of game that I don’t like at this level — games that work to provide a reasonable emulation of real-life crime, violence, drug-culture, and that encourage you, as a player, to become part of that world, rather than setting you up to fight against it. In other words, I’m not a big fan of games where the whole point is to have the player role-play a real-life bad guy.
Give me aliens. Give me Sith. Let me run around being a dagger-wielding zombie chick with a bad attitude and a distaste for Night Elves. Set me up with a BFG and some nail guns running around being a Space Marine on Mars. Better yet, give me a hunk of desert and a bit of fertile land along a river and I will build a civilisation. Let me build. Let me create. Let me fight the bad guys. Let me solve crimes. Let me make-believe in a fantasy world. Don’t…don’t have me commit serious (epic, even) analogs of real-world crimes and reward me based on how many people I kill, prostitutes I control, or drug money I bring in. Well, you can offer me the chance to do that if you like, but don’t sell it to the ten-to-fifteen year old set, m’kay?
Now, of course, there’s the ESRB and their video games rating guide, but it’s not exactly all that useful. First off, “the ESRB does not have the authority to enforce the ratings at the retail level, [but] we do work closely with retailers and game centers to encourage them to display ratings information and not sell or rent certain product to minors”. Secondly, most parents don’t have the time or wherewithal to a) know about the rating system, b) actually use the rating system to select games for their children, or c) really have the first clue wtf the kids are doing downstairs on the X-Box in the first place.
I guess that’s actually secondly, thirdly, and fourthly.
Anyhow, I think the actual creation of these games is ethically questionable at the best of times, but I understand the most fundamental reasons for doing so: they make millions and millions of dollars. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, for example, “could be looking at 3 million copies sold in the opening weekend”. At around $50 US per copy, that’s, oh, $150,000,000. In the first weekend. Not an insignificant motivation.
I suppose I just wish that ESRB ratings were (far) more rigorous and better enforced. People are going to continue making these games, for obvious bottom-line-feeding reasons. Parents, however, aren’t going to suddenly wake up tomorrow and be more actively involved and responsible with regards to their childrens’ lives. Which is sad, but true. This being the case, I’d just like to see the video games treated more like…well, more like something that’s rigorously rated that has those ratings enforced at the point of sale. Movies, I suppose. Or…porn mags. Or something.
That’s enough of that, however. I started this post talking about Apple for a reason, and that’s because the Postal people have just released their sequel, Postal2: Running With Scissors for the Mac, and Apple is refusing to carry the title. “The controversial game has been given a M-rating (Mature audiences) along with a first-ever ‘Intense Violence’ sublabel from the ESRB.” Really, if you go look at their website (WARNING: FRONT PAGE IS NOT WORK FRIENDLY) you’ll see that the “M” rating really doesn’t cut it. “AO” (Adult Only, 18+) is what it should have, and that should be enforced at the point of sale by retail drones checking valid photo ID. But I digress…
The Postal site describes their latest product as follows:
Forget what you know about first person shooters. Walk a week in the Postal Dude’s shoes.
Freely explore full 3-D open-ended environments. Interact with over 100 unique NPC’s including Gary Coleman, marching bands, dogs, cats and elephants, protesters, policemen and civilians, with or without weapons.
POSTAL 2 is all about choice; experiment with everyone and everything.
And remember… it’s only as violent as you are!
Which really begs the question: if you’re not running around exploring this open-ended environment with a shotgun and a lust to kill anything that moves, what, exactly, are your interaction options? For all I know there’s a learn-to-be-a-chef-while-playing-mahjongg mini-game, but I’m doubting it.
Wrapping up: I think the Postal people are basically dumbasses for saying things like “The company that brought us the famous ’1984′ Superbowl commercial has obviously become Big Brother” and believing it.
You buy the ticket, you take the ride. That’s all there is to it.