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Blogged Out: 'The Problem'

In his latest 'Blogged Out' column, veteran UK writer Jim Rossignol takes a look at the world of developer blogging with some views on comparative morality concerning violence and sexuality in gaming, and continued arguments over scoring and rating games.
Welcome to 'Blogged Out', the news report that looks at the world of developer blogging and the conversations being had with the community at large. This week: the most difficult problem in gaming. The Problem Jamie Fristrom raises what is probably the most difficult and important issue for the mature videogames industry: our morality. Fristrom frames the problem he faced as follows: "Got into an argument yesterday with a friend who thought Grand Theft Auto should be banned. Unfortunately, his argument had some compelling points that I don't really have a good answer for. And he's something of a gamer himself; he played a fair amount of GTA before actually passing judgment. The argument goes something like this: Anti-gamer: "Suppose we had a perfectly realistic murder simulator, that people enjoyed using. Nobody actually gets killed, but the simulation is perfect – holodeck-like. Would it be okay to ban that?" Gamer: "No - just because you enjoy killing someone in simulation doesn't mean you enjoy killing them in real life!" Anti-gamer: "So you're saying as long as nobody gets hurt it's okay." Gamer: "Yep." Anti-gamer: "Did you know there was a case in the UK recently where people were making fake child porn? No actual underage models are used; nobody's getting hurt. Is that okay?" Gamer: "... I guess not ..."" Fristrom then suggests some solutions, none of which I find satisfactory. Why is that? Well perhaps its because there is no fully satisfactory conclusion. Having been challenged with this kind dilemma before I've usually ended up arguing a kind of gross all-encompassing relativism of the form “sure, as long as no one gets hurt, everything is permitted”. But I don't think that really works either. The only position it seems acceptable to take is to say that one type of morally dubious entertainment is not analogous to any other, and must be judged on its particular merits. In this case we need to place all our respective games (real and hypothetical) within wider a social and historical context. Our global society has been fed by numerous cultures of glorified and mythologised violence. From Ancient China to Ancient Greece, from Tarantino to Stan Lee, storytellers use violence - play uses violence. Our pioneers and heroes were violent men, and many of our celebrated fictions, and celebrated realities, are based on themes of social and interpersonal violence. Even our more interesting anti-heroes tend to have violent themes. We do not, however, have a history of glorified or celebrated child molestation. That is a subject that carries a powerful taboo, and for good reason. The fact is that in the context of how our culture operates glorified violence is an acceptable theme and explicit child sex is not. That might be hard to digest for people who want us to somehow make all decisions based on a set of moral absolutes, but our society just isn't like that. We can and do maintain this balance. We do not have to employ puritanical censorship, but we do have to remember what sort of people we are, and why we have the feelings we do towards these kinds of entertainment. Not everything is permitted, and there's many thousands years of history to explain to us why that is the case. Coping Spaaace.com, the game-design consultancy of one James Wallis, now has its own blog. Wallis has been posting some interesting material, including this response to Will Wright's SXSW 'story' presentation, and this initial post about Sonic, and the name of the blog itself. However it's this latest argument on how to score games in critical media that really caught my interest: “What video games need isn’t numeric ratings, or me trying to get cute. What they need are Michelin stars. According to Wikipedia, the 2004 Michelin Guide for the UK and Ireland reviewed over 5500 restaurants. Less than 100 received a single star. Eleven got two stars. Only three got three stars. (For stats-fans, that’s 1.78%, 0.2% and 0.05%) In the last eight years 8,500 titles have been released for the Playstation 2. How many of them are truly exceptional? How many of them are worth buying a PS2 just to play? Let me try: Okami; Ico; Shadow of the Colossus; Katamari Damacy; GTA III; Final Fantasy XII; maybe a Jak and Daxter but probably not. Not Bully. Bully is good, interesting, ground-breaking for anyone who didn’t have a Sinclair Spectrum as they were growing up, but not worth buying the console to play. Anything else?” Prior to this Wallis reports on a Devils/Angels system he used at CrazyNet – which is exactly right! It's precisely how I would do a scoring system too. What is wrong with everyone? Tsk! [Jim Rossignol is a freelance journalist based in the UK – his game journalism has appeared in PC Gamer UK, Edge and The London Times.]

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