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New video! -Video Games and Facing Controversy-


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After a somewhat ridiculous wait, I have finally finished a new episode in my little series of game-related video lectures. Today's topic: Controversy.

Special thanks (as always) to CarboHydroM for my intro theme, and especially to Sixto, Zircon and Steppo for unwittingly giving me such a kick-ass outro. I think I'm going to start throwing in links to these intro/outro tracks in the video description from now on.

Enjoy!

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Excellent, per the usual. You were very tactful on the case in point, which is something I wouldn't have been able to manage.

However, I think this situation will work itself out. Controversial video games have weathered such storms and made it to publication intact (as evidenced in your collage)... sometimes to make a tidy profit. The difference-maker is in the chutzpah of the publisher. You advocate that all publishers should stand firm to their morals (which, even if they boil down to profit, that would be sufficient justification to outweigh the PR risk in many cases), but the ones who refuse to do so will be blacklisted among at least some developers. The publishers with the guts to stand by their games will be the go-to for all potentially risky games. Developers of such games will inherently develop a rapport with these publishers and, after a few risks pay off in spades, then these publishers will have both loyalty and market share. So if, as we hope, the medium continues to advance and more 'risky' games are developed, the cowardly giants in the publishing business will either need to sacrifice their market share (and thus their profits) or start seeking out and fully embracing such games (and their associated risks).* I daresay this is more a 'when' than an 'if', but perhaps that is a debate unto itself.

In a nutshell: the market will work itself out... even if courage is absent.

That's not to say that I disagree with anything you said. I agree wholeheartedly - and not just with confirmation bias, since you always manage to bring up points I had not previously considered. But in this case more than in others, I have faith in the system. That's not to say that we can't do our part as gamers to advocate good games - both to the publishers and to the public - it's simply to say that even if the big boys tuck tail whenever a PR fight breaks out, a new kid in town with less to lose and more to gain will show and back up his developers. Truly, I think the new kids are already in town and the shakeup is eminent.

Great expectations; everybody's watching you.

*Well, games with realistic violence always face the possibility of being sued on ridiculous grounds (First Amendment be damned!), so those will always be the toughest to get through, but other 'taboo' subjects will not face as absurd a risk.

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I have no quarrel with controversial, fictional games. Games like Manhunt are fine to me... and you can push the envelope as far as you want with them (though inevitably you'll go beyond my tastes, and that's alright) but there are issues when video games deal with non-fiction.

I think the problem is that the “video game” as it is today is not an appropriate medium for handling delicate, controversial, and non-fictional issues, especially modern/present non-fictional issues, since video games are used primarily as a source of entertainment through doing – passing on information would be secondary or tertiary in the experience. A medium like literature is more acceptable for controversy because one of its primary purposes is to pass on information from one person to another; any entertainment would stem from the interest and imagination within the reader.

You suggest rebranding, but a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. You have to change the rose and make its thorns as prominent as its simple beauty and alluring aroma. If I played a game about battles in Fallugah/Fellujah as a means of learning about them (I really don't know very much about the details of the war and specific battles), I don't want to feel entertained while doing so – I don't think war is entertaining and I don't think any of the parties involved in war think so either. If I read a book about it/them... I would be spared the awkwardness and I'd probably learn more than a video game could teach me anyway.

The same can be applied to any controversial topic.. going back to Manhunt, if Jeffrey Dahmer were the protagonist of a video game depicting his life, I'd have to feel disgusted with myself (by the end, at least; most serial killers don't feel guilty or indifferent during the kill I imagine, and this could, in fact, be a way of adding an extra element of realism to the story of Dahmer or any killer). However, I don't think that's doable through a video game.

You say evolve but imply maturation; I actually think the video game genre would need to evolve (and change form) to be able to function appropriately in this way. We'll see...

BTW, like always, I really like the delivery. Very interesting to watch - you express your views eloquently and use the visual medium to your advantage in great ways.

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I agree with this. The primary function of games is entertainment. A documentary is first and foremost a piece meant to inform people, and there is a specific audience who watches them. If Six Days in Fallujah had ever come out, you'd never hear talk about "I think the struggle that these soldiers went through was pretty grim and hard" throughout most video game internet forums. No, you'd hear "Holy crap how I shot M16!?"

Regardless of whether video games are or aren't seen as toys, we still have a long way to go before the audiences' maturity catches up to what most developers want to express in their medium. Another problem within the industry itself is that when touching a "disturbing" topic, one needs to take great care to make sure the essence of what he or she is trying to create isn't lost. In Mass Effect, not only did I find the "sex" scene kind of awkward and the whole love interest angle totally unappealing, but I felt that any sense of sophistication was lost once I heard that *ding* "achievement unlocked" go off. I'm really keeping my eye on Heavy Rain to see how it performs both critically and commercially, because it looks like David Cage and his team are really trying to hit the hard issues in a tasteful, mature way, but we'll see how it goes after that.

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I agree with this. The primary function of games is entertainment. A documentary is first and foremost a piece meant to inform people, and there is a specific audience who watches them. If Six Days in Fallujah had ever come out, you'd never hear talk about "I think the struggle that these soldiers went through was pretty grim and hard" throughout most video game internet forums. No, you'd hear "Holy crap how I shot M16!?"

To be fair, we're never going to get to the point that mature and thought provoking topics are acceptable if we don't stop underestimating the audience. Are there plenty of people who wouldn't get the message behind a game like Six Days in Fallujah and not see past the gameplay? Yeah, there are a ton. There are also a ton of people who could watch a film trying to convey a similarly mature message, miss it entirely and either hate it outright or still enjoy it on other levels completely oblivious to any deeper meaning.

It's easy to say that we have a long way to go before the audience matures enough to catch up to what developers want to do, but I don't think that will happen at all if we don't start giving the audience more credit and tackle sensitive topics. I think we really need to start giving gamers more credit and also realize that even if the message only reaches 5% of the game's audience, it's a success. Those who got it might just be able to explain to others what they got from it and have them realize there was more to the game, and that there can be more layers to other games as well. Just because a lot of people might not get it is no reason to shy away from this stuff.

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This is true, but you can't deny the first point in that games are first and foremost pieces of interactive entertainment. I probably wouldn't buy Six Days in Fallujah to learn about the experience. No, I'd buy it 'cause I want to play another (hopefully)good FPS. The message it's trying to convey is, and given the nature of the medium probably should remain, secondary. I could see if you're a history buff and enjoy FPS games, you'd probably buy Fallujah for both reasons, just like I bought Eternal Sonata because it hit all the right RPG notes AND had a very music-oriented setting which I appreciate personally. In your example I'd be in the 5%. And if we're talking about just 5% who would appreciate it, are we really underestimating the audience? Going back to my Heavy Rain example, the game is probably going to have an amazing story, but I'm probably not gonna buy it. Why? It doesn't seem "gamey" enough to me. This industry is first and foremost about making enjoyable gameplay experiences.

To me, games like Fire Emblem: Path To Radiance and Eternal Sonata prove you can have mature hard-hitting and thought provoking subject matter and also have great experiences. If we're gonna hit maturity in games, it has to be done tastefully and the audience needs to be able to appreciate it for what it is.

Anyway, this is more on topic with a previous video and I'm probably rambling on incoherently at this point. I do agree with the major point in the video: Criticism and controversy should be taken head on with integrity and without meekly backing down on what you were setting out to achieve.

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To be fair, we're never going to get to the point that mature and thought provoking topics are acceptable if we don't stop underestimating the audience. Are there plenty of people who wouldn't get the message behind a game like Six Days in Fallujah and not see past the gameplay? Yeah, there are a ton. There are also a ton of people who could watch a film trying to convey a similarly mature message, miss it entirely and either hate it outright or still enjoy it on other levels completely oblivious to any deeper meaning.

It's easy to say that we have a long way to go before the audience matures enough to catch up to what developers want to do, but I don't think that will happen at all if we don't start giving the audience more credit and tackle sensitive topics. I think we really need to start giving gamers more credit and also realize that even if the message only reaches 5% of the game's audience, it's a success. Those who got it might just be able to explain to others what they got from it and have them realize there was more to the game, and that there can be more layers to other games as well. Just because a lot of people might not get it is no reason to shy away from this stuff.

I agree, and I also think that the opinions conveyed on several gaming forums are not representative for the gaming community as a whole.

There is however a problem in comparing games to other mediums. Film has gotten pretty cheap and easy to make over the last decades, so it's not necessary to pump a lot of money into projects. Games like Six days in fallujah however, are still pretty expensive to make. I think we must look at the indie scene and the small developers to push the limits of the game medium. They almost HAVE to be unique and get attention to bring their game to a larger audience. And then, it's up to us gamers to support the small developers if we feel that they bring something new to the medium.

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Good video as usual. Great job in wrapping up such a big topic in under 10 minutes.

Regarding that Fallujah game, people often forget about the suffering from the other side of the spectrum. I've been personally against this game because many Muslim civilians died in that battle as well in addition to the American soldiers. Nonetheless, you've made some very interesting points surrounding the controversy.

Keep it up, man. I may highlight this video in a post for the site I work for soon.

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To me, games like Fire Emblem: Path To Radiance and Eternal Sonata prove you can have mature hard-hitting and thought provoking subject matter and also have great experiences. If we're gonna hit maturity in games, it has to be done tastefully and the audience needs to be able to appreciate it for what it is.

I'm not going to disagree with any of this actually. I do think that an enjoyable game experience should come first, but the examples you mentioned, as well as games like Silent Hill 2 show you can do both. What it comes down to is that the people who get it will get it and likely appreciate a good game that didn't back down from sensitive topics. We'll never get to the point where a majority of the audience takes games seriously as an artistic medium though without doing it regardless of how many people really get it right now, or cry that developers went too far (I'm thinking of Modern Warfare 2's recent scandal in particular here, and regardless of how much I hate Activision I can at least give them credit for not throwing Infinity Ward to the wolves and cutting the scene on this one).

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Good video as usual. Great job in wrapping up such a big topic in under 10 minutes.

Regarding that Fallujah game, people often forget about the suffering from the other side of the spectrum. I've been personally against this game because many Muslim civilians died in that battle as well in addition to the American soldiers. Nonetheless, you've made some very interesting points surrounding the controversy.

Keep it up, man. I may highlight this video in a post for the site I work for soon.

Yeah, like I said, there are definitely good arguments to be made on both sides of the issue. Many people who had seen early gameplay weren't convinced that Atomic would handle the game's subject matter appropriately.

And then there are the poor relatives of the soldiers who died there. When I was trimming down the Fox News segment for time, one of the parts I hated to lose most was what the soldier's mother said. You can tell that Fox brought her into the discussion to be incendiary, but she was very reasonable. She said something to the tune of: "If I were to watch this game and have to see my son get killed, it would be terrible. On the other hand, if the game was trying to be a realistic historical account and my son was not included, that would be upsetting too."

By cutting that out, I get the feeling I've painted her to look like Fox's tool, which she really, really wasn't.

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And then there are the poor relatives of the soldiers who died there. When I was trimming down the Fox News segment for time, one of the parts I hated to lose most was what the soldier's mother said. You can tell that Fox brought her into the discussion to be incendiary, but she was very reasonable. She said something to the tune of: "If I were to watch this game and have to see my son get killed, it would be terrible. On the other hand, if the game was trying to be a realistic historical account and my son was notincluded, that would be upsetting too."

By cutting that out, I get the feeling I've painted her to look like Fox's tool, which she really, really wasn't.

When watching the video I kind of figured she was there to be Fox's tool simply because they brought out two people involved with the game and then the mother of a soldier killed there. I don't need to be a genius to figure out where they were trying to go by doing that, especially when they try to blatantly undermine the developers credibility. Glad to hear she was reasonable on the full program and it is a shame to have had to cut her out.

Her comments wouldn't have had a lot to do with the point you were trying to make at the time though so I'm not sure where the happy middle ground of making your point while showing her respectable opinion would really be. At the very least, you did link to the full show for those interested in hearing the full debate (for lack of a better term considering Fox is involved).

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Similarly, lots of titles have left out anything that could lead to controversy. For instance, it is more or less respectful to Holocaust victims and survivors that we never find Jewish families in German buildings playing Call of Duty? Personally, the idea of rescuing hidden survivors seems very cool -- it'd be even cooler if we saw the soldier's emotional reactions to the horror they endured.

While I understand that it might have offended people (and I'm not saying that they aren't entitled to that opinion), is it worse that there hasn't been a single AAA World War II based game that acknowledges anything but the most remote existance of what actually happened?

Edit: Also sephfire, excellent job as usual -- looking forward to the next one!

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I think the problem is that the “video game” as it is today is not an appropriate medium for handling delicate, controversial, and non-fictional issues, especially modern/present non-fictional issues, since video games are used primarily as a source of entertainment through doing – passing on information would be secondary or tertiary in the experience.
I agree with this. The primary function of games is entertainment.

But why is this the case? Why aren't games able to pass on information, and why is entertainment antithetical to education? Hell, Sephfire has

. Being entertained doesn't hinder learning, it actually helps it. You can't teach anyone anything if you put them to sleep in the process, can you?

What's the difference between Six Days in Fallujah and Black Hawk Down?

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Because games are by nature active, not passive. If you're not actually playing them, entering constant input, they're not games. That's the difference. In Seph's video on Learning he specifically said "Games above all should be FUN." So if you're looking at it like that, then by nature you can't really make things like Black Hawk Down (or whatever) because we don't always go to movies or read books to be entertained. Like Malaki said, it's the nature of the medium.

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Why hasn't anyone made a serious, thought-provoking board game that really delves into the seriousness of today's issues?

Actually, I would want to ask WHY people want to make games that deeply explore real-world issues. It seems like the only reason is to get games to "grow up", and become an accepted medium, but then I have never heard of a comic book or graphic novel that dealt with real-world issues in a realistic way. Not without adding in superheroes and cheesing the whole thing up to begin with.

Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with having a game that has a message, or being mature and respectful in telling that message, but... Well, with Six Days in Fallujah, the whole concept of the game is broken from the start.

Basically, the devs and soldiers wanted to show what was going on over there. Fine, fair enough. But the game medium requires that it be FUN. And in making it fun, they are indirectly glorifying their tour over there. If that's their intent, then great. But I doubt it was, seeing as how people died and the whole thing seemed rather sombre. So the end result is a game that is fun but the player feels REALLY BAD about having fun with it, I take it? That doesn't seem right, either.

The reality is, movies have the priviledge to not be fun because, as Zircon said, they are passive. You've got no influence on the experience, so it's all about absorbing the experience, which can be fun, funny, sad, angering, thought-provoking, etc. Unfortunately for games, they need to be fun first, because no matter how thought-provoking the story is in the game, it won't matter much if the person playing it gets bored and shuts it off.

Silly as it may seem, it's the same reason you don't see serious board games; because they're a way to have fun. Game developers ARE toymakers, and games ARE toys. And that's fine. Toys can do any number of things, including provoke thought, make you cry, laugh, etc. But toys can't really show you the real, horrible world, retain their fun, and make you think. To do all 3 seems impossible in any medium. Fun is lost in things like serious movies or novels. "Interesting" takes its place.

I'm still rambling on, but I guess the question is: Can games be interesting, not be fun, and still be a success?

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But why is this the case? Why aren't games able to pass on information, and why is entertainment antithetical to education? Hell, Sephfire has
. Being entertained doesn't hinder learning, it actually helps it. You can't teach anyone anything if you put them to sleep in the process, can you?

What's the difference between Six Days in Fallujah and Black Hawk Down?

Oh cold day in Hell, be ye now! (NJ might laugh at this; no one else probably will)

The validity of this medium which we call 'video games' is the crux of this discussion. If vg's are but mere toys, the detractors are right and no further conversation is required. However, if vg is a blossoming medium for artistic and philosophical expression, then we must regard it as such. Truly, this is what sephfire - and especially his counterpart - was trying to get across.

To the disgust of many, I will respond as point-counterpoint.

There are also a ton of people who could watch a film trying to convey a similarly mature message, miss it entirely and either hate it outright or still enjoy it on other levels completely oblivious to any deeper meaning.

Precisely. What differentiates vgs from movies is... (?)

Just because a lot of people might not get it is no reason to shy away from this stuff.
Nothing delicate appeals to the masses (I show my bias). It appeals to those who can appreciate it for what it is. There are moral lines to be drawn, yes, but they must be drawn so considering context. To condemn a game because it portrays events that were (in real life) violent, realistic, and recent, is to condemn our entire race! We are the race that allows and commits such atrocities! You would not expose our faults? You would indemnify us?

The nay-sayers must show how vg is an unfit medium to show such aspects of humanity.

This is true, but you can't deny the first point in that games are first and foremost pieces of interactive entertainment. I probably wouldn't buy Six Days in Fallujah to learn about the experience. No, I'd buy it 'cause I want to play another (hopefully)good FPS. The message it's trying to convey is, and given the nature of the medium probably should remain, secondary.

Are you not exemplifying the medium in transition? What makes a good fps? Gameplay? Gameplay entirely? Hardly. There are many factors, and making the experience 'real' is just as significant as assigning the right buttons to 'shoot' and 'duck'. Would the world have gone ga-ga over Halo had there not been a plot and (likable) character development?

Saying gamers want to be able to blow shit up first and foremost is akin to saying that movies should focus on sex and violence. Appealing to base instincts may get coin, but doing so will rarely expose truth. Gamers, just like your common movie-goer, are prepared for much more.

I think we must look at the indie scene and the small developers to push the limits of the game medium. They almost HAVE to be unique and get attention to bring their game to a larger audience. And then, it's up to us gamers to support the small developers if we feel that they bring something new to the medium.

Agreed, but we have honest vg critics on our side. We are already allied and fighting the good fight.

What it comes down to is that the people who get it will get it and likely appreciate a good game that didn't back down from sensitive topics. We'll never get to the point where a majority of the audience takes games seriously as an artistic medium.

I vehemently disagree. Many already recognize games such as SotC as art; this is a far cry from the perception of games during the 8-bit era. To give such an absolute in passing is to deny the progress that has already been made.

By cutting that out, I get the feeling I've painted her to look like Fox's tool, which she really, really wasn't.

I didn't expect much from her to begin with, but that's because I expected her to be the typical, emotional/illogical crutch for the antagonist. From what you posted, I think I was close to the mark. On viewing, yes, it was disappointing to not hear a word from her, but not much was lost.

Edit:

Actually, I would want to ask WHY people want to make games that deeply explore real-world issues.

Faith in the medium. The belief that the experience is enhanced through active participation.

Here's a for-example: ever been scared by a so-called scary movie? I know I haven't (though I've enjoyed seeing them with girls, as I always seem to be grabbed multiple times by a good-looking chica). They're as implausible as flying shit. But put the controls of Jill Valentine in my hands and (with a few drinks) I'm scared out of my wits. Christ, I started singing Bad Religion's Kerosene during RE1 (PS1 [edit: GC, not PS1] remake) in my half-drug, half-horror induced stupor. Why? Because I was there.

Tell me you can create that as well in a movie. No, not even that. Tell me that it's not possible to create that in a video game.

[...]but then I have never heard of a comic book or graphic novel that dealt with real-world issues in a realistic way. Not without adding in superheroes and cheesing the whole thing up to begin with.
A medium in transition. Expect more, demand more, and you will be sated.
Basically, the devs and soldiers wanted to show what was going on over there. Fine, fair enough. But the game medium requires that it be FUN. And in making it fun, they are indirectly glorifying their tour over there. If that's their intent, then great. But I doubt it was, seeing as how people died and the whole thing seemed rather sombre. So the end result is a game that is fun but the player feels REALLY BAD about having fun with it, I take it? That doesn't seem right, either.
You've played the game, I take it?

All such hypothesizing is for shit. There ARE decent counters to this game, but they do NOT fall along the lines of 'it's a game'. You say it's a game, therefore it must be fun, therefore it must ignore the tragedy to emphasize the fun. I'm with you until that last bit.

Game developers ARE toymakers, and games ARE toys. And that's fine. Toys can do any number of things, including provoke thought, make you cry, laugh, etc. But toys can't really show you the real, horrible world, retain their fun, and make you think. To do all 3 seems impossible in any medium. Fun is lost in things like serious movies or novels. "Interesting" takes its place.
Tell me SH1 didn't expose the horribleness of the tortured subconscious. Tell me you didn't replay it to grasp the depth of the hollow into which Alessa fled (and tried to escape).

Games can tell vivid, provoking tales... so long as they are fictional. Hogwash.

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I don't think FPS games like Halo(and FPS games in general) exemplify the point you're trying to make, as many people who play 'em see the single player campaigns as throw away, might beat it for the achievements, then head straight into multiplayer slayer matches and never touch it again.

It's true that games are a new thing and so much more can be done in terms of narrative(I for one love a damned good narrative, but let's face it, if there were no Halo novels to expand the universe, the plot would be stuck in generic land and only serve as a means to push you forward), but nothing changes the fact that when you buy a game, you want it to be fun first and foremost(ideally). A great presentation, score, narrative, etc. have to be secondary due to this fact regardless of how much attention is given to each.

Why did people hate Metal Gear Solid 2? Because while it had a pretty great narrative(that got rather convoluted after awhile), it sucked you out of the actual game. If I wanted that sort of experience, I would have read a book instead. Shadow of The Colossus IS a work of art(so is Ico), but this is within the context of narrative, setting, art direction, AND gameplay. If it wasn't a fun game, nobody would want to touch it. Final Fantasy VI deals with stuff like mass genocide of innocent people, men, women and children alike, not to mention leaving the flora and fauna of a world in decay and having you play through that desolation. It deals with teen pregnancy, suicide, racism, etc. But none of that would matter to me if I didn't find the game fun to play as I'd shut off the game and never experience any of that.

And I'm really sorry to say, but you guys are giving WAY too much credit to the general gaming audience. Not that there isn't a significant amount of people who do appreciate everything you're promoting(I'm one of them), but they're hardly the majority. Put on your headsets and just listen to the people you run into in online game sessions. The fact of the matter is that Halo or Gears of War or Modern Warfare 2 ARE viewed by the general masses who shop at Walmart as the video game equivalent of The Fast and The Furious and whatever the hell else kids today watch.

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