Friday, November 14, 2008

Old habits die hard.

Welcome friends!

This is my second foray into the blogging world, the first being a failed venture a few years back. I think it's still up, check it out if you like: Discombobulatorium. I guess my problem back then was that I had no vision, no objective, mission or other fluffy management words. But over the past few years I've noticed the rise of the game as a powerful medium, one that is shaping new technology, that is changing the way people tell stories and changing and challenging traditional views of social interaction, society, language and family life.

I've been an avid PC gamer since the early 90's, so I figured - what better to start a blog about than one of my long-time interests? I would frequently spend family visits to my aunt and uncles house playing Bubble Bobble, Commander Keen, Lotus: The Ultimate Challenge and Rampage on my cousins PC. When my brother got himself a powerful new 486 PC back in '94, with Syndicate and Star Wars: TIE Fighter installed on it, I was in heaven. You see, I'm also a bit of a Star Wars fan (original trilogy of course), so the opportunity to immerse myself in the world was great. I also spent a great deal of time around at my friends' respective houses, playing Sam 'n' Max Hit the Road, Dune II, Bio Menace, even real oldies Galaga and Pac-Man and of course the DOOM series. My main interests have been the PC gaming world, however many a sleepless night was spent at my friend's house playing his NES (which we still fire up every now and then), or on my cousins Sega Master System II and Sega MegaDrive. And I will never forget my five year romance with the absolutely amazing Nintendo64.

Thinking back to those good old days, I realise that the computer gaming world exposed me to a lot of images, ideas and concepts that many today would not dare think of exposing to an impressionable 9 year old. Indeed, my parents did keep tabs on my gaming consumption. They never let me sit in front of the computer for hours on end until I was much older, because they hated the fact I wasn't playing outside. So here I am today, a peaceful, mostly law-abiding Australian citizen with a happy and healthy life. Yet since age 6 or 7, I've been injecting drugs into my cyborg agents to take over the world. I've hacked demons to shreds with chainsaws, I've driven well over the speed limit down a busy city street, I've reversed my tractor over crowds of pedestrians and been rewarded with "style" points and paid strippers to flash their knockers at me in between bouts of shooting aliens invading Los Angeles. Yet here I am, no criminal record, plenty of friends and no health problems, apart from being a binge drinker, which the government seems quite set on reminding me about every week. Sorry if I like to have more than four beers when I go to the pub.

I think, if anything, my experiences of these games since childhood have opened my mind. I've been exposed to many concepts early on and have had more time to learn to make sense of them. I've developed problem solving skills by playing these games, and unlike movies and TV shows, I have been able to affect flow of events and have felt the consequences of my actions in-game. For the most part, the violence I experienced in these games wasn't "senseless" per se. I was just another action hero having to do the dirty work to save the world. That's not to say that the violence was never senseless. One of my favourite games back in the day was Carmageddon, where the aim was to race a bunch of twisted drivers in the twisted cars down city streets bustling with pedestrians, who would give you points for introducing them to the undercarriage of your vehicle. However, my upbringing and family values combined with the fact that my parents didn't rely on the computer as a babysitter helped me realise that games like this were just that: games. They were not real, they were not necessarily moral. They merely provided an opportunity to have a bit of fun on a rainy day and do something that you couldn't do in any old city street.

Which, finally, brings me to the point. This news is a little old, yet it gets me fired up like all hell. Fallout 3, the third in one of the greatest Roleplaying Game (RPG) series ever made, has finally been released. When submitted to Australia's Office of Film and Literature Classification, it was initially banned for sale in Australia, with the likely cause being the presence of drug use in-game. Players were able to inject morphine when they became injured in a fight to deal with the pain. This is not an act without consequences, as players who relied on drugs to control pain too much would become addicted to the substance and would be weakened by withdrawal symptoms. Bethesda, the company that took over the development of the Fallout series from former RPG heavyweights Black Isle and have been responsible for great RPG titles like The Elder Scrolls series, wanted to avoid confusion over different versions of the game in different regions and so were forced to censor the game for all regions, changing the name of morphine to a less controversial name: Med-X. This didn't remove the drug use from the game - it merely gave it a bullshit name to appease the conservative OFLC, and all of a sudden, the game was okay to sell. It seems Bethesda should have followed Ubisoft's example with FarCry 2 and not named the substance at all. In that game, when the player becomes injured in combat, they just use a 'syrette' to combat the pain and they're good to fight again. This includes an animation of the player stabbing him/herself in the arm.
Now I don't know about you, but I know that if I was a young kid, and I saw text that said 'F@#% you!', I'd know exactly what that really meant. I believe this is the same with drug use. A kid isn't going to see the word 'morphine' and straight away think 'Awesome, let's shoot some morphine' simply because of the presence of the word. There are much more complex factors in this debate than simple wordplay. The greater society, family, peer group, education, individual opinion and socio-economic status are among the factors affecting the choice to engage in drug use. If a kid is going to start taking drugs simply because they came across them in a game, then they clearly already have a problem and will most likely be influenced by any number of things, including movies, music and TV.

Now I can understand parents not wanting their kids to play games with violence and drug use them. If any woman ever decides she wants to carry my seed, I know I certainly wouldn't be particularly happy with the younglings playing something like Fallout 3. That's why we have a classification system after all. Unless kids are particularly crafty, there is no way they can buy and MA15+ game without their parents consent. And if a game has an R18+ rating, there is no way kids can (legally) play the game at all. But there's the kicker. Australia has no R18+ rating for games. This makes absolutely no sense. Games are just another form of media, there is no question about it. I simply do not understand why there is no R rating. Is this because some old bastard in a policy position has decided games are for kids, because they're called games? Take a look at the statistics from the Interactive Australia 2009 report. The average age of an Australian gamer is 30 years old. Games are clearly not a childish medium. This is further reinforced by statistics from the Entertainment Software Association statistics, revealing the average US gamer is 35 years old and has been playing games for 13 years. THIS THING IS GLOBAL, BABY! Other statistics found by the Interactive Australia 2009 report include:
  • 70% of parents play video games.
  • 92% of parents say they are aware of what games are being played in their household.
  • 91% of respondents to the survey supported an R18+ rating for games.
  • By 2014, the average gamer will be 36, which is also the average Australian age.
  • 46% of gamers are female.
  • 88% of household have at least one gaming device.
A change of the rating system requires consensus from all state and territory attorney-generals and so far, the South Australian attorney-general, Michael Atkinson, has repeatedly refused a change to classifications, however an agreement has been made for another meeting sometime this month. Does anyone find it oddly coincidental that South Australia is the home of the City of Churches as well as this renegade conservative? Somebody please slash his tires...

...But don't actually. No doubt I'd be charged with terrorism related offences for inciting violence against a politician.

Thanks for reading, feel free to add your thoughts.
Captain Red