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Ban This Game

By Shamus
on Monday Jan 19, 2009
Filed under:
Video Games


Let us gently open this topic for discussion, and see if we can keep it from blowing up into a flamewar.

I’ve always been in favor of lots of freedom when it comes to producing media: TV, Movies, Computer games, Music, etc. As long as people can choose not to experience it, and as long as you didn’t hurt anyone in the process, you can be as offensive as you like as the worst I’ll do is complain about it because the controls sucked and the save points were too far apart. (Or whatever.) I realize this sounds like the beginnings of a political rant, which says more about the sad state of politics than anything else. So to head that off – let’s just keep this in the realm of personal opinion and no use this discussion as a launching point for or against a political group.

Sometimes I’ll articulate this and someone will throw me a “me too!” for my troubles. Now, as much as I like having people agree with me, I’m always curious if this person really agrees with me, or if they just don’t like the idea of censorship.

In which case it’s time for a blend of the hypothetical and rhetorical:

  1. So, you would be okay with someone selling a game where you would have to torture a mass murderer – in gruesome realistic detail – to find out where the (say) bombs are planted? Like, the better you are at torturing this guy, the better you win the game.
  2. Same gameplay, but now you’re torturing an enemy soldier to save the life of your squad.
  3. What about an enemy civilian instead of a soldier?
  4. What about just torturing a guy for revenge or money?
  5. What about a woman?
  6. What about a kid? For no good reason?

At some point on this continuum, nearly everyone stops and says they would be in favor of banning a videogame. Maybe a videogame like this will turn a normal person into a monster. Maybe it will act as a scratching post and keep a monster from doing something destructive. Maybe the real monster is the guy who makes the game in the first place. I don’t know. It’s a difficult thing to study and even when you do, the data is easily dismissed if it doesn’t say what people expect.

What I find interesting is that my examples above are now slightly less hypothetical. A while back someone made a “game” – a plotless, context-free interactive program where you torture an emotionless avatar. There’s no score, no goal, no point to the thing. You just rip the thing apart (it bleeds) and skewer it until you decide to go do something else instead.

Now, I wouldn’t lobby to ban this game. I wouldn’t play it, either. I certainly wouldn’t buy it. I’d be less worried about the person who plays it (most likely motivated by morbid curiosity) than the person who makes this sort of thing. I’ve said before that I think games are a form of artistic expression, and I would wonder about the person who wrote all that code and arranged these art assets in a desire to provide a sandbox where you can torture a lifeless doll.

Hostel was an “edgy” movie, but if it were a videogame then concerned parents would have erected trebuchets in the Wal-Mart parking lot and reduced the place to burning cinders before they allowed them to sell such a thing.

Movies are given more license videogames. (Compare the outcry of “three seconds of bare ass” Mass Effect to the non-outcry from (say) Eyes Wide Shut.) Part of this is due to the relative newness of videogames. Part of this comes from the more engaging and interactive nature of the medium. I do wonder what things will look like in ten years. Perhaps the censorship problems in Australia will spread to other western nations and become even more entrenched. Or perhaps as gamers take up seats in government those laws will fade into obscurity and become quaint amusements, like those laws about horse-drawn buggies that are still on the books but nobody knows or cares about.

Topic for discussion: What one game or gaming moment Went Too Far for you? Not that you necessarily would ban it, but that you were offended or insulted.

Comments (162)

1 2 3

  1. Shamus says:

    To answer my own question: The child-killing in Prey offended and sickened me, although the same in the original Fallout did not. Of course, in Prey it was mandatory in order to proceed through the game (it will not let you out of the room until you kill the ghost children) and in Fallout it was just something that was possible to do.

    In Prey it felt like a teenager was trying to be “edgy”. In Fallout it felt like a valid component of the world they were offering.

  2. TehShrike says:

    I’ve been all about the libertarian movement lately, and I really don’t think the civil government should be involved in many parts of our lives, including video games.

    That statement stands no matter how “bad for society” some people may think something is.

  3. maehara says:

    I think movies also get additional leeway as they can influence the viewer’s response (or at least try to). Do a torture scene, show the character responsible dealing with some sort of emotional fallout from that. You can’t really do that in a game – if I torture an in-game character, for whatever reason, the developers can’t ensure that I’m going to respond to the experience in a controllable way. They may want me to feel uncomfortable about what I / my in-game persona are doing, but I may not care, I may enjoy the experience – who knows. The devs certainly don’t.

    That ability to offer “moral guidance” is what sets movies / TV and games apart. Now, whether we should be being spoonfed such moral guidance, or whether anyone pays a blind bit no notice when it’s served up, is another argument entirely…

  4. wererogue says:

    I don’t believe in banning content unless the process by which the content is created is illegal. So yes, I’d be happy for somebody to sell a torture simulator – but not for them to make a torture simulator which included footage of actual torture. Either way, I wouldn’t buy it.

  5. MintSkittle says:

    I’d also say Prey went too far with the child killing, but I bailed on it earlier than that. For me, it was when the one child exploded into ghost form, then skewered the other child on a spike. I dropped the game right there, and haven’t looked back.

    EDIT: On your numbered list, I’d be okay with 1 through 4, but I’d part ways with you at 5.

  6. Robyrt says:

    God of War has some sequences which for me are over the line. After the first boss Kratos rushes through a room, cutting one zombie in half vertically, which always made me sort of sick. In the sequel, you are required to quick-time event your way through a sequence in which you brutally dispatch of Theseus by catching his head in a doorframe ten times. The first time I did it, it was horrifying and I felt sorry for the guy.

    …But I do admit some satisfaction when doing it on the ludicrously difficult Titan Mode, after spending upwards of two hours getting Theseus to stop shooting unblockable magic arrows at me.

  7. Factoid says:

    Prey didn’t actually bother me at all. I can’t say any video game really has. Not that I don’t get emotionally involved in a video game…I do…just not that much. I don’t cry at movies either.

    The one game I can think of where I actually had a moment of pause before doing some horrific and unspeakable act was Bioshock. Choosing between saving and harming those Little Sisters was actually pretty agonizing and I couldn’t bring myself to do it. As it turns out one of my few criticisms of that game is that you don’t get penalized enough for NOT harming the little sisters. They could have made that choice a LOT harder.

    Mostly, though, I don’t really have trouble doing pretty much any horrible thing in a video game. They’re not real too me and it’s all pretty dispassionate, except when you’re working with a well developed character.

    Mutilating random NPCs isn’t a big deal…but if I had to put a bullet in Alyx Vance it would be another story.

  8. Krellen says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever been offended by a game; frustrated, yes. Offended, no. (Well, unless you count being offended by Bethesda’s spurious claim that they have made a Fallout game, but I don’t think that does count.)

    But I wouldn’t ban any of the items on the list, either, so that may have something to do with it.

    For what it’s worth, I think the reason video games get ire that movies do not is because video games are still viewed by large parts of the population as “children’s toys”, which hold different standards than other forms of entertainment.

    As more and more members of Generation X (and moreso with Generation “Wired”) grow into positions of authority, culturally and politically, we’ll see that change. Video games will become just another medium of entertainment, like movies, and thus people will see that there are “children’s games” and “adult games”, just like there are with movies.

  9. acronix says:

    I ussually avoid games that look like they have something that could offend me, so I don´t have a list.
    But I must say that I felt offended on Fallout 2, in the “cutscene” where the super mutant in power armor whose-name-scapes-my-memory killed a family of three, including a kid. It was an unavoidable cutscene, so it wasn´t something I could skip.
    It didn´t stop me from playing the game 9 times more tough, probably because of the clumsy graphics and the lack of detail. I´m quite sure that if something similar would been put in any FPS or RPG nowadays I would stop playing that game immediately and burn the DVD after shattering it into a thousand pieces.

  10. Eric says:

    When it comes to games, I treat them the same as movies, television, and other forms of media. A while back a indie programmer made a Columbine massacre shooter(a game in extremely poor taste)which he entered into a independent game developer competition that was sponsored by Berkely, or some other big collegiate school. Now the game actually advanced to the finals, then the judges were pressured by some of the other sponsors to remove the game from the finalists nominations. Now the school in question pulled their sponsorship, because they thought the credibility of the competition was definitely in question. Now I would never play this game, buy it, or boycott it. If a big time developer wanted to put it out there for people to buy, I wouldn’t object. As I said before, I believe people should have the right to choose for themselves if they want to buy this game or not. Although I wouldn’t be opposed to punching the guy in the face for this.

  11. Cybron says:

    I simply don’t buy games that I think would offend me. Vote with your purchases.

  12. WanderingGrapefruit says:

    I only just started playing games that weren’t Nintendoid of nature. Needless to say, I haven’t been offended by any games. Pretty likely I would be by some, though. Blood and gore isn’t really for me.

  13. Didacsoy says:

    Well, I’ve never encountered a game that offended me. Also, I’m with Shamus in this: as long as content has been created legally, I don’t see the harm in selling it freely. If I think I’m not going to like it, I just won’t buy it.

    What does offend me is people willing to sell inappropriate stuff to minors. I get enraged everytime I see a 14-year old with a cigarrete or a drunken 16-year old (happens a lot here in Spain). Same for videogames or books or movies… whatever. As long as it is marked 18+ (M in the USA, I think) it can contain anything, I don’t mind… provided selling regulations are enforced, of course!

  14. BarGamer says:

    1 thru 4, and then I’d look at spoiler FAQs to see if you could possibly avoid 5 and 6. If not, that game gets dropped.

  15. chuko says:

    I wouldn’t set any limits on content, of course. Do most people really stop you at some point on that list and say it should be banned? I know you don’t want this to get political, but that’s kind of disturbing; after all, freedom of speech (and that is what we’re talking about here after all) is an American value.

  16. Telas says:

    I like the way you’re evoking (provoking?) some thought on this one.

    There are certainly social taboos which are represented in our media – violence against children (especially infants) being one of many.

    At what point does the government have the right to enforce those taboos? I personally tend to think that the government shouldn’t be involved at all, except at the local level. If a community didn’t want (say) Robert Mapplethorpe‘s work portrayed in a public venue, then that community, working through their local government, has that right. This does not prevent other communities from showing the work.

    And if a piece of alleged art is so offensive that no community will agree to house it, then it seems that society as a whole has spoken.

    On your list, I don’t have a problem with most of them. #6 is where I draw the line, but let’s make sure we define “kid” correctly: 17 year old murderers are not kids.

  17. Xpovos says:

    I think the question probably needs to be broken down further.

    You are absolutely right that most of those scenarios raise completely valid questions about the mental stability of not just those who play through the scenes (and enjoy them?) but more of those who design and write them. But I can’t get behind the idea that it’s so repugnant that we need to ban it.

    I can think of no reason to rationally justify making a video game where the point, or a major portion involves torturing a child. But just because I can think of no redeeming value for it doesn’t mean I think it should be banned. I also can’t think of any redeeming value for pornography and polka. And one of those things is actually demonstrably harmful to real people, the video game is not.

    Would I buy and play these games? Possibly up to 5. I’m less upset by violence against women than I probably should be because I can think of plenty of plot reasons why it would be reasonable. So it all comes down to the rationale presented in game. Lastly, this is all contingent on the fact that there’s full knowledge prior to purchase.

  18. Snook says:

    I never played it, but a while back on somethingawful, I saw a “review” of one of the most offending games I’ve ever seen. It was a japanese hentai (anime porn for the uninitiated) game in which the player abducts and then rapes 3 women (a mother and her 2 teenage daughters, probably aged 12 and 16 by all guesses.) The reason the characters avatar has for doing this is because the 16 year old turned him in to the police for groping her on a train. So you’re a criminal of the highest degree in this game.

    Still, even this wasn’t enough for me to want censorship. As Voltaire once said, “I may not agree with your opinions, sir, but I would lay my life down to protect your right to express them.”

  19. Alan De Smet says:

    Part of why older adults are keen to restrict video games is probably part of why you still get insane legal cases against comic book store owners, and why many adults can’t take animation for adults (that is, mature subjects, not porn) seriously: because a significant number of older adults still view comics, animation, and video games as something only children read, watch, and play. Of course at least in video games we know that 62% of players are adults, and the average age is 30, so the claim is utter nonsense. But too many older adults are fixed in their ways and won’t see the new reality. So change will be slow, but inevitable.

    This is, of course, hardly new. We had similar scares about the rock and the roll music, and the rap with it’s hipping and hopping. We got over it. I’m betting people were running around trying to ban the pictures that move, but I don’t know.

  20. Kevin says:

    I should possibly qualify this by saying up front that I play far fewer games than most here, (I’d imagine) but I’ve never really had that feeling. “Omigod that was dumb,” or “That looks terrible, who designs this?” or “Who programmed that stupid, stinking, piece of s#!t!” have all been opinions I’ve had at one point or another, but I’ve never felt offended by anything “over the top” in the way you describe.

    As far as the litmus test of tolerance I don’t think any of those things would bother me in a videogame. It doesn’t sound like a FUN game, or anything I’d be interested in playing, but every programmer/game designer should have the right to fail on their own by making whatever stupid waste of time they want.

    I guess you can put me in the “against censorship generally” camp.

    (Oh, I’d also guess that folks pay more attention to videogames because they are seen as being marketed primarily to children.)

  21. Zwebbie says:

    For me, they’re all pretty offensive, because they’re skill-based.

    The problem with making it a skill-based game element is that it’s *fun*. It’s a game in itself and could work without the context of torturing.
    When it’s something you just have to sit or click through, it’s a tradgedy, which makes it much more acceptable, in my opinion. It’s a necessary evil, both in the game’s context and in the player’s. I’d actually like to see something as complicated as this tried out, since I’m sick and tired of heroic heroes who don’t have to make any difficult choices or sacrifice something. Or, as Max Payne’s Vlad said it: “Hypothetically, if the only choice you’ve got is to do the wrong thing, then it’s not really the wrong thing, is it? It’s more like fate.”

    I can only think of one game that twisted my stomach in such a way, and it’s, oddly enough, Empire Earth. There’s a mission in the German campaign where you have to build up your army and invade Poland, which is a tech level behind and really isn’t even close to a challenge. After that, you have to fight France, which has a huge army, so that part of the mission isn’t as offensive because it’s actually fun. The part where you invade Poland isn’t, but, even if probably not specifically designed this way, a good ‘experience’.

  22. nilus says:

    I believe the cost of having a free society, with freedom of speech is that you have to allow people to say and make things that would offend or even sicken you. I think the whole “Torture Porn” Horror movie industry is a disgusting waste of time but I would fight to make sure it was never banned. Just like I would never play and would encourage people to not play a game called “Baby killer”, I would never call it to be banned because thats not what this country is about. People have the freedom to make games like that, just like you have the freedom to never play it and to tell everyone in ear shot that they are a sociopathic dicks if they play it.

  23. Apathy Curve says:

    The entire GTA series (and its imitators) went too far for me. I find the idea of playing a thug reprehensible. But ban them? No, absolutely not. It’s the parent’s responsibility to police their child’s entertainment, not the state’s responsibility.

    Adults can choose to play what they wish. If they’re a criminal inside, then a game — even a GTA or rap-based piece of flotsam like that 50-cent crap — isn’t going to change it one way or another. A thug is a thug is a thug, and a certain percentage of people are just bad seed. The best thing for society and the race as a whole is to either lock them up or kill them. Banning video games isn’t going to change that equation; it’s treating a cancer patient for a hangnail.

    Now requiring a license to breed… that holds possibilities.

  24. Nalano says:

    I’ve found a number of games tasteless on the grounds of juvenile humor or such, and offensive on the grounds of racism, but never offensive because of violence.

    Trying to be ‘edgy’ falls squarely in the tasteless category. Practically every other instance of violence seems to be jealousy guarded in the Rule of Cool mantra.

    The only instance I could see a game being banned is if it was explicitly racist or sexist. Hell, I think the preceding comment said in earnest, “a certain percentage of people are just bad seed” is far more offensive than anything I experienced in the GTA series.

  25. Primogenitor says:

    As seems to be the concensuss here, Im in the “censorship is bad; dont like it, dont buy it” camp.

    However, I would go so far deliberately not buying overly self-censored games. Most recently this would be Little Big Planet.

    So I guess I am more offended by excessive self-censorship than most things that are censored. I’m don’t know if thats good or not…

  26. Magnus says:

    My only problem with things like “Hostel” is that they are badly made…

    I also wouldn’t censor any of the above, just slap an 18+ sticker on it and prosecute anyone who sold it to kids.

    In the fallout instance, it is interesting that for Fallout 3 they included kids (but invincible so I’m told) despite having no kids in Oblivion. There was a consequence for killing a child in Fallout 1/2, and it was in no way needed by any quest or plotline.

    It almost seems like we are adult enough to see all the violence in the world, (heads blown off etc.) but cannot see or do (in a virtual world no less) anything that breaks specific taboo subjects (sex etc.) in otherwise “adult” games.

  27. Inscrutibob says:

    They can make anything they want.
    I can buy what I want.
    Seems pretty simple.
    And if there are no torture movies like Hostel & Saw, and no wanton death and destruction games, kids (and adults) will still play cops & robbers and paintball, or torture the neighbor’s cat, so I don’t see an excuse there for more censorship.

  28. Bryan says:

    For me, the gore factor is a huge consideration. Any of the listed examples would be enough to turn me off. It does not matter to me what the moral implications are; I don’t play games like that because I know I can’t stomach them. On the other hand, I have never tried to ban a game with gory content for any reason. I figure that there are people who don’t mind that kind of content, and if no one wants to see it then the game will not last. Karmic justice, so to speak.

    An example of this philosophy is when I saw my niece (17) playing a game (never asked about the title) where she was a vampire fighting Nazis. There was so much blood and flying body parts in the few seconds I watched that I had to excuse myself. However, I did not tell her she had to quit playing because it’s gross. I figure that if her parents are OK with it then I have no business trying to sway her. I just didn’t watch any more.

  29. Nevermind says:

    I’m an extremist in this case. Art should never be banned, and games are art. So you don’t ban a game, even if it is about torturing a kid for no good reason. Actually, turturing a kid for a “good” reason is worse, because it is reinforcement learning. But I’d still not ban this game.

    The only ban-worthy example I can think of is a game that really messes with a player’s mind. Like, one containing schizoprenia-indusing sounds or images… I don’t know if that’s technically possible, of course, but that’s about the only real reason to ban a game in my book.

  30. Ingvar says:

    For your hypothetical example, all I can say is that it starts off mis-guided (torture gives undependable to useless information, so to even contemplating torture means you’ve resigned yourself to bad intel) and slides straight into “very much not in good taste and I’d wonder about anyone wanting to PLAY that game”.

    Would I want a ban on it? I don’t know. I hope I wouldn’t.

  31. FireStomp says:

    I’m going to hop on the “no censorship, period” train. You don’t like it, you don’t see it, but you don’t need to banhammer it.

    As for disturbing bits in games? For me, it was the same as Shamus. Prey was messed up.

  32. Magnus says:

    @Nevermind: There was that case of the Pokemon show that caused a mass epileptic fit. Not a gaming response, but whatever you can do on TV you can surely do in a game.

  33. Thirith says:

    I would actually be quite comfortable with a game such as Concentration Camp Manager being banned. The game existed, although to my knowledge it was downloadable on BBSes rather than retail. Just as I would be comfortable with fundie idiots who picket the funeral of a homosexual killed for his sexual orientation having their freedom of speech curtailed. Or as I am comfortable with there being laws against racist hate speech in public in my country. Perhaps I’m naive in this, but I do think that our legal system has enough checks and balances and cases are looked at on an individual basis, so context – which is vital in determining meaning – is taken into consideration… or, in fact, it’s paramount in evaluating any given case.

    I know that this is an unpopular opinion, but I find that very often an absolute principle of freedom of speech gets in the way of interesting discussions about whether any- and everything *should* be said because it *can* be said. More often than not, anyone who says they don’t believe in absolute free speech is shouted down. Which is ironic, I guess… ;)

  34. Smileyfax says:

    The worst thing I ever saw in a game was in Oblivion, Molag Bal’s Daedric quest, where he asks you to provoke a good man into murder. I threw down the mace he gave me and walked away.

  35. Minion says:

    I’ve never stopped playing a video game because it went too far. I’m also kind of picky about what I am going to throw my $60 away on however so do not get exposed to so much. I’ve found, oddly, that in video games I am quite happy to go along killing people who annoy me or need to die for a quest. What I can’t do are the slavery quests. To each their own. In Fable 2 and Fallout 3 I’ve not done any of the enslavement quests. But whacking bandits, farmers, ghouls (F*ing zombies!) what have you? Bring em on.

    And, yea, kids invincible in both those games. Only good thing is that NPCs can’t kill em either so you can usually have someone to go to in order to get end of quest reward.

  36. scragar says:

    I want to join you on the no censorship at all train, if I don’t want to see something I think I am smart enough to avoid it, and if not I like to think of myself as mature enough to not get seriously offended.

    I also want to push the idea of doing away with age recommendations, to argue my point on the later I have a true story, my nephew is 5, he has a playstation 2, when he first got it his mum asked me for any games I had that he could play, I threw all my old playstation one games in a bag and told her to take her pick. Anyway, I went around a couple of days later and she was playing Mortal Kombat 4 against him, he was having a lot of fun, anyway, I made the mistake of asking why she hadn’t turned gore off, long story short she banned him from the game because it was an 18. She had no problems letting him play it with gore on until it was mentioned that the game was an 18, when suddenly it became forbidden. Complete hypocrisy.

    @ Original question.
    The Punisher, most of that game revolved around torturing people to get them to talk.

  37. Zel says:

    I couldn’t agree more about the fact that censorship is bad, and parents should pay more attention to what their children are playing (or watching in the movies). I know it’s hard, but I think it’s best if each individual can review if something is suitable or not instead of having someone decide and enforce the decision for everyone.

    But to be able to do that, you have to give the parents their tools. You can’t ask them to know each and every game, so I’d like to see stronger acknowledgment and improvements of ESRB or similar ratings. Honestly, have anyone ever seen a shop owner inform the accompanying adult of a 12 years old kid of the content of the game (reading the ESRB tags is easy enough, but you have to know where to look) ? It’s even worse on websites where it’s usually only mentioned, and not explained at all.

    I’m usually uneasy about playing games including mindless acts of violence with no explanation, or making you kill everyone for no apparent reason.

  38. Rich says:

    “What one game or gaming moment Went Too Far for you? Not that you necessarily would ban it, but that you were offended or insulted.”

    None. I’m not affected that way by games or for that matter movies. I have been insulted by game mechanics that were plain stupid. But not by content.

    I guess I’m some kind of amoral sociopath.

  39. Galen says:

    Ideally I don’t think we should have censorship. But ideally everyone online is nice and flame wars only happen in WoW topics.

    Without censorship here’s what I think should happen, stores should have the right to refuse to sell something on moral (or any) grounds. I think the people who work those stores should have the right to find someone else to sell those products (I for one wouldn’t feel right selling games like that). THEN it’s up to the purchaser to decide if they should get a game like that.

    If all that was true then I don’t think we’d need censorship. Otherwise i’d be willing to go along with it as a ‘necessary evil’.

    As far as what game went to far for me? I can’t think of any, but my selections have always been relatively mild.

  40. Kajen says:

    When would I stop playing a game containing torture?
    At 1.

    Sorry, but torture is the one topic where I’m simply unable to separate fiction and reality.

    Skip the following paragraph if you’re not interested in my reasons.

    I used to work with victims of torture and there is no way I’d ever play anything like it in any sort of game.

    How would you proceed anyway? Nearly drown your prisoners in tubs filled with human excrement? Castrate them? Slowly burn their extremities? Take a power drill and riddle their bodies with holes? Poke their eyes out? Or would it be “soft” methods like beating them up, dislocating limbs, waterboarding, prolonged imprisonment in complete darkness, or mock executions?

    While I (being against censorship) would not ban those games, I don’t think that I could be friends with somebody who “just plays them”.
    And I most certainly couldn’t even stand to be in the same room with a person who programs this stuff.

  41. Galenor says:

    On the list you gave, I’d only really do 1 and 2. At least they’ve done something either against helpless people, or your own people, that gives the little sense of justice when you do the deed. The civilian was just in the wrong country at the wrong time. Sure, he may support the victory of the enemy, but what else is he going to do in a war situation? Hope that he loses?

    I’m gonna hop on the Prey/Fallout 2 bandwagon. Hope you don’t mind!

    So i recently played Fallout 2. Loved it, and of course, I came across the scene Acronix did:

    “Fallout 2, in the “cutscene” where the super mutant in power armor whose-name-scapes-my-memory killed a family of three, including a kid.”

    Now I was slightly hurt when I saw a kid shot to shreds by a minigun – literally. However, as i watched this scene, it was if the game was beside me, gesturing towards the Enclave and saying “Look, they just killed an entire family because the man didn’t obey their commands. You can obviously see these guys are exploiting the harshness of the wastelands, and they need to be stopped”. Yes, i felt bad about it, but it was there to show the fact that these guys mean business, and they didn’t care who they killed to get what they wanted. Since you see this scene early in the game, you don’t even know if the Enclave are good or bad guys, until that happens.
    So I found it acceptable – but only just. It was just showing that these guys were terrible, and needed to be stopped.

    Now, lemme just grab someone elses comment. Ah yes, good old MintSkittle put it this way for the Prey game:

    “For me, it was when the one child exploded into ghost form, then skewered the other child on a spike. I dropped the game right there, and haven't looked back.”

    I played the demo, which contained this scene. So now we have a scene with a kid being shot to pieces with a minigun, and a scene where a kid is impaled. Not too different, but the reason it was put in made me decide that Prey wasn’t the game for me. In contrast to Fallout, it was almost as if this game had this huge grin on it’s face, walking up behind me saying “Woooo! Scary, right? That kid just got nailed, eh?”. It continues to remark as it nudges me with it’s elbow while I stare at the screen slackjawed. “Eh? Scary, eh? Teens like you love that kinda thing! That was cool, right? Right?”

    No! No, it wasn’t! You just showed a kid being slaughtered purely for the adrenaline and the “Boo!” factor. You didn’t really have to explain the fact that ghosts are bad – just have one claw at me every so often and I’ll get the hint! Not this! In this case, the death of the child felt unneccesary and bolted-on for the sakes of it. Almost as if it was a ‘wasted’ life.

    You could say “Well, why not have the Enclave shoot at you, so you realise they’re bad guys?”. I guess it’s mainly because Fallout is trying to set up a story with their bad guys, and a good way to do that is to let the player look in on the life of the baddy. The ghosts in Prey just seemed to be Cannon Fodder to fill the halls with, and didn’t need this scene. That’s not to say killing kids is a great way to put story to your bad guys – like i said, i just barely forgave Fallout – but putting it in there without justification is a no-go for me.

  42. Malkara says:

    Wasn’t actually Voltaire that said that… But, nevermind that. I find censorship to be abhorrent. The Government has no place limiting media of any sort.

  43. Dys says:

    Um, couple of responses saying people are ok with depiction of men being tortured, but not women. What? Let’s have some equality. I think a shrink would have a field day with that particular distinction.

    Personally, banning media is pretty clearly wrong for the usual slew of reasons. I hit blocks in some places, like someone mentioned the slavery quests in Fallout. Never did those. Tried to play Bioshock with the killing of the sisters, never could do it. KotOR was a pretty good example. After a few hours of playing dark side, I started to feel really uneasy. Finished in the end, but only by leavening the experience with regular doses of light side goodness.

    Your list there doesn’t bother me. A game where you torture kids for no reason would be frankly too absurd to be offensive. Then again, if it really was researched and made to a high standard, it would have to be truly disgusting.

    I feel quite strongly that exposure to such things is beneficial, what Kajen said about personal experience of torture victims is poignant. If you had a game (that word seems wrong in this context) maybe a simulation rather, which truthfully and graphically depicted torture, I think it would produce in most people a similar sensibility. It would help those of us who have no real understanding of evil to learn.

    And by the way, some people really are born bad. All kinds of personality traits and mental disorders are inheritable, rather like physical ones. This is however, not an automatic excuse for eugenics.

  44. Joe says:

    Very interesting topic…

    First off, I’ve never been particularly offended by anything in a game, but that’s not saying much as I don’t actually play all that many…

    I could see being disturbed or offended by something like you describe in Prey. I wonder if anyone has been offended enough by it that they modded/hacked the game to avoid it, a la xkcd

    Several people have said that they don’t have a problem with any game, so long as nothing illegal was done to make it. I disagree. I don’t have a problem with any game so long as nothing wrong was done to make it. Just because it’s illegal doesn’t make it wrong. If it’s illegal to make a game that includes, say, sexual content, then making such a game is, in its own circular-logic way, illegal. Similarly, just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right. If you live somewhere where the law says that torturing babies is OK, that doesn’t mean that a game with video of it being done is OK. However, if you live in such a place, focus on trying to get baby-torture outlawed first, then worry about it in games.

    And last, I talk about some similar things on my blog (which definitely is political), but the short answer is this: there are probably games I wouldn’t personally play because they would offend me. There could be games that would make me suspicious of the sanity of those who did enjoy them. This leads to the important point: I don’t want any games or other media banned, entirely for practical reasons. I believe that games don’t change people (much). Given that, the availability of offensive games gives me a metric by which to judge other people. If there’s a game that I find morally offensive, and someone buys and enjoys it, I know that I don’t want to associate with that person. If they choose not to buy it, maybe they’re not so bad. But once you ban it, I can’t tell the difference between the people who don’t buy it because it’s offensive and the people who don’t buy it because it’s illegal. And that makes me less safe thank you very much Mr. Congressman.

  45. Liz says:

    From a legal/political standpoint: Everything on the list should be acceptable (with the by-now old hat disclaimer that no actual people were hurt in the creation thereof).

    From a strictly personal standpoint? I fall off the wagon right at the top of the list. World of Warcraft’s WotLK expansion has been getting some flak for just this — they have a few quest chains where the PC is required to torture people to get information from them, and… on the line where the PC is supposed to be evil, I admired it from a technical standpoint, even though my insides were already squirming with all the other evil things they’d made me do… The quest line where you’re a good guy and have to torture a bad guy — it’s the only way to get to one of the zones/instances in the game, and there’s no alternative option which gives you credit for refusing to do it.

    If WoW had more realistic graphics, I might not have been willing to do it, and as uncomfortable as I felt about it anyway, I suspect none of my alts are going to do it. If they have to skip that zone, so be it.

  46. Cuthalion says:

    Well, first of all, I wouldn’t buy any of that list.

    Second, I tend to be easily repulsed. I even end up as a goodie-goodie in games like Morrowind because I feel bad if I do mean stuff.

    Third, while I wouldn’t really object to the idea of a specific kind of game/movie/etc. being banned (eg. porn), it’s the precedent that would establish that would bother me. If we can ban people from saying “the N word”, then what’s to stop them from banning me from saying “Jesus”? If we can give people extra penalties for crimes because they were motivated by homophobia, what’s to keep them from reducing penalties for crimes against old-fashioned Christians like me? We already see Creationists being called “intellectual terrorists”, so it’s not very far-fetched.

    That’s why I’m generally against censorship, so-called “hate crimes” laws, etc. I know I would be next in line. The vitriol against Fred Phelps, Jack Chick, etc. is such that even though I strongly disagree with them, I know I’d get lumped in with them anyway because there are enough similarities in our beliefs (though like I said, not all of them).

    Of course, I’m sort of “Neutral Good” aligned. “We must obey God rather than men.” So I’d probably just end up getting arrested.

  47. Robert says:

    In SimCity, you can put up coal-fired power plants and hurt Mother Gaia. Now that’s just wrong!!!

  48. Galen says:

    Off the top of my head I can only think of one instance where I was told to torture someone in-game. Kotor had this, but quite frankly it wasn’t life-like enough to make me care. I was a good guy of course, but even when I accidentally hit the wrong button I just reloaded. Nothing there was real enough to make me care about aside from ‘woops I got dark points *click*’. So I admittedly don’t know about the more extreme examples being brought up. But just from the screenshot you linked to Shamus, I can tell I would never play that torture game. Maybe I’m just too nice.

    @Joe- THAT is a very interesting point. I’m not sure i would say that justifies forbidding all censorship but it is a very interesting point.

  49. Justin says:

    In terms of games, I’m largely unflappable. The child killing in Prey bugged me not because of the act, but because it wasn’t germane to the story. Why exactly were there ghost children? Why were they hostile? Why were they even on the ship? And so on. I want a good story more than anything. What if they banned Shamus’ proposed torture simulator? People would go out of their way to get it and play it. The message would be that obscenity = good. (Obscenity in the sense that something is socially taboo.) Splinter Cell: Double Agent has some ethically questionable content, but it is there because that is the nature of the story. Like Inscrutibob said, they can make what they want, and I’ll buy what I want. Banning things is swatting flies with a bazooka: unnecessary.

  50. Kobyov says:

    Manhunt went too far for me. Of course, I didn’t play it here in NZ, as it is banned. I think the way things work here as far as censorship is pretty good. Our law considers films and games to be equal. For instance, my copy of Fallout 3 has a large R18 label on it, with additional warnings of “graphic violence and offensive language”. And not only is it illegal for a minor to buy it, it is illegal for you to buy it and let a minor watch/play it. The biggest problem we have is that games distributors often send us the Australian version, and they do tend to censor things quite heavily.
    I am for censorship, in very limited cases. Things should only be censored if there is a real public harm from viewing them, and no merit whatsoever in the media.
    For instance, I would consider a game/movie/whatever that was centered around suicide in a how-to fashion should be banned. However, a game/movie/whatever that included suicide as a theme should merely be restricted, to make sure a child doesnt inadvertantly see it.

  51. I can’t honestly think of any case where any sort of violent game content offended me. I’ve played through most of Prey, including the ghost children scene. I’ve also trudged through many other violent games, such as Postal 2 and Manhunt. Really, the only thing that offended me about those two titles in particular is how shallow the gameplay is. :)

  52. Dys says:

    @Kobyov : How is an instruction manual for suicide harmful? As far as I know it would in no way increase the likelihood the subject will commit suicide.

  53. MadTinkerer says:

    The “child killing” in Prey doesn’t count.

    1) They are already dead.
    2) They will try to kill you no matter what you do.
    3) They’re obviously more than a little crazy, and it’s possible that “killing” them simply puts their spirits to rest.

    The only difference between the child-ghosts in Prey and, for example, mindless hostile child-zombies in another game (Ultima XIII was one example) is that the kids in Prey could shoot lethal ectoplasm at you.

    Bioshock, on the other hand, is a game where you can go around murdering children and it’s completely optional to finish the game, but mandatory to see the “evil” ending. People have complained about the endings being too “binary”, but that’s the nature of the choice you’re presented. It would have been much worse if there was just one ending.

    (Personally, I would have preferred a bit more choice: Add in a few adult characters who you have the choice of killing, assisting, or leaving alone (the splicers don’t count because it’s just like the child-ghost situation above) instead of being stuck on rails regarding what to do besides fighting for survival. Maybe some more characters who are only half-mad or completely sane that you can actually interact with.)

    Anyway, to answer the question regarding banning: violence in video-games is a self-regulating matter. The worse the subject matter is, the more niche the audience. The more niche the audience, the worse it will sell. There are lots and lots of games that are just horrible that you can get right now, but no one’s paying for them, and they’re all low-budget eyesores.

    Did you know that the original Tales From The Crypt comics had advertisements for Bible comics? Because “Hey, if you like reading this comic, maybe you’d like reading our Bible comics too!”. That’s how tame they really were. They’re not even scary compared to movies of several decades ago. Just a few decades later, Saw is a quintilogy and no one’s shouting about banning that series from cinemas even though idiot parents take their children to see it.

    Comparing what’s actually been banned to what’s mainstream now is ridiculous. Banning does nothing except harm peoples’ careers for others’ political gain. That’s really what it’s all about.

  54. Cuthalion says:

    Well, you could make anything from flowery happiness to gory madness in a Bible comic… although gory madness would be quite a bit easier.

  55. Plasma says:

    I would not support a ban on any of those listed concepts. I wouldn’t necessarily play any of them, but I would oppose banning them.

    Interesting that continuing your list a number of steps further, arriving at the obvious final step of allowing the player to commit the worst known crime – which is to say, genocide – is already basically accepted and included in most strategy games and many RPGs. Apparently there are people who feel that torturing one set of pixels and bit of code to death is unacceptable, but doing it to millions is just fine and dandy.

    Yes, I know why this is (strategy games don’t generally let you witness the individual suffering of your victims like an RPG might), but the moral dissonance amuses me nonetheless.

    The worst response I’ve had to a game in moral terms has been the contact Westin Phipps in City of Villains. But my response was limited to repeated vocalized objections that “This is so terrible! This is so awful!”, which hasn’t stopped me from doing his arcs on more than one character, despite having the easy choice not to.

  56. ThaneofFife says:

    Just wanted to opine along with the rest of the folks here. Regarding the numbered list, I wouldn’t condone torture in any of those cases, and think that in real life the torturer should face criminal charges in each of them, regardless of how “good” the reasons for torture may have been. BUT, that being said, I would NOT ban ANY of the games that had any of those scenarios. These games should allow you to experience things that you can’t and don’t want to in real life. All art allows you to explore the human experience in different ways, and I think this is a part of that.

    Now that I’ve said that, I’ll do my anecdote from the prompt. Keep in mind the three most modern PC games I’ve played have been WoW, Jedi Academy, and World of Goo, so I have not played with Prey or a lot of the other games cited here.

    I was mildly offended/bothered by WoW Wrath of the Lich King. Specifically, there’s an Alliance quest in the Borean Tundra in your early 70s where one of the Kirin Tor mages gives you a magical poker and asks you to go torture a prisoner, whom the mage himself can’t torture due to ethical considerations. Now, I don’t object to the inclusion of torture in WoW per se, but I don’t think it should be mandatory for progression, as this quest was (you couldn’t get to the Nexus in Coldarra before obtaining cold weather flying unless you did this quest). The Alliance bills itself as being on the side of good (which most of the horde does too), so it really breaks character for a quest like this to be included. I was expecting to be able to refuse, or suffer some consequences for going through with it. Neither were presented as possibilities. So, I guess what bothered me about it was that I was being forced to do an action that I considered out-of-character for my avatar with (1) zero recognition of its out-of-character nature by the game and (2) a requirement that I do it anyway if I want to proceed. That was both bothersome and frustrating.

  57. Torsten says:

    First of on the rhetorical situation, I was going to answer that torturing scene would be where my game would end. But then I thought how much emotionally attached to the goals the game had me made. If I have to save the world of nameless NPCs by torturing a helpless creature – even an enemy soldier or hostile alien – I wouldn’t do it. If I care about those I would save then maybe I could bring myself into playing the scene through.

    I’ve never really played a game that would have offended me, but I think Prey would have been one had I played it. I wouldn’t ban Prey, but if any game would go any further than Prey did, then banning it would be ok in my book. I’m just not liberal enough to think that it is ok for a game to show violence that is done to children.

  58. Bryan says:

    Who needs gore, anyway? Check out this article…


    Some people like the violence, but most simply enjoyed the game whether the violence and gore were turned up or down. It’s something to think about. What is more important — being able to turn mutants into bloody smears, or understanding the reasons why?

  59. Picador says:

    I have found the dialogue and storyline of almost every video game I’ve ever played to be offensively stupid and cliched. Does that count?

    As for emotional disturbance, I remember the first time I hit that level in Quake 2 where the prisoners in their holding cells are screaming in pain and fear… that was the moment that I first realized the capacity of the medium for creating immersive, emotionally powerful experiences. That being said, it is a morally neutral capacity of the medium.

    Games have the capacity to make the player complicit in the atrocities being committed in the narrative in a way that non-interactive media do not. Thus, games like this torture sim under discussion or the Super Columbine Massacre RPG may (unintentionally in the first case, intentionally in the second) implicate the player in the perpetration of (virtual) evil acts in all kinds of interesting ways. Whether one approves or disapproves of the art, or of the artist, or of the players, is a complex issue, just as it is with, say, cinema: look at Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” for a good example of how, even in a non-interactive medium, the audience can be set up to feel morally complicit in atrocities by their voyeurism (the choice to continue watching the film) or their sympathies (their expectations and hopes for the direction of the narrative). Haneke’s film is “torture porn” with the titillation excised and the audience’s decision to watch the torture criticized directly in addresses to the camera from the characters on-screen. Some critics feel offended by the film’s content and the intent attributed to the film’s creator, but I thought that Haneke’s critique of audience sadism-by-proxy was dead-on. YMMV.

  60. Mark says:

    The suicide imagery in Persona 3 kept me away from that game in spite of the heaps of praise it had received from people I trusted and my appreciation for the genre. Didn’t get anything like the urge that incites people to ban a game, but I knew that playing it would make me uncomfortable.

    The only comment on the general issue is: free speech means defending the indefensible.

  61. Luke Maciak says:

    Hey, Shamus – I am pretty sure that Japan has a pretty big market for games featuring senseless torture of women and children. Discretely look up the word “guro” on the interwebs and you will see what I mean. The whole genre is messed up, but apparently there are lots of people into that kind of stuff.

    Anyway, to answer your question: there is virtually no reason I would ever want anyone to ban anything. The only exception would be if a real person was hurt in the process of making the game/movie/whatever. In that case, yeah, ban the game out of respect for the victim, and put the people who made it in jail.

    Other than that, why should I care? Seriously, to each it’s own. If I do not enjoy something, I will simply ignore it.

    I have yet to find a game that would disturb me or make me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t play pray, but I found stuff like Postal games just painfully boring.

    That said, when I’m playing games that allow you to pick good/bad guy I usually choose the good guy role. Mostly because they get the better dialog options.

  62. Damian says:

    The last one for me was the GTA IV teaser movie – or maybe a video review, I don’t know – where you saw a realistic-looking cop get out of a police cruiser to accost some maniac with a gun in the middle of the road; the maniac shot the cop in the throat and the cop screamed mutely and collapsed, hands around his neck.

    That was too much for me, and I’m not a prude: I shoot people in the face with glee in Fallout.

  63. Greg says:

    So far the only game that has offended me is Pong. It upsets the creative side of my brain.

    Seriously though, games don’t really offend me. I guess I’m in the minority with the other 100 people who know that video games are fiction, therefore not real. Its the same minority who still uses whole words and correct capitalization and punctuation in their emails and text messages.

    I don’t think banning games helps the matter at all. We can’t even get people to pay for the games that actually make it to the store shelves. What makes you think that banning a game will keep it off of the internet and torrents? Especially if it DID make it past the censors in another country.

    The problem that I have with censorship is this: Why does someone/some group get to decide what offends me? I’m all for the rating system we have now. There just needs to be a way to enforce/educate people on this matter. I’ve worked at Gamestop for two holiday seasons now and it baffled me how some parents could pick up games like Grand Theft Auto and even ask if it was ok for their 10-year-old home-schooled child to play it. I kindly pointed out the shiny black-and-white box that said Mature and showed them the back that has the ‘ingredients’ per se, and let them make the call themselves. Everyone and their dog knows that a rated R movie is not supposed to be suitable for kids. Why is it so hard to understand that M means the same thing for games? People are just uneducated on the matter.

    On the matter of movies having more lenient censorship, I feel its because the footage isn’t ‘real’ in most cases. There could be a scene about rape or torture of a child and people would say, “Oh its just CG.” or “Its just acting.” Well what the BLEEP is it in a video game!? Real computer generated people creating real computer generated footage?


    Sorry about the mini-rant. To sum up my post in a statement or two: Video games don’t offend me and people need to be better educated about the already-in-place rating system for games.

  64. Plasma says:

    In the spirit of full disclosure: I take a sadistic glee in turning great bombards on helpless villagers in Age of Empires 3, and in stabbing scantily-clad women in City of Heroes/Villains. To be fair, the scantily-clad women are trying to mind-rape your character to death, and killing villagers is one of the best ways to cripple an opponent. Also there is no blood in either game, only screams.

    On the broader censorship topic: I can only think of one instance where I really support censorship. It’s not the already-mentioned situation where a game or other media is made with illegal acts; the law (in the US, anyway) forbids a person from profiting from criminal acts (it’s why you don’t see as many prison memoirs as you might expect), and I don’t really have an opinion on that particular law either way. I don’t support it or oppose it.

    The one instance of censorship that I wholeheartedly approve of (this is where I may be straying dangerously close to off-topic territory): it should be illegal to fill the head of a child with proven falsehoods. Lying to an adult is fine because adults supposedly possess the faculty of critical thinking. But children are predisposed to trust the word of authority figures, and if an authority figure lies to a child, the lie may become entrenched in their child’s mind. Certain kinds of entrenched lies can ruin their whole life and make society in general that much poorer.

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