Now, I hate to be the one to break the bad news, but the general public misunderstanding of games and violence in games is only going to get worse before it gets better. This past couple weeks it’s been the Church of England lambasting Sony for supposedly promoting gun violence in Manchester by using Manchester Cathedral in its sci-fi alternate history game Resistance: Fall of Man. (The church is on to our evil plans, my friends!) To which Sony’s response was basically, ”wtf?”
Then Manhunt 2 getting effectively banned by getting rated AO (since no console manufacturers will publish an AO game). This is meanwhile, as Patrick Dugan points out, Eli Roth’s Hostel 2 is playing in theaters. The first Hostel was easily one of the most graphically disturbing movies I’ve seen, but that perhaps was in part to watching it a week before I went to Europe for the first time last year (never have my planning skills failed me so).
The term being applied to Manhunt 2 is “gratuitiously violent”. That’s kind of like pointing to a shelf full of slasher movies and saying “Let’s ban that one!” Gratuitous compared to what? Seeing as how the Manhunt 2′s plot involves you trying to escape an insane asylum filled with murderous psychopaths, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it probably contains a level of violence that is reasonable in that situation.
The stand out thing about the original Manhunt to me was that it uniquely captured that (sub?)genre of film, like no other game really has. And, like all of Rockstar North’s work, it was exquisitely constructed. I can’t recall any other studio that switched game genres (from GTA to a linear stealth game) and nail it so well the first time out. Combine their sensibility for the narrative genre they were in, and I really enjoyed it. Yeah, you do some horrible things in that game, but you do them to very, very horrible people. You may play an escaped convict, but by the end of the game you actually do feel for all the shit James Earl Cash has gone through, character depth unlike any other previous Rockstar Games’ main characters. It repeatedly captures the game equivalent of the cinematic moment when the bad guy in the slasher movie is injured or killed, with almost every combat. The enemies in that game… well, they’re fucking crazy. Now that’s survival horror.
So regardless of the fact that my Wii purchase is also now “indefinitely postponed” with Manhunt 2′s suspended production (I believe the term is ”shitcanned”), or until I get 40 free hours to play Zelda, these also show this trend is only getting bigger. Sure, we all know the general truism that as a new medium is introduced there’s backlash, and then slow acceptance in the next generation. But that’s a while aways – how many other religious organizations are going to start being more vocal at looser portrayals of their faith? Maybe the supposedly apolitical Assassin’s Creed will get in hot water despite Ubi’s seeming desire to keep it decidedly vanilla in that regard. Rockstar’s an easy target and in the public spotlight – when the spotlight turns off them, where will it go next?
And it’s not like these games are completely tasteless blights on the media landscape (like, I dunno, the game based on the Virginia Tech shootings), these are fully formed creative works with appropriate, if simplistic themes. Even if games can and should be deeper and more complex, these games have every right to exist on their own. But there is little to no existing support network for propogating these ideas to the the very wide audience now necessary – we’re victims of our own popularity as an industry, really. It really is network of sytems that need to come together to get us over the hump – from consistent fines & punishments for retailers distributing games and other media to inappropriate ages, to a wide range of communication (the ESRB’s work with Good Housekeeping is a good start, but really only one tiny piece of the puzzle).