Derek, Alec, and I just finished an interview for 4 Color Rebellion for I’m OK. Phil wasn’t around for it, unfortunately, because it was a little bit impromptu. Anyway, it should be up on their site within a short while.
Things are starting to get back to normal after the craziness of last week. The whole Thompsonsoft team was ecstatic that there was so much positive support for the game. After Jack Thompson had faded from the spotlight somewhat, we decided we still wanted to release the game, if only as an entertaining shoot’em-up. We ended up getting the kind of attention we thought we had given up by taking four months to develop the game. The game has done what we originally intended and has been a huge success, not just for us, but for groups of four bored, indie game designers everywhere. I’d also like to think that we’ve done something to support the indie game scene and support free speech rights. Most importantly I hope we gave Jack Thompson just enough attention to make an even bigger buffoon out of himself. Although some want to simply ignore him, that’s not going to get rid of him and other people like him. Ignoring him will just allow him to go unopposed. People who enjoy video games need to be able to intelligently defend against the ridiculous attacks he makes because that’s what will truly make him go away.
People like Jack Thompson like to think of themselves as an underdog against some huge conspiracy to destroy their values (Do I need to point out his new website jackandgoliath.com?) but they don’t realize they’ve become a bully in this situation. He has already demonstrated, on numerous occasions, that he does not want a reasonable debate on the subject. The discussion of video game violence has been brought down to an infantile level by him because he seems to only see things in black and white. Jack Thompson = Good. Video games = evil. Anyone who’s read his press releases knows his views on video games are skewed beyond reason. This makes him a dangerous person to be spearheading the anti-video game violence movement because he has destroyed any ounce of legitimacy for the movement, in the eyes of gamers. There is nothing wrong with someone wishing there were less violence in video games (provided one isn’t trying to pass a law to censor it). Even wanting more strict enforcement of ESRB ratings is a reasonable position, although I, personally, feel it gets a little near restricting free speech. That is not really what the debate is about, though.
Thompson recently attributed the rampage of an 18 year old in Massachusetts to video games, declaring their evil influence over teenagers. Although the influence of video games on the killings has been widely debunked, this reveals the true nature of his stance. He’s literally fighting against video games as a medium, because there is no law that could be passed, given the first amendment, that would have prevent an 18 year old from being able to buy a violent video game.
I wish there could be a more intelligent debate about video game violence, because as much as I am personally against censorship, there are legitimate points to be made by those who seek to enforce ratings more thoroughly. I also wish the video game industry could wean itself off violence as the sole draw for a game, as ironic as that may sound coming from the mouth of the programmer of I’m OK. Video games are not a terribly new medium anymore but they seem to be a stuck in a perpetual adolescence, finding too much fascination in the gruesome and the titillating. Violence and sex are easy ways to shock and entertain but I think gamers are becoming jaded by their overuse.
There are perfectly legitimate ways to use these elements to further a story but most big-budget “M” rated games rely solely on these elements, leaving little in which to become emotionally invested. I’d like to see more games that involve a larger emotional spectrum. The average gamer is not a teenager anymore but games are often still dumbed down to appeal to young adolescents. Why can’t games be more respectful to their largely adult audience and stop talking down to them? Some might think of this as sacrificing fun for some higher artistic principle but I think more emotional investment would actually make games more fun and more widely appealing. Games like The Sims have garnered a huge audience because they weren’t simply appealing to the stereotypically male values of independence, aggression, and emotional repression. Among male gamers, The Sims seems to be a game one should feel embarrassed to enjoy, as if it’s emasculating to play a game that doesn’t involve guns and copious amounts of blood. The industry should learn from that example and stop pumping out so much self-described “gun porn” which obviously has limited appeal among the potential gaming audience, especially in terms of getting more female players. Not that there can’t be games like that, because I certainly enjoy them on occasion, but they seem to be highly overrepresented in the industry.
With all that talk against so much violence in games, I should probably address the violence in I’m OK. I defend the violence in the game by attributing it to the mind of Jack Thompson and pointing out that it does serve a purpose beyond shock value. The violence in I’m OK is there to prove that the game will not prompt someone do any of the reprehensible things allowed in the game. We wanted to satirize the things that Jack Thompson apparently thought would inspire mindless, mimicked violence among video game players. The fact that one can urinate on a slain families’ brains is there to point out the ridiculousness of Thompson’s claims. Anyone of a sane mind can separate that which occurs on a screen and that which occurs in real life. Not that I have solid data on the matter, but I hazard to guess that rates of brain urination have not increased as a result of the release of I’m OK.
I apologize for the length of this post, but I think there’s a lot to say about the video game industry and its critics because it is not a simple, black and white issue. Hopefully I don’t sound like I’m spewing a bunch of pretentious bullshit, but I think there are problems on both sides of the video game violence debate which need to be addressed. So with that, I’ll get off my soapbox.