Recently, GameSpot ran a news story about the ESRB (Entertainment Software Ratings Board) description for Konami’s upcoming Metal Gear Solid V prequel, Ground Zeroes. The main point of the story was that Ground Zeroes is the second game in ESRB’s 20-year history to to include a warning about sexual violence.
That this is only the second time the warning has actually been used is questionable - there are plenty of games featuring both implied and overt sexual violence (Batman: Arkham City, Tomb Raider, Ride to Hell: Retribution, Saints Row IV, The Last of Us, and Metro: Last Light, to name but a handful of recent examples.)
ESRB including the warning shows that the organisation is taking its role seriously, that role being to give consumers information about the content of games that they may find objectionable, so that they may make informed purchasing decisions. The board is not condemning Ground Zeroes or attempting to censor it.
However, reading the comments on said article would tell you the opposite.
So its perfectly alright for movies to some absolutely wacky s*** like the Human Centipede / Saw / with various other rape scenes that are extremely explicit but when a game doesn't anything remotely close to that it gets the f***ing hammer brought down?
One thing I dont get...why is a topic like this taboo in video games, but it isnt on movies or on television shows? I am slightly confused as to the reasons behind this fact. Is it because the media likes to portray gamers as immature?
Movies do it too honestly, not really a problem, it just has to be handled properly, I feel it helps make the story that much more dark.
People think nothing of this sort of thing in movies, I don't want to hear people bitching about it being in a game
Why is this news? Movies feature sexual violence all the time. "History of Violence" anyone? It's a strong reflection of how games are still marginalized among the general public when an audio recording of a fictional sexual assault is considered newsworthy.
Above are just a handful of the comments. Apparently videogames are somehow being singled out, marginalised, and treated unfairly by the ESRB and society at large. Apparently films, TV, and other media don’t have ratings boards or content descriptors.
This isn’t just an isolated incident, either, and it’s not just GameSpot commenters. Whenever anyone says anything critical of the games industry, the mob mentality kicks in and we react, frankly, like spoilt brats. Look at the Anita Sarkeesian incident, look at the backlash against criticism of Tomb Raider’s trailer, look at any videogame controversy you like - you’ll see the same pattern.
We’ve seen similar attitudes here at NZGamer.com, too. A story from 2008 about feminist reaction to the PSN game Fat Princess saw as many comments along the lines of “most feminists are fat anyways. I would have thought they would enjoy seeing their likeness on screen,” and “feminists suck” as there were comments productively discussing the topic at hand. More recently, stories about Saints Row IV and State of Decay elicited comments similar to those above, about games being treated unfairly:
So drug use related to incentives and rewards wouldn't fit into any classification?. Even R40+ wouldn't cut it it seems. Stupid. Movies and TV classified much less have worse.
What a joke, why even have an R18 classification if they are going by the same guidelines they use to classify MA15+ games? I see no point, the ridiculous banning will continue.
Saints Row IV, Now this?! What's next? GTAV? Plants Vs Zombies 2? Come on, really.
It’s time for the gaming community, as a whole, to grow up. We get upset about society not taking us seriously and viewing games as some sort of children’s toy, but then we throw our toys out of the cot and grab our pitchforks at the drop of a hat. If we want to be taken seriously, we need to prove it. We need to be able to have serious, grown-up discussions about issues like this. We need to be able to talk about the place of mature themes like sexual violence in videogames, without throwing a tantrum every time the ESRB, Anita Sarkeesian, or any other person or group tries to start such a discussion.
ESRB’s inclusion of a sexual violence content descriptor is, if anything, a sign that games are being taken seriously. They’re not just a children’s toy, they’re a powerful media force that needs to be treated as such. And how do we respond? By crying foul about persecution and trivialising a serious issue with horrific rape jokes because we’d rather not talk about the issue.
This is important, because videogames are growing, and part of that growth means discussing such complex issues. Games may once have been almost exclusively the domain of the straight, white, middle-class male, but with the game industry’s rapid expansion to rival the film and TV industries, the demographics have similarly grown - and diversified.
This diversification is a good thing, both a symptom and a catalyst of the growth of a medium we love, but it also means there are new issues to be discussed. Problems of racism, sexism, homophobia, sexual violence, ableism, and so on may not register on the radar of the old guard of straight, white, male gamers, but they’re things that will come up and need to be addressed, because games are for everyone.
By refusing to even discuss these issues, we’re trying to shield games from change. We’re telling minorities that they’re not welcome - perhaps not explicitly, but by refusing to acknowledge issues that are of importance to other people.
The thing is, games aren’t unique in this respect. Every entertainment medium goes through these changes, learns to deal with them, and grows as a result. Movies, TV, music, are all subject to classifications, but you don’t see the film or music communities having a collective sulk when something gets a restricted classification, or even when something gets censored or banned. Sure, people may disagree, but aside from some fringe elements, this disagreement takes the form of productive discussion. But for games, the discussion is largely dominated by the written version of people sticking their fingers in their ears and yelling “I’m not listening!”
Of course, this isn’t to say we have to mindlessly agree with every criticism that comes forth, everyone’s entitled to their opinion and everyone’s opinion is valid. But, not all opinions are equal; if you disagree with something the ESRB or anyone else says, say so, but make a case for your perspective. The more thought out and considered your argument, the more weight it will hold in convincing others; this is what having a mature discussion about a complex topic is. Angry, vague ramblings about marginalisation and unfounded comments like “movies don’t get treated like this!” are the bottom rung when it comes to convincing arguments and productive discourse.
“But Matt,” you may say, “I’m not part of that group. You’re lumping me in with a vocal minority, and that’s not fair!” You’re right, it’s not, and I am reasonably confident that it is just that, a vocal minority. But they speak for all of us, as gamers, as long as we let them. When the rest of society looks at the game community, they don’t see the majority of mature, sensible gamers silently disagreeing. They see those who speak the loudest - and when that’s a group of immature, spoilt brats incapable of responding to criticism in any meaningful manner, the whole community gets tarred with the same brush.
Quiet, as shown in Metal Gear Solid V : The Phantom Pain. "The game includes an audio file in which a female character is sexually assaulted by male characters," the ESRB explained when handing down the rare rating. "While there is no visual depiction, sounds of ripped clothing and struggle can be heard." Whether this scene is related to Quiet is, as yet, unknown.
The good news is that we can change this perception - all we have to do is speak up. We all have a voice, and when we, as the mature, sensible majority, use ours to drown out the chorus of immature drivel, the overall image of the gaming community will start to change. Media outlets, too, have an important role to play by moderating comments sections and facilitating mature discourse, but it begins with us, the community at large.
If we want the world to take us seriously and treat us like mature adults, we need to prove that we’re ready for the responsibility.