Taking the moral high ground: walkthrough, FAQ, and cheat codes

In 2291, in an attempt to control violence among deep space miners, the new earth government legalised no-holds-barred fighting.

In 2007, in an attempt to control controversy among computer game developers, John of INX Gaming wrote a walkthrough and FAQ about taking the moral high ground in games development, which led to no-holds-barred fighting. It went:

1. Violence must have context.

“IFCO recognises that in certain films, DVDs and video games, strong graphic violence may be a justifiable element within the overall context of the work. However, in the case of Manhunt 2, IFCO believes that there is no such context, and the level of gross, unrelenting and gratuitous violence is unacceptable.” The Ireland Film Censors Office banned its first ever game, swayed by the fact that being able to mutilate someone’s genitals for entertainment is difficult to condone. It’s all too easy to say “well, that’s just IFCO, who cares?” Well, the censors in Great Britain and Italy threw their mega-weight behind the ban as well. More importantly, Sony (more on them later) and Nintendo made their agreement clear by refusing to publish the game on either of their consoles (source). So it would seem that Rockstar made some Wii and PS3 programmers waste a lot of time coding a game that cannot (reasonably) be published.

Nice one.

2. Ask permission to use art assets

Using real-world art assets in a game is a standard development procedure because it generally leads to a far more immersive result far quicker than producing your own would do. But choose wisely, otherwise your game assets might go down as well with some non-gamers as well as superfluous torture goes down with IFCO. Specifically, families of murder victims who have photographs of their child’s abduction used in games without consent (source). In this case the developer, Legacy Interactive, apologised immediately and removed the picture from future copies of the game (release five years ago). Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and their subsequent correction of the error of judgement makes it difficult to condemn them.

Now we come onto a much more publicised and much more contentious issue: cathedrals in FPSs. Generally people’s view on this is dictated by their view on religion and their views on the company in general, because that is how people work. Cathedrals are public iconic spaces which makes them ironically ideal for a place of respect, worship and retreat to a lot of people and a perfect setting to an FPS about the end of civilisation as we know it for others. Without getting onto a rant on Christianity’s or Sony’s ethics, it’s fairly obvious that people who hold certain places with sacred reverence are people that are going to get annoyed if you use that place for something that is out of place there by its very nature. For example, imagine if your grandma’s house was used as a setting for a game where the aim is to beat up old people. You may not mind, but chances are you (and your grandma) will.

Sony have (as of the time of writing) apologised but not offered to change the game, and haven’t offered any money to Manchester Cathedral’s youth group. It’s difficult not to make a mental comparison between their apology and Legacy Interactive’s which leaves LE’s looking decidedly more sincere. For one thing it came quickly. For another they attempted reparations.

3. Realise why this is important

Someone at the latest GDC (I can’t remember who at the time of writing, but it impressed me which is why I quote it – if you know please email me!) said that games development is in its early years, and it’s up to us as the current generation of developers and consumers to remember that “it’s ours to make good, and it’s ours to f*** up”. Developers pushing the boundaries are a sort of teething (as painful as it is for the programmers at Rockstar who had their work effectively cut), and people getting irate about their space being used are another, but essentially we have to make sure that we act responsibly.

Anyone who claims that it’s not possible to produce a game that doesn’t offend anyone is right as long as there’s Jack Thompson in the world. But it is important for us as developers and consumers to take some responsibility for our products and the offence they cause.

And a bit of moral high ground with it.

- John

Play nice. ;)

About John

INX's resident professional games designer!
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