Last time – far longer ago than intended – I discussed the wholly abhorrent ‘game’ Ethnic Cleansing. It was a case of hitting hard with the first release, and it will be hard to ever look at something as horrific. That doesn’t mean that there are not other aspects of gaming that trouble me, and today I am looking at mature games for the Wii, specifically The Godfather and Manhunt 2.
Now, this is an article that I’ve ran over and over in my mind for weeks. It’s a divisive issue in my mind, let alone in the wider world of gaming. The Nintendo Wii has every right to have games aimed at a mature market, and I count MadWorld among my favourite games on the platform. This article isn’t about games that are mature in content, but instead it is looking at the grey area surrounding the use of motion controllers in a violent game. With MadWorld the control scheme was fairly standard fare and was coupled with enough knowing commentary and over the top set pieces that for no moment were you sucked into a real world situation. Manhunt 2 and The Godfather do not sit in this area.
The key difference with these two games – and a few other less notable titles – is that you are actively encouraged to enact the violent gestures yourself. There is a huge chasm between pushing ‘A’ to execute a foe and slicing the Wii Remote across the air to slit a throat. The level of immersion can – and is – increased. Now I am not one for censorship and I feel that mature games aimed at a mature audience have every right to exist, but the Wii is a platform that is unlike (or at least was more so) and other, offering the chance to enact the events on screen in a more real world scenario. Golf games are played with a more realistic manner and as such are often quite popular with people wanting more of an experience that is comparable to the real activity. When it then comes to more violent fare utilising this aspect of the console’s DNA, then it concerns me.
Much has been written about the effects of violent video games and I’m not going to delve into that minefield, but one over-riding aspect of all of the research that has been compiled has always struck true with me. The Bleed Effect. I’ve discussed this before, but there are plenty of times when as a game, I see aspects of gaming in my real life. Be it a building that I could climb (after playing Assassin’s Creed) or just answering the phone in a gruff voice (after playing Arkham Asylum). The best games are immersive experiences, just as we want them to be, but that immersion can in the case of a fragile mindset have a very heavy affect.
Secondly you have to consider the key demographic that the Wii is expected to cater for. It is primarily – and rightly so – a family focused console. From it’s inception it was always focused on opening up the world of gaming to all with naturalistic controls and accessible game play. Coupled with Nintendo’s stable of franchises it is easy to see how the console was a huge success and found it’s way into the bedrooms and lounges of many families across the globe. With that in mind we then have to consider responsible parenting. A subject that I have plenty to say about, the ratings and responsibility problems facing the gaming world are widespread. Too many parents still see games as entertainment and ignore ratings or content warnings. These games will always find their way into the hands of kids and you have to wonder what affect the physical actions of committing very violent acts would have on a younger mind.
Now I’m not coming at this from a holier than thou stand point, but I see the effects of video games on small kids all the time. I work with a local school and I often hear five and six year olds talking about Call of Duty and Gears of War. They play them regularly and gleefully describe the violent acts. I’ve observed them playing ‘Cod’ in the playground at times too. It’s not unhealthy, kids will always pick up and emulate things they’ve seen and played (remember this farce?) and it’s very good for them. Interaction of any kind is great, but there has been a notable rise in the emulation of more violent action. Some teachers have noted (not at my school) kids crashing their plastic Smoby cars into each other/walls and throwing themselves out through the windows, while other have noticed a lot of pictures being drawn with very gory imagery. There is a huge difference between protecting kids from content that can disturb and discouraging play, but with the Wii the line is harder to define.
Now obviously no kids should be playing mature games. That’s a given, but they do and they will play games that not just allow them to play a violent game, but enact the violent acts for themselves. Aggressive gestures and immersive game play have more of an affect on the mind than a simple push button to kill title – although both shouldn’t be experienced by young kids regardless. But it also has an affect on it’s target market, the mature core gamer.
We as gamers want to be immersed in a world, and the best of games manage this despite the controller being the barrier between you and the act. When it came to playing Manhunt 2 on the Wii I was somewhat taken aback by the primal urge that found it’s way out as I played. I’ve played Manhunt 2 before – on the PSP – and when playing that, the most disturbing element was the soundtrack, and that was a result of playing with the headphones on. I was immersed in the audio of the game in a way that I wouldn’t have been otherwise, and it got to me. The same result came when acting out violent acts with the Wii’s trademark motion control scheme. It made me feel aggressive and angry, I found my attacks becoming more focal and violent. I didn’t get that feeling with the PSP version, it could only have been a result of the immersive nature of the control scheme. Similarly The Godfather was far more aggressive than it’s 360 based brother (God son?).
So what did I learn actually playing them myself? Well in short it was more violent and primal than many other games that have contained more guttural violence by design. I didn’t feel as aggressive while playing Condemned: Criminal Origins, Kane and Lynch 2 or Left 4 Dead. But is that a good thing? Does this show that the traditional gamepad has provided me with a distance from the game to the point that I am desensitised to it? Does the fact that I am shocked by the primal nature of motion controls simply suggest that I’ve got used to hyper violence in gaming, and it’s taken this element to shock me? Am I faulty? Are we faulty?
I’ll let you think about that one.