Grand Theft Auto IV

30 04 2008

Grand Theft Auto hit retail on Tuesday, and is expected to eclipse the launch of Halo 3 last year. reports that was receiving 80 orders per minute on launch day (though it doesn’t specify how long for), and Jason Kingsley of Rebellion has spoken up for Britsoft:

“This is world’s biggest launch in the games market and the intellectual property is actually British made, he explained. “I think that’s fantastic. It should be celebrated.”

Mainstream press coverage has been surprisingly positive, if quite formulaic, with much of it devoting a lot of time to “Other forms of entertainment have sex and violence too”. This is old hat for game developers, but nonetheless a vital part of pushing this conceptual framework out into culture. Plenty of editors and writers, along with their audiences, could still do with having this point hammered home.

NPR have said many of the same things, but it’s by far the most thoughtful piece I’ve seen in this vein.

Edit: Richard Bartle has written a fairly crowing but pragmatically brutal piece for the Guardian:

They’re no more concerned about “moral decay” or “aggressive tendencies” or any of the other euphemisms for “ohmygod I don’t understand this” than you are about soap operas.

We’ve definitely hit a turning point in the cultural dialogue, with so many more things emerging that we can point to as “games”. Fears over videogame violence are soon going to seem as irrelevant and niche as the same fears over comics.

Grand Theft Chldhood Interview

28 03 2008

Laura and Scott with Guns. Yesterday.

I’ve blogged before about Grand Theft Childhood and am still looking forward to my preorder landing, but for now Open Education have an interview with one of the authors:

One very encouraging finding was how sophisticated middle-school boys were in their understanding of violent games. They could enjoy playing bad guys without wanting to be them. As one boy told us, “When I play violent games like (Grand Theft Auto) Vice City, I know it’s a videogame. And I have fun playing it. But I know not to do stuff like that, because I know the consequences that will happen to me if I do that stuff.” We were especially struck by how protective these boys were of younger kids; in fact, their concerns about video game influence were almost identical to those expressed by parents.

(CC image by Merrick Brown)

Grand Theft Childhood?

14 03 2008

Myths and fantasies

It’s a clunky title for a book and, *gasp*, they use comic sans on the website, but this may be some of the most vital research to backup games for a considerable time to come. It will apparently talk about the actual risks of videogames rather than hysterically imagined ones, and about how parents and teachers can manage them.

The Myths section seems quite noteworthy – while nothing there is really new to or not suspected by developers, it presents the information in a way that’s very direct and understandable, making it good for pointing people to:

MYTH: The growth in violent video game sales is linked to the growth in youth violence — especially school violence — throughout the country.

FACT: Video game popularity and real-world youth violence have been moving in opposite directions. Violent juvenile crime in the United States reached a peak in 1993 and has been declining ever since. School violence has also gone down. Between 1994 and 2001, arrests for murder, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assaults fell 44 percent, resulting in the lowest juvenile arrest rate for violent crimes since 1983. Murder arrests, which reached a high of 3,800 in 1993, plummeted to 1400 by 2001.

It also has a chapter on an actual, honest to goodness study of violence and games:

We may be asking the wrong questions, and making the wrong assumptions. For example, instead of looking for a simple, direct relationship between video game violence and violent behavior in all children, we should be asking how we might identify those children who are at greatest risk for being influenced by these games.

Preorders are open on Amazon now.

(via Bruce on Games, Sword in the Stone/Alice in Wonderland image by pingc)

Brown Weighs In On Games

7 09 2007

Starting on Monday, Gordon Brown joined the political discussion of video-games. Here’s a run down of what’s been happening since.

In response to David Cameron’s recent comments on “fighting back” against violence in media, Brown first talked about looking at the effects of violent media, but the comments were first misinterpreted as meaning a ban by the Daily Mirror.

Brown was quick to clarify he “has no interest in censorship”:

“This is not the government telling people what they should do … this is society reaching a conclusion with all those people involved about what are the legitimate boundaries.”

The DCMS also spoke to MCV to clarify the proposed review:

“We already have strict controls for video games but we must investigate what more we can do to stop children seeing inappropriate content. The review and our work with both the industry and public will look at how we can better help parents manage their children’s access to unsuitable games.”

A week on from David Cameron’s manifesto against media violence, I’m quite relieved that everything is getting so tempered. Still, how to get parents to take age ratings on games seriously is a very important question. There’s quite a cheesy suggestion in the comments on that MCV piece, but I can’t help thinking it might have a profound effect:

ALL publishers/developers/stores should get together and for a month give away a pack of [condom]s a pack of cigs and a [porn]o mag with EVERY 18 game. See if that drives home to the dumb parents what an 18 rating means when they look at you like your [sic] satan for handing that lot to their kid along with his game and a polite “If he likes that maybe he’d like these”.

David Cameron: Violent Games = Social Decline

28 08 2007

Mere days after the conservative party voiced support for the games industry, David Cameron is banging the social decline drum. Rather predictably, video games are being dragged into it:

“Today’s document sets out our view on popular culture – that the companies which make music videos, films and computer games have a social responsibility not to promote casual violence, the gang culture and the degradation of women,”

It’s being widely reported that he “wants to ban violent games”, but to be fair, he’s not actually singling them out.

Crytek Respond to Proposed Legislation

23 08 2007

This is an interesting counterpoint to the earlier post about Leipzig trying to tempt studios away from the UK. German developer Crytek, in response to proposed German laws on violent games, have said they would relocate to a different country if they were passed:

The largest German video games developer Crytek is threatening to move abroad if production of so-called killer games is banned. “We would leave Germany”, said company founder Avni Yerli to Welt online before the start of the branch trade show Games Convention in Leipzig

He carries on:

“Budapest is a lovely city. We already have a branch office there”, explained Yerli. In addition, they have been regularly approached by the ministries of economics of other countries. “Especially England, Scotland, Austria and Singapore are very active.”

Conditioned Violence?

13 08 2007

Hot Milky Drink is a blog, mostly, about games and education, run by Derek Robertson. This post is a fairly typical worry about games:

I appreciate that the game is a 16+ and that it is aimed at young and older adults and that in general people are not stupid but…I can’t help feeling that games such as these can help construct an implicit acceptance of an ideology that says I’m bigger and stronger than you so I’ll kill your family and rape your daughter, tie you up and lock you up without charge and and steal all your wealth.

It does, however, raise a very important question for anyone extolling the pluses of simulation and games for teaching: How do games affect us? On the one hand, certain viewpoints are saying that violence in games has no effect on people, but on the other, people behind educational games are saying they can have a very profound impact on users.

The post doesn’t offer an answer. Is the distinction that between acquiring knowledge and skills, contrasted with effects on our motivations? I’m not sure, but I suspect while a game can convey knowledge and mental skills, it can only work with the motives that are already there.

One of the commenters mentions Grossman, though as ever when he’s cited, no distinction is made between the ability to kill and the desire to, nor any mention of other techniques used to back up training with human shaped targets, nor that soldiers will still suffer nervous breakdowns and PTSD after too much exposure to combat. We are far more than our conditioned reptilian reflexes.

I get the feeling that very few people on either side of the debate are being completely fair to the views they oppose.

There is also this interesting chunk in the comments:

afterwards one attendee told me of his dilemma when his boy asked if he could have a war game (it may have been Call of Duty, I’m not 100% sure), a game which the parent felt uncomfortable about. However he agreed on the condition that they also studied the events of the game in a wider context, bringing in books and dramas and so on, so that the game content could be experienced in a greater context.

The less context a piece of media puts around mature content, the less mature that piece of media is. Hence age restrictions: Older humans supposedly have greater ability to contextualise for themselves. So the idea seems to go.

Rockstar Respond to BBFC

20 06 2007

Rockstar have issued some rather restrained objections to the BBFC’s decision to refuse Manhunt 2 a rating:

“We believe all products should be rated to allow the public to make informed choices about the media and art they wish to consume. The stories in modern video games are as diverse as the stories in books, film and television. The adult consumers who would play this game fully understand that it is fictional interactive entertainment and nothing more.”

“There is no such thing as media violence”

27 04 2007

Henry Jenkins has penned a thoughtful and, as ever, verbose piece on media violence. Excerpt:

So, let me start with an intentionally provocative statement. There is no such thing as media violence — at least not in the ways that we are used to talking about it — as something which can be easily identified, counted, and studied in the laboratory. Media violence is not something that exists outside of a specific cultural and social context. It is not one thing which we can simply eliminate from art and popular culture. It’s not a problem we can make go away. Our culture tells lots of different stories about violence for lots of different reasons for lots of different audiences in lots of different contexts. We need to stop talking about media violence in the abstract and start talking about it in much more particularized terms.

Otherwise, we end up looking pretty silly. So, for example, a study endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that 100 percent of feature length cartoons released in America between 1937 and 1999 contained images of violence. Here, we see the tendency to quantify media violence taken to its logical extreme. For this statement to be true, violence has to be defined here so broadly that it would include everything from the poison apple in Snow White to the hunter who shoots Bambi’s mother, from Captain Hook’s hook to the cobra that threatens to crush Mowgali in The Jungle Book and that’s just to stick with the Disney canon. The definition must include not only physical violence but threats of violence, implied violence, and psychological/emotional violence. Indeed, if we start from a definition that broad, we would need to eliminate conflict from our drama altogether in order to shut down the flow of media violence into our culture. Perhaps this is reason enough not to put pediatricians in charge of our national cultural policy anytime soon. Certainly few of us would imagined our culture improved if these films were stripped of their “violent” content or barred from exhibition.

BBFC report on violence and videogames

17 04 2007

The British Board of Film Classification has published a report about game players’ habits and game effects, throwing up some interesting points concerning game violence and the negative effects of press coverage.

The report is based on qualitative research carried out on gamers ranging from children as young as seven through to players in their early 40s, as well as parents of young players and industry representatives.

The following is a breakdown of the key findings.

1. While children are beginning to play games at an increasingly early age, the overall age of games players is getting older.

2. There is a marked difference in male and female game tastes, with males preferring shooters and sports titles, and females generally opting for life simulation and puzzle games.

3. Male players are much more inclined to play for lengthened periods.

4. Negative press coverage has an adverse effect, with titles portrayed negatively often proving highly popular.

5. Younger gamers’ choice of games is influenced by peer pressure and word of mouth.

6. People view game playing as a risk-free means of escapism and feel in control of game experiences as opposed to real life.

7. Game playing is active and brings about feelings of achievement as opposed to passive forms of entertainment such as TV and film. Gamers are driven by achievement but are unlikely to become emotionally involved. They care more about progress than elements such as storytelling.

8. The interactive nature of game playing means players are less likely to forget they are playing a game than they would be to forget they are watching a film or TV show.

9. Gamers suggest game playing is mentally stimulating and a good way of improving hand-eye coordination.

10. Violence in games creates tension, challenges and a sense of vulnerability in players – gamers tend to focus on preventing harm to their character rather than inflicting harm on other characters. While there is an appeal associated with being able to inflict violent acts without fear of reprisal, gamers know that they are playing games and don’t misconstrue the act as real life.

The vast majority of gamers reject the notion that video games encourage people to be violent in real life or that they have become desensitised to violent acts.

Most gamers are not overly concerned about violence in games because they view TV and film violence as more realistic and disturbing, although they are aware that game violence, particularly in adult rated titles, can upset younger players.

While non-games playing parents are surprised at the violence portrayed in games, they are not overly concerned that it will negatively affect their children. Parents agree that games regulation is important but some also said they were happy to give children adult games because they weren’t real.

11. Non-games playing parents would prefer children to pursue outdoor activities as opposed to spending prolonged periods playing games. They are particularly concerned about young boys. These parents are however more worried about the threats associated with internet chat rooms.

David Cooke, Director of the BBFC said, “There is no question that video games are an important form of entertainment for an ever increasing number of people. As the technology improves the games will become more and more realistic and it is important that games are properly rated to protect younger players from the games with adult content, which the BBFC does.

“This research provides some valuable insights into why people play video games and what effect they think playing has on themselves and friends. It has also highlighted parental attitudes to video games. We hope that it will provide some food for thought for the industry, and everyone who has an interest in the impact of games and we will be taking the research outcomes into account as we review our games classification policies over the coming months.”