Press-Telegram: Get sensible about relying on senseless violence

BLOOD! MAYHEM! Chaos! Please. That is so current generation. Today, gamers are better than that.
Before the video game industry makes that leap into the next generation, it needs to leave behind the concept of mindless violence. It's no longer new to gamers, and in times where hurricane victims get looted and little girls get shot at home, it doesn't need to be explored anymore.

Games have evolved into an art form, and in art, plot and story have more value than the body count. There's also money to be made, and games that make extreme violence the only focus just don't make enough of it. If anything, they give more ammo to lawmakers itching to take their shot at the billion-dollar industry.

If you're looking for an example of brainless violence, check out "Jaws Unleashed," which puts you in the role of the Great White shark, giving you the chance to tear swimmers limb from limb and watch the bloody pieces float to the surface. About 10 years ago, that would have been groundbreaking. Now it's just annoying.

Storytelling, innovation and character development rule today's entertainment landscape, while blood and violence have further become part of the background. Sure, you can find excessive gore in a Quentin Tarantino movie, but you'll also find plenty of riveting dialogue and nifty story elements — this is why people end up quoting his movies and not gushing about the bloodshed. They would be missing the point.

Contrary to what critics say, games have followed suit. Titles like "Metal Gear Solid," "Katamari Damacy" and "God of War" have earned the industry its art and innovation stripes. Lesser-known works such as "Indigo Prophecy" and "Beyond Good & Evil" have shown people that film isn't the only place to find a good story.

But like movies, today's games have become big-budget productions, complete with cinematics, orchestral musical scores and professional actors — including a few Oscar winners — doing voice work. Even Hollywood directors such as Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson have joined in. Jackson, who got hooked on "Beyond Good & Evil," helped with the creation of the "King Kong" game from Ubisoft, while Spielberg is working with Electronic Arts.

You can probably bet that Spielberg, who directed the movie "Jaws," wouldn't have you chewing some guy's leg off just for fun.

Also entering into the picture is video gaming's status as a multibillion-dollar industry. Much of that status was built on bloody games like "Mortal Kombat" and "Doom," but today, it's different. This time, the bottom line doesn't really have much blood on it, because not as many people are buying it anymore. In some ways, gaming is going upscale. If Sony is going to ask me to spend $700 on a system, it better not be for the chance to blow away some store clerk.

In the Entertainment Software Association's 2006 edition of "Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry," there's a list of the top 20 selling games of '05. Sitting at the top is "Madden 06." Go down the list, and you don't hit anything gory until "God of War" at No. 12, and I haven't heard any minotaurs in an uproar over what Kratos does to them.

As for the game that everyone goes nuts about in terms of the violence issue, "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas"? It checks in at No. 17, behind a slew of sports and racing games. "Lego Star Wars" is eight spots ahead of it.

Unfortunately, game companies noticed the success of "GTA," but instead of following Rockstar's example of impeccable design, they focused on the violence. What followed was a raid of sorry ripoffs such as "Narc," "State of Emergency," and my personal favorite, "25 to Life."

"I think there were a lot of companies that wanted to make something like 'GTA," and never even made it to market," said Eric Elder, head of the game art and design program at the Art Institute of California — Los Angeles. "And those that did, they just — bombed."

Not in the eyes of lawmakers who have the game industry in their sights, many of whom don't know pixels from pixie sticks. Forget the well-written story or open-world design concepts that "GTA" brought to the table — violence has been, and always will be, a politico's focus.

"I think people missed the boat in terms of how good a game GTA actually was," Elder said. "All they talked about was the violence, and the people that make a big fuss about it don't play games."

This is where game companies need to step up. Regardless of quality, every idiotically violent, "dude, I farted" game that comes out will be another bullet a legislator can use on the campaign trail to give the industry the Big Tobacco treatment. I didn't even know "Narc" was out until I saw some guy frothing at the mouth about it on CNN. Same with "25 to Life."

The game industry knows it's above playing the violence card. Most of the big hits at E3 were creature builders like "Spore," or the innovative Wii from Nintendo. Even "Gears of War," the game with the chainsaw at the end of the rifle, earned points for its gameplay and design. People got excited about a game with living pinatas in it.

And no, you can't kill them.

So if there are still any unfinished projects that want me to "unleash my inner thug" or "wreak complete havoc" on the innocent, please, I beg you, scrap them. I'm not going to buy it, and there's a good chance no one else will either.

Autor: Redmond Carolipio

Press-Telegram: Get sensible about relying on senseless violence Thursday, June 01, 2006

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