Rockstar Hits the Rocks

by alphamonkey on June 21, 2007 · 46 comments

in Uncategorized

If you follow gaming news, you’re probably aware that Take Two Interactive and Rockstar Games‘ latest game Manhunt 2 has now been banned for sale in two countries, and slapped with an AO (Adults Only) rating in the US.  Seeing as both Sony and Nintendo have long-standing policies of not allowing code license or play of AO rated games on their system, this effectively forces Take Two to either drastically modify the game (which certainly means missing the July 10th launch date) or shelving the game completely (and thereby eating what was probably a 10-20 million dollar development).

This has split the hardcore gaming community into the opposing camps of ‘OMGZ this is teh censorship!!!1’ and those who wonder in fact the rating might actually be justified.  Personally I wonder what exactly Rockstar expected would happen over a brutally sadistic game that reportedly includes scenes of rape and necrophilia in addition to it’s beyond gruesome gameplay?  At issue (according to most reports) is both the game content and (in the Wii version’s case) the game mechanics itself.  By utilizing the Wii’s unique control system, players literally act out the killings with sawing, smashing, cutting, and pounding motions.  Fun stuff, huh?  And certainly something you could maybe get Grandma to play after a few rounds of Wii Bowling. 

I played the first Manhunt for all of 10 minutes before returning it to the friend I’d borrowed it from and then spending the rest of the day feeling like I needed a shower.  It was like the gaming equivalent of watching ’Irréversible‘, I’m not exactly in the audience that Manhunt 2 is courting.  I certainly wasn’t converted after reading this preview of the game.  Indeed, while I really admire the Grand Theft Auto series’ dedication to gameplay immersion and the freedom to simply wander a city, what I deeply resent is the idea that, as a player, I have to make amoral choices to propel the game along.  (I had the same problem with the last few Tony Hawk games and Ultimate Spider-Man) I certainly don’t begrudge anyone who feels differently (as they are legion); I just don’t dig it myself.

Of course, Rockstar is now defending Manhunt 2 as ‘art’ by saying “It brings a unique, formerly unheard of cinematic quality to interactive entertainment, and is also a fine piece of art.” Good luck with that defense!

Personally I see this as the logical result of Rockstar’s long-standing policy of pushing the envelope on acceptable content in gaming, but I’d be curious to get reactions from those of you who might have purchased this game. 

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  • LupineFresh

    Almost everyone I know who played the first Manhunt got bored with it rather quickly.  There’s only so much the average person can get out of the joy of gruesome killings.  The reason GTA is so successful is because there’s a lot more there than just pushing the envelope of gore/violence.

    I suspect it’s those who didn’t get bored who may have been the sorts of people who shouldn’t be toying with such things. 

    The only reason I was interested is playing Manhunt 2, is simply because of the control the Wii would provide and there was a certain novelty in actually doing the act with one’s own “hands” (which, if we wanted to wax navelly, brings one to question further ALL games, but that’s neither here nor there.)

    It does bother me that as a fully capable adult with an ability to discern reality and fantasy, I won’t be allowed to make my own choice because some parents didn’t shield their children well enough, but, meh, I’d probably have gotten bored of this one fairly quickly as well.

  • .alphamonkey.

    Well, to be fair I think the blame lay more squarely with SCE and Nintendo’s longstanding policy of not allowing license to AO rated games (which makes sense, seeing as ‘Hey, it plays porno games!’ isn’t exactly the kind of selling point either company wishes to have out there.

  • LupineFresh

    As per this point:

    Probably yes.  However, what we have here is not necessarily a failure to communicate but the growing pains of an Industry trying to define itself.  There are guys still at the helm of these things that view the consoles as Kid’s toys still.  Yes, of course, there’s still a market for Kid based ephemera or what have you, but we now have a situation where a majority of the growing consumer base does not remember a time before there was a widely available Electronic Entertainment System (from a privileged middle-class and up perspective mind you; lord knows we were too poor to own a 2600, but man did I want one.)

    As such, the general perception of people over a certain age (with exceptions obviously), is that these are kids toys and whether or not they realize the depth of the market it still creates a certain connection between how they view the media created for these devices and their feelings therein.

    Thus, part of Sony or Nintendo’s urge to not be seen as a “Porn Console” is based upon this foundation.  I’m not saying that without it they’d be the… I dunno… Hustler or SWANK! of the console world, but from a historical perspective it flavors the debate.

    In a decade or two, assuming we’re not all taken out by a meteor or some giant space beast made of hatred and tentacles (man oh man I hope so!), I suspect the debate’s going to be a LOT different, and not just because of technological or societal standards leaps and bounds either.

    Sorry to ramble.  I’ll go back to lurking.

  • elkciN

    I didn’t have any play time with the first game, but a friend of mine loves it, and gives the reason that the game was supposed to make you feel uneasy. Basically, as you progressed through the game, you realized that you didn’t really have to kill everyone, but the announcer guy made you do it anyway. Like, it was engineered to be horrible, and somewhat a parody on reality television/The Running Man. From what I understand, though, the first game wasn’t about glorifying the killing, rather quite the opposite.

    I think the ramifications of this would’ve possibly been even worse on the wii, when you would have to make the motions of doing all the horrible things that you’re doing. I think alot of people are looking at this the wrong way, but of course, I haven’t played much of the first game, let alone Manhunt 2.

    In any case, most every game out there is about ‘killing’ people, just most of them don’t force you to see the results of your actions, or to experience any consequences. Plus, you know, pretty new graphics make everything a bit more realistic.

    I was pretty ‘meh’ on the game, really, but I read some previews, and it actually sounded pretty good, killing aside. NGamer had a pretty shining review of it, anyway.

  • elkciN

    That was a bit rambly, but my point was that the first game (apparently) was soley intended TO force you to make amoral decisions, and to be the bad guy, just to heighten that sense of guilt. Like I said, my friend loves the game, and he freely admits that by the time he gets to the end of it, he’s just drained.

  • elkciN

    My thoughts on this abound. Putting aside the whole free speech issue, and the fact that people like Jack Thompson would love for every murderer to get off of their charges by saying ‘a game made me do it’, I think it’s an interesting avenue, really. I mean, sure there are movies that force you to watch an evil person, and cope with the ramifications of their actions, but none that make you BE that evil person.

    I’m not trying to defend Manhunt, or anything, I just think the idea is an interesting one. I’ve actually heard good things about the sequel, as far as the actual ‘game’ goes, so I might check out the M-rated version after Rockstar pares it down a bit. I could just be making up my own happy little story, and maybe the game is just about ‘oh wow, look how I slit that guy’s throat’, but from everyone who’s played the first game, or had experience with the second, that’s not what I’m hearing.

  • aaron b

    I think that the outright censorship of the game in England and the AO rating that is tantamount to censorship hear are quite dangerous to the game industry as a whole.  While many people might be quick to say that it is Sony or Nintendo’s fault for not allowing AO games to be shipped for their console it would be naive to think that the ESRB didn’t know the ramifications of their actions when they gave the game an AO.  This is not to let Sony or Nintendo off the hook, I still think their “long standing decision” is ridiculous, especially for Sony and their more mature target audience.  It would be similar to DVD player manufactures not allowing NC-17 and Unrated films to be viewed on their product because they didn’t want to offend anyone’s family values.  Furthermore, this form of subtle censorship, by assigning extreme ratings, is not new.  The film industry and the MPAA have used similar methods with their NC-17 rating.  While it isn’t technically censorship and the rating system is entirely voluntary, any decision to release a movie with an NC-17 rating or no rating at all has immediate negative consequences.  Movies that are released with NC-17 ratings won’t get a budget for advertising and will only receive limited play in a small number of theaters.  This forces artists to change their vision in order to keep producers and film companies happy.  Similarly, Rockstar will have to change its game now, against their will, because of a voluntary rating system.  As far as the merits of the game are concerned, that issue is really neither here nor their.  No creative work should be censored, explicitly or implicitly by a market driven system.  That said, I think that Rockstar and their products are juvenile and should not be heralded as anything other than immature attempts at recreating what other artistic mediums have already covered so well (For instance crime drama).  It was inexcusable for Rockstar to push the envelope so far now, when anti-game sentiment is so high and we have a generation of people passing legislation concerning video game violence who have no true understanding of the medium whatsoever.  Rockstar has endangered true artistic expression in the medium by pandering to our basest desires and needlessly pushing the envelope to bolster their sales.  If this goes through, and they are forced to rework their game, it could have a damaging effect on the medium as a whole, who already, in major productions, shies away form mature content in games so that they can circumvent all of the harsher legislation concerning M rated games.  The more developers like Rockstar push these people the more they will push back, and their actions could potentially have long term ramifications for the entire medium and the true works of art it hopefully will someday produce.

  • .alphamonkey.

    Alright, I’m going to say something that is going to piss someone off, but bear with me.

    Videogames are only art in the broadest sense of the word.  An individual game is not, should not, and can not, for a number of reasons, be considered an actual work of art.

    Deep breaths.  Still with me?

    Here’s my reasoning:  Calling a videogame a piece of art is akin to calling the original Pirates of the Caribbean ride an adventure.  In both cases, the player/rider NEVER leaves the rails that have been laid down by the creator, and you’re unable to experience anything outside of where those rails take you.

    Or to put it another way, can you imagine a painting in which the artist actually controls every single eye movement you make when viewing it? At no point are you free to step back, step closer, or otherwise take in anything beyond what the creator wants to see at that moment.

    Even in games like GTA, Elder Scrolls Oblivion, or WoW you simply may not deviate from the path that is defined by the program.  Sure you have choices, but they are false choices that serve only to propel the experience along, be it missions, diversions, or (in the case of GTA) hooker beatings.

    For that reason, I simply cannot call videogames art.  Even though there are many games I would consider artistically done (Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, etc.), there is no such thing as a game that lets the player determine how information is processed (let alone one that lets players make their own subjective judgment).  A painting does not tell you where to look, a song does not tell you want to feel, and a novel does not force your conclusions.  A video game does all those things, and for that reason they can never be art.

    The fact that Rockstar wants to call their murder simulator a work of art is in and of itself laughably naive and stupid both for the reasons I’ve stated in this comment and for sheer simple decency.

    In the case of Rockstar, they’ve proven time and time again that they are a one-trick pony.  Sure, they dress that pony up, but the only thing they’ve figured out how to change is the level of brutality and immorality they include in each subsequent release.  Even Bully is just prep school version of GTA, and if Manhunt 2 is the best they can come up with using their developing prowess, they abso-fucking-lutely deserve the shitstorm they’re bringing upon themselves, let alone the industry. 

  • LupineFresh

    You have a bit of a point, however, the thing you are missing is that literature is also an “art”, and it has a set structure from which you cannot deviate (not counting choose-your-own adventure books, though those offer the same “False Choices” of which you speak).

    Does this mean the reader is a blind follower left to walk away with nothing but what presented?  (Okay maybe if they’re reading Tom Clancy, fair enough.) Nope, you still make interpretations.  If nothing else, there are certain games which have, I would argue, an artistic sense of scope in the story they’re telling.  (Grim Fandango comes to mind.)

    Once again, this is going to be a question of semantics until we both disappear up our own “Sacred Recta”, but that’s how these discussions generally go anyway.

  • .alphamonkey.

    You’ll note I address literature in my point.  Sure, you read a book from page 1 to page whatever, but the author cannot force you to interpret it in any set way.  Much of a book is entirely and completely subjective from person to person (it has to be, as the ‘action’ occurs only in your head) ergo it is art. 

    I state quite clearly that I believe a game is capable of artistic merit (I’ll wholeheartedly second the wonders of Grim Fandango), but the genre itself is set up to simply not function as art, per se.

    And you’re right: This can easily devolve into a semantical discussion, which I’d rather avoid.  You can thank Rockstar’s publicist for introducing the ‘art’ part of the discussion.

  • Your Good Twin

    I think the basis for your argument is patently ridiculous, and I’m amazed you didn’t realize it as you wrote it.  You claim video games can’t be art because the creator controls your hand through false choices that ultimately lead you to a decided end.  This is completely silly when you compare it to generally accepted ‘art’ such as paintings, music, and movies.  Each of these other mediums COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY decide where you are going.  You may be able to come up with your own opinions on the subject matter as you view/listen, but, and especially with music and movies, you are being delivered very specific images and sounds with no choice such as telling an actor to go into a different room or telling a pianist to play an octave higher.

    Video games, meanwhile, are the main (and almost only) medium currently that actually allows the consumer to control multiple aspects of what is going on.  In fact, you HAVE to interact.  When you start a game, nothing is going to happen until the player MAKES it happen.

    Most humorously, you say “At no point are you free to step back, step closer, or otherwise take in anything beyond what the creator wants to see at that moment.” Alpha, have you even played a game recently?  Stepping back, stepping closer, or roaming for side experiences is literally EXACTLY what most games give players these days!

    As best I can tell from your argument, video games aren’t art because they give too much information.  Because video games aren’t foggy enough (except for ones like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, as you mentioned), the conclusions are obvious and therefore there is no art to be found.

    I didn’t really have anything else to comment on this discussion as I’ve been hearing it a lot lately, but I felt I really had to reply to this as it completely befuddled me.  Your opinion on video games not being art may have merit, but your explanation sounds like the Introduction to the Opposites.

  • aaron b

    Well put.

  • .alphamonkey.

    As I stated originally, I was fully aware my position was going to piss people off.  I simply do not agree that the arrangement of sentences, frames, and music equate a tangible hand of the creator like a game does.  At no point in a book, film, painting, or musical arrangement is there EVER a ‘you must do this to experience X’ moment.  You may not see a difference there, but I certainly do.

    And you’re probably right, YGT.  I should have begun my point with the idea that, because videogames have an overriding purpose other than to just exist, they must first be seen as a commercial venture and product, not art.  Music serves no practical purpose (it can, but by and large does not). Paintings have no practical application. The arranging of words and sentences in a novel have no purpose but to serve the novel.  See my point?

    A car can be artistically designed and built, but the end result isn’t art. It’s a car. It has a purpose beyond simply being.

    Very simply, I have yet to play a game that I would consider a work of art in and of itself. There are artistic elements, and artistically created moments, but one you introduce a defined goal that definition is simply destroyed for me.

    Now something like Second Life, which is most certainly NOT a game (even though you can play games within it), is closer to art.  Same with the non-game Cloud .

  • aaron b

    I agree with LupineFresh.  And you’re definition of art seems to be pulled straight out of the blue.  Every single piece of narrative considered art is completely controlled by its author, including books, film etc.  If you think that a film or painting is more artistic because you can choose what part of the screen\painting you look at I don’t really know what to say to you.  As far as saying that music doesn’t tell you how to fell neither do games, at least anymore than any other narrative driven medium.  Also, you’re judging an entire medium in its infancy, which would be like judging literature by Beowulf or paintings by the earliest cave drawings we have found.  Video games are an evolving medium that should not be limited by their more adolescent creators.  I don’t disagree that Rockstar sucks but their merit doesn’t have much to do with the conversation about censorship and it definitely has nothing to do with a conversation about whether or not games are art.  Romance novels and trashy slasher films suck too but they don’t detract from our ability to recognize that literature and film are artistic expressions.  I agree that Rockstar deserves the “shitstorm” they’ve created but they don’t deserve to be censored and their actions should not harm an industry at large.

  • .alphamonkey.

    I hate to be the one to tell you this, but there is no shortage of gaming and tech industry types who actually agree with that definition of art, and agree that videogames by their very design cannot be art. 

    Now something like Line Rider? That gets closer. Even though it has set parameters on what you can and cannot do, there is no ‘goal’.  There is no conclusion to be defined by a creator.  It’s also not really a game, but more of a doodad. 

    And I actually think the videogame industry is due for some serious harm. In fact, I think that’d be good for the industry. It’s a stagnant and unchanging genre that’s traded gameplay and innovation for shinier graphics and rumble packs.

    I hesitate to consider any industry that’s approaching 40 years old as ‘in its infancy’ in this day and age, especially a tech-centered one.  Every other tech based industry and genre has grown in leaps and bounds over the last 40 years.  Why is gaming still dependent on crates and headshots?  With applications and programs, each new generation doesn’t stop with just making things a little shinier, so why do we settle for that with games?

    The Wii looks to be changing that for the better, but look how few really innovative games are coming out of the big production houses.  The heavy hitters rely on franchises and standbys (with development costs so high on next-gen systems, they HAVE to deliver a blockbuster at least twice a year), while stuff like Katamari Damacy, Elebits, etc. etc. get no promotion, no enthusiasm, and next to no futher innovation.

    That’s the sign of an industry that needs a kick in the pants.  And if takes Rockstar getting knocked down a few pegs for that to start happening, I’m all for it.

    As for Rockstar being censored well, the UK has very very different laws about that.  Considering that Rockstar started in the UK, you’d think they’d be more in tune to what was and wasn’t acceptable. Just the same, I can’t fault Sony or Nintendo refusing to carry it with AO rating.  After all, do you think Sony or Nintendo should HAVE to license a game about rape?  Should they be forced to put their own financial health on the line so that someone’s ‘artistic’ game about beating kittens and puppies with hammers can see the light of day?  Should it be alright to make a ‘Halloween’ game where you start out as a 10 year old boy stabbing your sister to death?

    Where does that line end?  At what point is it okay for a culture to say ‘no’? Something like Manhunt 2 is pornography in a literal sense. It’s designed to titilate and stimulate with no artistic merit (or do you think there’s really some deep moral story hidden in there?). 

    These situations are tricky, as they open the door to so many other things.  It’s a bit like tolerating intolerance for the sake of freedom.  It may be the correct choice, but that doesn’t make it the right one.

  • .alphamonkey.

    By the way, regarding a definition of art:

    Something is not generally considered “art” when it stimulates only the senses, or only the mind, or when it has a different primary purpose than doing so. However, some contemporary art challenges this idea.

    As such, something can be deemed art in totality, or as an element of some object. For example, a painting may be a pure art, while a chair, though designed to be sat in, may include artistic elements. Art that has less functional value or intention may be referred to as fine art, while objects of artistic merit which serve a functional purpose may be referred to as craft.

    Paradoxically, an object may be characterized by the intentions (or lack thereof) of its creator, regardless of its apparent purpose; a cup (which ostensibly can be used as a container) may be considered art if intended solely as an ornament, while a painting may be deemed craft if mass-produced.

    Because games are primarily a financial venture that aims to entertain, that lends weight to the idea that videogames at best could be considered ‘craft’.

  • aaron b

    First off, If I’m supposed to be bowled over by a definition of art you looked up on wikipedia try again.  I would not attempt to define art because of its historic and nebulous nature.  It changes with the times and there is simply no definitive answer for how it should be defined.  Just look at Duchamp and the readymade art movement to see how impossible it to define what is truly “art”. 

    Secondly, while you’re quick to say that there’s no shortage of professionals in the industry who agree that games can’t be art you leave out the fact that terms as simple as “game” are still be debated within yes, I’m going to say it again, an industry associated with a medium in its infancy.  There is still debate and varying opinions on everything!  Saying that you’re right because people within the game industry agree with your point is like trying to make a definitive point about Global Warming by saying that “scientists agree with me”.  I don’t see how comparing the relative leaps of other “tech-based industries” has anything to do with a form of potential artistic expression.  I don’t care how well Microsoft innovated on Word, it is not comparable to what video games are striving to be, which is an artistic medium.  And, as I said numerous times, I don’t believe that many video games could be qualified as art but I think they have the potential to be.  Trying to just flat out deny that video games even can be art is seriously misrepresenting the medium and the debate within the industry.  As far as the corporate control being exercised over gaming houses is concerned, I couldn’t agree with you more.  In most cases games are viewed as money making ventures first and entertaining or artistic properties second.  Because of this games can be fiercely derivative and iterative.  Games are not the only medium to be afflicted in this way, though.  Film and Music have been greatly compromised, in the mainstream, by corporate control.  Most major summer blockbusters are derivative and trite, just as most the chart topping Music acts are boring and safely repetitive.  (Just realized this: Part of the problem may also be that it appears that you’re judging the game industry mostly on the console market, whereas I’m judging it primarily on the PC market.  The PC market has more potential to be innovative because of its lower overhead (no cost just to develop on the platform) and has a much more significant track record concerning innovation and creativity.)

    As far as your slippery slope argument goes, I don’t find it to be very convincing.  Society isn’t going to come down around our ears if we let offensive or vulgar or disgusting artwork or entertainment or, in the case of Rockstar, worthless garbage be produced.  I’m not afraid that it will “open the door to so many (unnamed) things”.  But, after thinking about it further, I think you’re right that Rockstar essentially deserves what they’re getting for purposefully pushing the envelope so far.  I can see how it makes sense that they should receive an AO rating if the game truly is as horrendous as everyone who is debating about it but has never even played it says.  But I don’t think that society ever has the right to completely say “no” to anything.  Freedom of speech protects all speech and expression and it should not be revoked from anyone ever.

  • .alphamonkey.

    I’m not saying I’m right because someone else agrees with me.  I’m saying that my position isn’t some pulled-out-of-my-ass whim that has some historical context and backing.

    Obviously art is subjective.  Obviously the definition of art will change from person to person.  I think what you’re forgetting is that this site is, first and foremost, a reflection of my own thoughts and tastes, so of course I’m going to present those thoughts in a definitive form.

    I don’t have any problem with you disagreeing with me, I’m just trying to ensure that you’re disagreeing with my point for the right reasons (ie, not misinterpreting my underlying point).  I don’t have any agenda of converting you to my way of thinking.  I’m merely defending my position.

    As a writer and a musician (and in a small way a digital artist), art matters to me immensely.

  • .alphamonkey.

    I’d like you to clarify this sentence:

    But I don’t think that society ever has the right to completely say “no” to anything.

    In regards to what, expression? Action? We, as a society, make decisions as to what we will or will not accept regarding expression.  While person X is free to exercise their right to free expression by expounding hate and intolerance, we drawn the line at speech that incites or endorses violent action (the ‘fire in a crowded theater’ example).  It’s a slippery slope (as really everything is), but it’s a choice we have to make on occasion.  Is it truly the mark of a healthy society to tolerate intolerance of any kind?  Is the the simple act of tolerating intolerant speech a subtle form of endorsement?

    There’s a whole of can o’ worms that gets opened by the argument (and not one I’m particularly eager to engage in here), but I bring it up to illustrate the point that, on occasion, we do have to say ‘no’ as a society.

  • aaron b

    If read within context the meaning of the statement is pretty clear.  I think that all forms of expression falling under the category of speech should be protected.  The sentence following it in the original comment is “Freedom of speech protects all speech and expression and it should not be revoked from anyone ever”, which makes my point pretty clear.  I’m not willing to hand over the right to choose what I can be exposed to, especially not to the ESRB, an organization in charge of rating video games that can’t distinguish between a commercial product and an after market fan modification (see the story about Oblivion and the stupid “nipple mod” thing), or MPAA, an organization made up of big Hollywood (conflict or interests, maybe?) AND have a priest sitting in the room when they deliberate on controversial film ratings (See This Film Is Not Yet Rated).  Before anyone says anything I have no problem with religion, but none of them should have a hand in how we rate our films.

  • .alphamonkey.

    What I find interesting is that you’re pointing out two voluntary and non-governmental ratings boards.  Sure the game is skewed so that existing outside their system becomes much more difficult, but you don’t HAVE to go through them.  Freedom of speech is only constitutionally protected against legislation, not corporate policy.

  • elkciN

    That always seems to be the sticking point in these converstations, ‘Freedom of Speech’ being one of the most misunderstood concepts. It’s well within Nintendo or Sony’s rights to choose what games they want to represent their consoles. The ratings aren’t really as much law, as they are ‘widely accepted suggestions’. In fact, I wish they were enforced a bit BETTER, so that kids couldn’t get their hands on M-rated games so easily. I mean, as adults, we are better able to discern fantasy from reality (most of the time), and I sure as hell wouldn’t want my kid playing GTA or the like. People constantly argue that ‘it’s the parents responsiblity’, which is true, but it couldn’t hurt to help them out a bit, you know, and ask for ID when selling M-rated games, etc. At the least, it might shut the mouths of idiots like Jack Thompson.

    And I know it’s just a widely accepted gamer hate of good old Jack, but it really pisses me off that he tries to put all of the responsibilty for a person’s actions on the entertainment they watch. I don’t care how many violent movies or games you watch, it is still YOUR decision to pick up a gun and shoot.

    Regarding Manhunt 2, Reggie said he wanted more ‘adult-oriented’ games on the Wii, but I think he got a little more than he bargained for. And you’re wrong, AM, on the ‘Rockstar is a one trick Pony’ thing. They made a Table Tennis game, dammit. And some racing games, I think.


  • aaron b

    Leaving aside the argument that you don’t HAVE to go through the ESRB and MPAA to get a game or movie published, mostly because while it’s technically true it’s realistically entirely false, I find the second part of the argument the most confusing.  There is a long precedent of the state protecting citizens from corporate policy if it infringes upon their rights.  There used to be a “game” that companies played where they would mistreat or simply not hire women, minorities, and people with disabilities.  These persecuted parties didn’t HAVE to get jobs from these companies; after all, the contract between employer and employee is entirely voluntary.  But the state decided that the private sector shouldn’t be able to void the inalienable rights that our government grants all of its citizens.  Therefore, they passed legislation to protect them.  And this is only one case that shows our country has a long history of protecting our rights, constitutional and other, against corporate policy.  I’m not saying that in this instance the federal government should step in, I’m just saying that you’re argument that we’re only protected from our own legislature isn’t true.  If the ESRB or MPAA was truly censoring us and making it impossible for anything other than their view to reach the mainstream the government would step in.  We have passed legislation to protect us from non-federal, external forces in the past and will continue to do so. 

    What I find interesting is how unnecessary this entire part of the debate is.  I brought up the ESRB and the MPAA because they govern, in a direct way, two of the largest industries of artistic expression in our country.  They are totally relevant to the conversation of censorship.  I actually used them in part because they weren’t federal organizations, my point being that I definitely won’t be censored by a non-transparent, non-elected group of people.

  • .alphamonkey.

    Let me make this clearer:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

    You’ll note that it does not address what speech companies or corporations may or may not curtail. As you most certainly know, corporations can and do curtail what would otherwise be considered free speech (and legally so) all the time.  Bringing up the government’s enforcement of anti-discrimination laws (which were written specifically to address the issue of inequality in the workplace) does not apply to this particular facet of the discussion unless you’re calling for the government to write new laws guaranteeing employees free speech protection in the workplace.

  • aaron b

    You’ll note that the particular passage you have quoted was ratified in 1791, and could not possibly have mentioned what “companies or corporations may or may not curtail.” Few, we’re done making points that have no bearing on the argument. (The modern concept of the corporation or company, as we know it today, did not come about until after the passage of the 14th Amendment, which was ratified in 1868.  The 14th amendment was interpreted in a way which granted corporations the right to own property and other corporations, which was integral to the modern development of the corporation.  Prior to this development they were very limited and had to ask the government to even exist.)

    What I am talking about, as far as curtailing freedom of speech, is something very specific.  When private organizations come to hold sway over the way the public expresses itself, i.e. they hold the ability to regulate speech in a very powerful way.  And Of course the anti-discrimination laws were created to stop discrimination in the work place.  My point was that their is a precedent that the state steps in when corporations are curtailing our rights, and that if the aforementioned voluntary regulatory organizations began to seriously hinder our freedom of speech it would not be a “tough shit, deal with it” situation.  Legislative action would be taken.

  • .alphamonkey.

    Um, they had corporations in 1791. Harvard College was founded in 1636, and was most certainly a corporation.  The concept was not alien to the Founding Fathers, nor were they unaware of what those corporations could become.  Had they wanted the First Amendment to extend to private entities, they would have specifically stated so. 

  • aaron b

    The MODERN concept of a corporation, i.e. one that you could even consider having the ability to challenge the freedom of speech, were not around in 1791.  The fact that Harvard existed is hardly a reason for the founding fathers to include clauses in the first amendment pertaining to the corporate world, in the positive or negative sense.

  • .alphamonkey.

    You’re focusing on terminology instead of the actual point:  The fact remains that the private sector was INTENTIONALLY left out of the First Amendment.  There were such things as businesses.  People owned companies that employed more than 3 people.  Had they intended the First Amendment to apply to same, they most certainly would have explicitly stated it as such.

  • aaron b

    I’m not focusing on terminology instead of your point.  The distinction is very important.  If the modern corporation, i.e. the one that has the potential to infringe on our rights, didn’t exist when the laws were made how can you say that they were purposefully excluded from the bill of rights?  Excluding corporations from the bill of rights when the business sector was hardly a shadow of what it is now and, on top of being much less powerful, was strictly regulated by the government, does not mean that the founding fathers a. knew what the corporation would become and b. with that knowledge, chose to omit mention of it.  If you can somehow prove that they knew how powerful and pervasive the modern corporation would become and then still chose to omit it from the bill of rights then I’ll say you’re right.  Otherwise, we’re going to have agree to disagree on lack of evidence or intimate knowledge of what the founding fathers were thinking when they ratified the constitution.

  • .alphamonkey.

    Just google thomas jefferson +corporation and see what comes back.  There are numerous examples of how far-seeing these fellows were, and what their thoughts on corporate rights should be.

  • elkciN

    Not for nothing, but doesn’t the very fact that this debate started over the content of the game (some people think mindless violence, some people enjoying that mindless violence, some people getting something ‘deeper’ out of the game), kind of, by default, define the game as an art form?

    Even if you are using very a very rigid definition of art (which would be pretty ironic, I think), games would have to at least be on the same tier as movies, books, and music, if not higher. Art is tricky to define, because, by definition, it is subjective. What might be art to you may just be paint splattered on canvas to me, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still consider it art. And, by the same token, the fact that I don’t consider that specific painting to be art, it doesn’t nullify the artistic merit of ALL paintings.

    Yes, games do lead you down a set path (not as much, these days, really), but just like any good movie, book, or CD, it’s up to the individual to define what that path means to them. A game’s story is written, just like a novel is written. The characters are drawn, just as an artist would use a brush (except with fancy computer stuff). The comparison of the quality of these aspects in each genre is irrelevant, due to that whole ‘subjective’ thing. I’ve seen people that were much more attached to a videogame character (and it doesn’t even have to be a human. I was pissed when Aggro fell off that cliff.) than to any literary or cinema character.

    Going to the Shadow of the Colossus example, because I think that it’s a good one (and if you haven’t played it, don’t read). I would consider SotC to be the ‘abstract’ aspect of the genre, it’s almost completely open to interpretation. All you’re really given is that you’re a guy with a horse, and you apparently love this passed out chick, and a god tells you that you have to kill these huge things to progress. Now, you are forced to kill the colossi to beat the game, just as you would be forced to follow the actions of a character in another medium. And just as in those other mediums (if not more so), you are left to figure out the ramifications of those actions.

    Personally, at first I was blown away, climbing these monstrosities was just so rewarding, the killing blow fantastic. As you progress through the game, though, it becomes clearer that maybe you are the bad guy. Not through any kind of narrative, really, but rather just that you’re noticing that they really aren’t doing anything but defending themselves, and you’re getting subtle hints that this god that’s leading you isn’t exactly benevolent. By the end, especially at that last, solitary, stationary colossus, I felt horrible. I won’t really go too much farther, but the game shows you the consequences of blind passion.

    Of course, this is just my interpretation, and you may have had a completely different one (many do). That’s the beauty of art. wink

  • elkciN

    Besides, as was stated before, this is really a pointless argument. No one hear can tell another person what is or isn’t ‘art’ really. If you don’t think a game is art, and I do, we’re both right.

  • elkciN

    ’here’ *sigh*

    It’s too early for this.

  • elkciN

    Oh, and that whole ‘widely distributed’=’craft’ argument is pretty moot. If I print off and sell a million copies of the Mona Lisa, it has no bearing on the artistic merit of the painting itself.

  • .alphamonkey.

    I think you’re misinterpreting that point.  That’s referring more to something like Thomas Kincaid’s paintings, which are mass produced by studio help, as opposed to a singular work that is subsequently made available via another format.  Obviously, I see a quantifiable difference between the two.

  • elkciN

    So the point is that art can only be created by an individual, and a group can never produce art? Not trying to be sardonic, I’m just not getting it.

    The way I break it down is that ‘art’ is, essentially, creating something from nothing (excepting inspiration and raw materials). Taking that block of wood and turning it into a sculpture, or using canvas and pigment to convey an emotion, etc. Just because a programmer uses lines of code instead of paint, or a 3d modeling program instead of a hammer and chisel, it doesn’t make it any less of an art form. The game started as an idea, and was produced by the orignator to convey that idea, which, in the end, is open to interpretation by the end user. Just as any other artistic medium. Just because it was created by a group of people, or that the game itself was mass produced, it doesn’t really reflect on the artistic merit, so much as it reflects the medium.

  • .alphamonkey.

    I was just clarifying the mass produced point.  See my response to YGT for my expanded thoughts on the rest.

  • elkciN

    But the thing is books, movies, paintings, etc do have ‘you must do x to experience x moment’, and they do have defined goals, it’s just not as evident. I don’t think that being more interactive detracts from the art, considering that all art is subjective, and defined by the consumer.

    Submitted for further discussion: the game Okami. Damn, that game was pretty. Now, if you pulled a still frame from the game, with it’s beautiful art, and hung it on your wall, would it then be art, simply because it’s a static drawing? Someone designed what you are seeing, and you enjoy looking at it. Now, when you are playing the game, and controlling your view of the world that they’ve created, all of a sudden that world loses it’s artistic merit?

  • elkciN

    I’m just trying to figure out how the line is drawn. Everyone has different views on what is and isn’t art. If we agree that drawings can be art, stories can be art, and music can be art, then why is a game, which is a compilation of these things (and more) not art? Is it the interactivity? Because, if you ask me, a good story or a good painting are just as interactive, but kind of on a ‘subliminal’ level, if you know what I mean. I mean, saying a game isn’t art because it’s just ‘pre-programmed situations’ is like saying a book can’t be art, because it’s just ink on a page, or that a painting can’t be art because it’s just pigment on a canvas.

  • .alphamonkey.

    Personally I think you’re conflating artistic with art itself, but it’s just a subjective opinion.

  • elkciN

    Yeah, I guess I’m just intrigued because we don’t disagree too often. As we’ve both stated before, this whole subject is really far too subjective. Like I said before, if you don’t think games are art, and I do, I think we’re both right.

    It’s just that I’m more right than you. wink

  • .alphamonkey.

    It’s not that you’re more right than I am. It’s that I’m less wrong than you.

  • BADD

    I think them ther vidio games are da devil!

    They is robbing my son/uncle of his edjumecation.  ANd that’s rong!!

    U folks need to stop writing about them.  Makes em more powerful. 

    I hear they’s got laser beems now……

  • Jacomo



  • TJCart

    Hi all, first off I only catch this site about once a month or so but still love it and found this to be a really interesting, albeit long dead conversation, but thought I toss my hat into the ring anyhow since I noticed no one really mentioned this point on the video games as art thing (I hope someone still reads the comments on this post, heh).

    This is really for elkcin as it seemed to me he didn’t really grasp or agree to AM’s take on video games as not art, which I’m not saying is right either way but I just had a simpler comparison or explanation of it. Video games are for the purpose of wasting time like any other game, say soccer. It is an objective based activity that’s basically for the purpose of entertainment only.

    You can take a slow motion movie of an athlete in action and call it art, as you can look at the backgrounds in the game or even record a 10 minute completion of Super Mario 3 and you-tube it, and it’ll have some poetic, artistic value in a sense. However, as I think AM was getting at and I mostly agree in a way, is that the actual playing of the game itself is just that–a game. You complete an objective to entertain yourself or an audience.

    So isn’t art entertainment? Yes it is. But it’s one of those things where art is entertainment (usually), but entertainment isn’t necessarily art. I’m entertained by putting a cricket into my fishtank, but I wouldn’t really label it art.

    Another thing that might confuse the argument is that there is a lot of electronically based art mediums and such, but that is really getting away from the whole games are art conversation. Yeah I can stick Mario Paint into my SNES and draw pictures that are art, but it’s not goal based, even though I shoved it into my console from a game cartridge. Which was the whole non-game issue.

    I found the whole conversation interesting though, even with the whole craft vs. art sidetrack (which seemed a little unnecessary for the arguement). In the end I still feel that any game in and of itself, be it video, sports, or other, can’t really be considered art–regardless of your definition of art. At least not as long as you are competing in the “game” aspect of it, even though you could go off and do your own thing in many video games nowadays.

    If anyone else has any thoughts on this I’d be interested to hear it.

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