Rated V for Violence: Recent electronics show offers hope for videogames with less gore, more funThursday, May 18, 2006 By Michael Luo and James Szeto
Video games have never been as violent as they are today. From Playstation 2 to Xbox 360 to the PSP, violence is an inescapable part of videogaming. Boundaries are constantly being pushed, sometimes to shocking limits. The violent realism of some games includes graphic scenes filled with guns, blood and gruesome death, even the collapse of the World Trade Center towers in 2001. However, the recent Electronic Entertainment Expo offers hope that the next generation of videogaming may be more than just gore. The industry’s leading conference, the E3, as it is known, took place from May 8 to May 12 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. All of the major game manufacturers were there, exhibiting their new games and gaming machines. And from the news reports about the conference, it seems evident that violence was not needed to steal the show. Nintendo and its new Wii gaming console took the spotlight with lighthearted yet addictively entertaining games, such as Super Mario Galaxy, Wario Ware: Smooth Moves, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Crystal Bearers. Pure gameplay took the place of graphic violence, as demonstrated by the innovative style of play that the Nintendo Wii provides. More violent titles such as Mortal Kombat: Armageddon and Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell 4 were left in the dust; such games usually are the headliners at E3, but this year brought a change. Even the news of the next Grand Theft Auto installment failed to top the news from the conference. All this leads to a question: Is creativity just a fad, or is gaming finally heading in a new direction? Even before E3, there were signs that the videogame industry might be changing. In a game such as Lumines (PSP), there is virtually no violence at all. The game mixes puzzle-solving with a wide variety of music, to create a fun and addictive experience. However, a direct contrast to Lumines is the notorious Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the wildly popular top-seller (Playstation 2, Xbox). This game includes prostitution, drug use, organized crime, and execution-style gun violence. The point of the game seems to be to walk the streets and kill people. It is a simple yet deadly idea, and its incredibly violent content has earned it a rating of AO (for adults aged 18 and over only). The less violent games at E3 may be a response to increasing worry among lawmakers. Over the past year, states such as Illinois, Michigan and California have taken steps to keep violent videogames out of the reach of users under 18. Earlier this year, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation to ban the sale of violent videogames to minors. Maryland and Indiana also have similar bills. Florida state Senator Alex Diaz de la Portilla introduced a bill that prevents minors from playing games at arcades that have been labeled for adults only. Such legislation could have a domino effect. Yet despite these moves, the influence of violent games over the youth of America is undeniably strong. With millions of kids playing games every day, it is not hard to believe that videogames are leaving a big impression. Violent videogames have been linked to tragedies, such as the Columbine school shootings in 1999 and the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center towers in 2001; the Maryland snipers in 2002 are believed to have practiced using a popular violent online shooting game. Students say that ratings rarely prevent kids from finding and playing whatever they want. "M for mature doesn’t mean anything," says Christopher Diep, a Tech senior. "Little kids are still going to buy (violent games)." Others argue that it's parents, not ratings or laws, who should control what kids do. "It is the parents’ responsibility to watch over what their kids play," says Robert Morris, a senior at Oakland Tech. "There shouldn’t be laws to restrict the purchase of violent or lewd videogames."