Category Archives: politics

Red Steal?

As reported in the China Daily, video game production outsourcing to China is predicted to exceed $2.5 billion by 2010. Given that China is currently the fourth-largest economy in the world, with recorded economic growth reported as 10.7% last year, it’s no surprise that interest from game developers and publishers in establishing a long-term presence in China is high, given that production costs are significantly lower than the West and investment opportunities are common. However, the Chinese government’s position on the moral issues surrounding video games as an entertainment medium – especially within the context of internet use – is no secret, with Beijing displaying little tolerance towards Western companies seeking to capitalize on the rapidly-growing market for online gaming and cheaper labor. Is a backlash inevitable?

With potential revenues proving especially enticing to Western companies, it’s unlikely that pursuit of this lucrative market share will wane, even with fierce opposition from Beijing. Companies like Ubisoft are already building branch offices in China for development reasons, and Electronic Arts recently expanded their Pogo casual gaming service to offer their services to Chinese gamers. However, could intense interest from foreign investors (particularly Westerners) be met with stern response from the Chinese government? Never one to bow to popular opinion, Chinese President Hu Jintao has regulated the Chinese media (particularly internet usage and television broadcasts) in a manner deemed stricter than his predecessor, and also favors some rather hard line views in terms of political reform.

It is this that could prove to be a conflict of interest for Jintao, and the Chinese as an economic power. I’m sure that Beijing won’t pass on the chance to capitalize on the West’s need for cheaper production costs long associated with Chinese outsourcing, but will traditionalism and the iron grip on the country’s media be won over by aggressive business interests of Western media companies and China’s desire for economic growth? China’s internet usage statistics indicate a strong increase, despite heavy censorship and media control and video gaming is gaining in popularity at a steady rate – something has to give, especially given the speed at which the Chinese economy is growing. Will Beijing listen to the voice of The People? Or will China’s continued growth be met with ever-tightening control?

Expansion comes at a cost – but will Beijing be willing to pay?

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Jack Thompson: “Are You Nuts?”

Everyone’s favorite pantomime attorney Jack Thompson was making headlines across the gaming world, following his comical email exchanges with Gena Feist, Take-Two’s VP and Associate General Counsel regarding his criticism of Take-Two’s business practices. Whilst the legality of this is questionable under the terms of the legal agreement between Thompson and Take-Two, perhaps what is more irritating than Thompson himself is the fact that he remains free to continue his political soapboxing on sites like Game Politics.

I understand the fact that this is considered newsworthy information, and that Game Politics would be foolish not to report on it in the first instance. However, without taking sides, you don’t see Take-Two contacting political blogs and sending out of context, incorrectly timestamped emails for the purposes of posturing and assigning blame, which seems to be the sole point in doing so unless I’m missing something. Not only that, but Thompson does himself no favors by highlighting his ignorance of the legality of commonplace age verification techniques – something I’d assume attorneys would do well to be knowledgeable of. I’m sure that much will be made of Take-Two’s failure to respond to Game Politics’ request for a statement regarding the emails, but perhaps they simply recognize that the proper place for this kind of discourse is the courtroom.

Personally, I look forward to the time when Manhunt 2 is forgotten about as the mundane, uninspired title that it will inevitably be, and these painfully frequent arguments about video game violence and selfish political agendas can be reserved for games that people actually want to play, like GTA IV. Roll on 2008.

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Let Sleeping Dogs Lie – Or Just Kill Them

And so the Manhunt 2 saga continues unabated. Whilst it feels almost as if Manhunt 2’s media coverage should have it’s own channel (or blog – maybe the nice folks at Weblogs, Inc could capitalize on this missed opportunity), today’s installment – from the opposition, no less – raises a valid point regarding the ESRB and the way in which they operate.

Since neither Rockstar nor the ESRB themselves have yet disclosed what despicable acts of depravity were cut (sorry, edited) from Manhunt 2 in order to grant a commercial release, California Senator Leland Yee has not only called for this information to be made public, but also the communications between Rockstar and the ESRB that resulted in the edits and subsequent release. He claims that parents cannot trust a regulatory body that doesn’t disclose how they arrive at a particular rating, despite the fact that this page offers quite a considerable amount of information on their process. This can mean only one thing – he’s just pissed that he can’t find out exactly what was cut so he can use it for his own dastardly political gain in future nonsensical arguments about video game violence. However, he does raise a good point – should we know what content were cut from the original game? Or should we just trust the ESRB to make that call? After all, that’s their job, right?

Perhaps what would be more prudent would be to identify the qualities that makes the ESRB’s ‘specially-trained game raters’ (whom are, presumably, gifted with superhuman powers granting them more resistance to porn and violence than ‘ordinary’ people – y’know, like gamers) suitable for their roles. The fact that their official information specifies that ‘at least three’ game raters are required to pass judgment on a title before being allocated a rating is perhaps more worrying; three people is hardly indicative of an accurate cross-section of opinion. To quote the official site; “They rate games on a full-time basis, although they may be assisted by part-time raters when necessary.” I can only imagine the strength of moral fiber necessary to resist the evils of video games on a full-time basis; Herculean feats of endurance matched only by their determination to protect the youth of America from the immoral filth manufactured by developers like Rockstar; wearied, exhausted Republicans, dripping with sweat having spent the whole day resisting the temptation to fuck, kill and profane everyone around them – truly they are heroes indeed. As for the ‘assistance’ from part-time raters – do they ask the interns on their way to the hotplate if something is ‘too evil’? Does this look like porno to you, Jimmy? No sir, it don’t.

Whilst I’m less concerned with exactly what was cut (due to my aforementioned distaste for all censorship on principle along with many other rational, thinking adults capable of making decisions all by themselves), I would most definitely welcome more news regarding the ESRB’s process of determining suitable content, and what qualifies their staff to make these decisions. And needless to say, the communications between Rockstar and the ESRB would almost-certainly be more entertaining than the content of the game itself, censored or not.

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Resident Racism?

So, for anyone that hasn’t seen the Resident Evil 5 trailer from E3, here’s another chance to see it. However, rather than merely regurgitate opinions about old video clips as original thought, you may also be aware of the controversy that said trailer has caused recently, namely with Kym Platt over at blacklooks.org, a blog focusing on African feminism.

The primary bone of contention with regards to the trailer is the game’s depiction of the white protagonist attacking hordes of black zombies in an African village setting. This seems, within the context of the Resident Evil series, as likely as any a situation to find yourself in, should some apocalyptic event render your once-in-a-lifetime vacation to Africa an exercise in survival horror. Unless you won the vacation in a raffle sponsored by the Umbrella Corporation of course, in which case you should probably expect ravenous legions of the walking dead to get up early and take all the sun-loungers before you drag your sorry, hungover ass out of bed.

However, Platt’s comments seem to be somewhat extreme. Rather than focus on the originality of the decision to set the game in Africa, she chooses instead to focus on the depiction of the African zombies – yes, the walking dead with an appetite for human flesh – as “inhuman savages”, and the implied political statement of the protagonist being white, male and a member of a military organization. Personally, any behavior that involves eating the flesh of recently-killed victims strikes me as somewhat ’savage’, and I don’t really think that the inhumanity of said zombies can be called into question. However, the real question is this; if Platt’s comments are to be taken seriously, then what are the implications of such standards on the rest of the games in the series?

A prime example of my point would be Resident Evil 2. Strong female lead, that Claire Redfield. That’s a good thing in contemporary video games, right? Since they’re aimed, according to Platt, at children and young adults? All obvious issues relating to the video game ratings system aside, of course. So let’s take that one step further – the majority of the zombie enemies that players fight in RE:2 are male. Does this mean that Capcom’s developers are all secretive chauvinists and misogynists? Or take the fact that, in several scenarios in the game, Claire has to be rescued by the male protagonist Leon – is this Capcom’s way of telling young, female gamers that they’re inherently weak and therefore ‘need’ a big, strong man to ’save’ them from the perils of modern society? Of course not.

What if RE:5 wasn’t set in Africa, but the main protagonist was black? Would that also imply racism and white oppression by the black character being set upon by hordes of white zombies? Or if the protagonist was black – would this signify a political statement on black-on-black crime? The potential for political soapboxing in this regard is almost endless. Perhaps the only legitimate complaint that could be leveled against Capcom is that of a lack of imagination with regards to their character design; it’s such a shame that in contrast to the originality of the game’s geographical setting, that Capcom again favor the tired, familiar and generally uninspiring character design that is so prevalent in the Resident Evil series.

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