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Mar 20, 2007



I guess many people outside the mainstream game developer community might challenge the idea that "adult" means "replete with tropes of war, violence and sexuality".

In fact, those strike me as markedly adolescent preoccupations.

Your point on not neutering or watering down content is well-taken; I would, however, apply it differently - as an appeal not to limit game designs to simplistic, atavistic motivations such as violence, war and sexuality.

Instead, we can chose to embrace the full complexity of human experience, cultural history, and emotional and intellectual expression.

And, we can embrace the challenge of making *that* fun.

To suggest that the binary choices are violence+sex vs. bland+child-safe is to ignore the totality of pre-videogame literature, theater, radio, film and television. There are many other fascinating and provocative realms to explore, which appeal to broad audiences and can prove quite profitable to create.

They may even be more profitable to administer, removing the inherent contradiction between antagonistic, nihilistic, confrontational gameplay design, on the one hand, and the expectation that players attracted to such gameplay self-censor and follow Robert's Rules, on the other.

Perhaps, too, if there were more socially constructive MMO choices - perhaps, that is, if commercial developers chose to deliberately design more socially conscious environments - then the pressure on WoWs (or the Second Life's for that matter) of the world to "play nice for the kiddies" would diminish. There would be room for all of us to find our niche - you in your virtual Iraq, I, having seen the real thing, preferring more of a LittleBigPlanet-style cooperative environment.

It might even be a smart business decision. Historically, in times of war, adults tend to prefer escapist entertainment that doesn't remind constantly them, in ever greater graphic verisimilitude, of the sights they see on the nightly news.

Clearly, there is room - and a market - for atavistic entertainment, in all media. But there is clearly a large market for deeper content. It is there, wildly diverse and spectacularly successful, in every other media but ours. Maybe it is time we create truly grown-up entertainment.


John Hartley , communications prof from UQ in australia has a good term for this (In regards to television). "Paedocracy". The rule of the child, or conversely "To be ruled as children".

Basically in Television, the assumption is, because 'think of the children!', adults must be treated as children to avoid potential drama. In effect its a discursive rule of the child. Except its not the child, but the interests thereof.


This reminded me of my FPS days. Games where you ran around shooting people with firearms, blood, gore, gibs, everywhere.. yet some some server administrators thought it was offensive to use certain 4 letter words.

There are many people who suffer from skewed vision. Some call it a double standard. In the US its the whole violence is acceptable, sex is not; where as Europe seems to have taken the opposite view.

Any company which wishes to mass-market a game must adjust their product to resonate with the acceptable viewpoints of the society's culture. In other words, Wal-Mart.

Its dissapointing, but it is reality. I have no problem with non-violent games, or non "adult" games. What I do have a problem with is when things are blatently censored. If someone is being hacked to death with a sword, its an adult situation. Put as much gore in it as the reality would hold.

Sex? I don't know. I think the Sims did a fair job at it. I have been bothered in the past to see pre-release game screenshots featuring nudity (particularly Heavy Metal F.A.K.K. 2) to hit the stores and be nudity free -- sometimes with obvious last minute hack jobs (Hitman, naked skin with a hastily drawn bright pink speedo.)

Censorship should never be an object of desire. Kid games should have kid subject matter -- puzzles, arcades, strategy, light action -- not the death and destruction worlds that most MMORPGs are filled with.

Hell, I this corrolates very much with what we are seeing with movies. Tighten restrictions on R rated movies, threaten the movie industry with legal intervention, bam, we now how PG-13 movies with far more violence then most R movies. Things are tamed down, but only to a fine technical level. Think Howard Stern carefully skirtying around specific words the FCC said was a no-no (George Carlin's "Filthy Words.")


I think that this is a mere symptom; the problem is the notion of "safe for kids". As AJ points out, there's a flip-side perspective between Europe and US. Technically, it's "safe for parents according to the authority/gov't".


I agree with galiel to some extent that prurient interest in sex and violence isn't an adult (or maybe "mature" is better) preoccupation, but I see what Ren is saying.

I think you need that undercurrent, that clear possibility of the potential for, if not "adult", then "not for children" scenarios for something to be elevated from Family Theme Park, in the mind of the players. It may not be grown up to hang out by the Tree of Evisceration and laugh at the way it guts and skins avatars, but *knowing that it's there* adds to the world in a way that "child friendly" guarantees do not.

I think the absurdity of censorship for ratings really hit home when I saw the second X Men film. It was perfectly fine for Wolverine to fatally stab some poor soldier guy (doing his job) in the chest with three 10" long adamantium blades, because there wasn't any gore splashing around.

I don't personally like to wallow in extremes- I have almost no horror/gore films at all, though I like the creepy Japanese ones, but I do like the fact that it's "out there" adding to everything else.

But you have to admit, it's highly likely that if you put something like, I don't know, actual rape and pillage into the game mechanics of a barbarian raiders you'll just get gangs of moronic corpse-humping lol-lers taking over the place.

Warhammer is a violent, bloody world, but it's a violent bloody world born out of bad thrash metal and marketed to 12 year olds, so it's not much of a surprise to see a video game of it aiming for child friendly ratings. I'm pretty sure it's not children who are running three-ten EVE characters on credit card payments, though.

Maybe some Grimmer fairy tales would be nice, but who's going to risk losing the WalMart money to make one?


I'd imagine that World of Darkness, although not officially announced, would *have* to be aimed at that sort of thing.


I would dispute that current MMORPGs are gore-filled. They're less extreme than The A Team.

Nobody dies properly, everyone returns. Even NPCs and animals respawn. It's Never-Never Land.

Peter Pan will fight the Pirates forever and never grow old. Would you allow pornogrpahic emotes in a Peter Pan MMO? Because all our current MMOs are Peter Pan.


It would be interesting if a discussion on this topic did not immediately degrade into a discussion about "them" wanting to "censor" us.

Instead, it might be interesting to discuss our role in designing games that do more than appeal to our brainstem.

Some artists, including commercially successful ones, in every medium, choose to incorporate positive memes into their art, rather than negative ones, to provoke and inspire reflection without being gratuitous or cheap. Note I said "choose to", not "are censored by authority". Censorship is an important issue, but it does not relieve creative individuals from responsibility for the choices they make in their creative designs.

Why are developers and their academic cheerleaders so reluctant to engage in a discussion about the responsibility that comes with the power to create mass entertainment?

Why must we relegate "good-for-you" interactive to the realm of medicinal "serious games"?

There used to be a strong bias in the investment community that making moral choices got in the way of maximizing return. Today, there is an extensive track record suggesting that, in many cases, "doing good" and "doing well" are not mutually exclusive.

For example, does anyone here believe that, by incorporating environmental feedback lessons into Spore, Will Wright has reduced the potential market for that game?

Does anyone here believe that the Beatles would have done better if they cut out all the "peace, love and understanding" and just stuck to "yeah yeah yeah"?

Does anyone believe that Picasso's Guernica diminished his impact on popular culture?

It is a mistake to assume that by avoiding moral choices in game design, we design morally neutral games.

Every affordance we facilitate, every behavior we inhibit or seek to thwart, is a moral choice we present to our gamers, and collectively this set of affordances and inhibitors constitute a moral universe in which we hope human players will invest a great deal of time and emotion.

Or is it the case that the ones who need to mature and take on the adult responsibility for their behavior are not our players, who only play according to the intrinsic rules of the worlds we design for them, but rather we as designers, who make the cultural choices that strongly affect their behavior?

Is it really the case that the only way to make things "fun" is to make them revolve around zero-sum, Randian, Malthusian struggles? Or is that the voice of corporate timidity, creative laziness, and elitist presumption?

It would be interesting to have a discussion about social responsibility without making it "our (gun) muzzle" vs. "their (censor's) muzzle".


The Wal-Mart influence has been mentioned more than once in this discussion. The kiddification of games clearly has much to do with an outdated distribution model wherein retailers act as gatekeepers.

But as these are online games that require a decent internet connection, couldn't internet distribution diffuse some of these mass-market concerns? I realize the bandwidth for downloading the Burning Crusade expansion isn't quite there, but games like Eve Online and Second Life are readily obtained via download. I suspect this lends to their more adult audience.

Right now, game developers can't afford to sidestep big box retailers. But with greater bandwidth, more developers might decide to forego a boxed version of their games altogether. With Wal-Mart out of the loop, more sophisticated, adult-themed games can emerge.

But I'm not convinced that game developers really have their hands tied here. True, they can't depict nudity without running into trouble, but skin isn't a measure of maturity. Except, of course, at the corner video store.


I say bring on the kiddification. Make worlds for targeted for 6-8-12-14 year olds. They’re defiantly lacking clean and squeaky, educational and intelligent (i.e. good) social games. Whether it be Sesame Street, Commander Keen, Jacques’ Redwall, Baum’s Oz, Super Mario or Zelda there is huge opportunity there. Then if a developer wants anatomically correct models, waves of gore and destruction -no holds barred etc. they be free to build to suit.


Timo makes a really interesting point here. The fundamental construct seems to be to the middle, a PG13-ification if you will. If developers/marketers would stop trying to hit as much of the market as possible and spend some time making darn good G and PGish games that hold kids interest effectively, I think it would probably open up the doors not only for sex/drugs/rock n' roll (and waves of blood) R rated type experiences for adults (and adolescents), but also for the more culturally sophisticated zone galiel is aluding to where no one would question "games as art" and the range of dynamics to explore could go well beyond collection quests and furries.


Oh heck, I"m the mommy of a pre-teen and I worry more about "reality TV," evening prime time, or the evening news than video games. Thank god she prefers a night of WoW play to American Idol or the OC or similar TV fare. The latter is much more damaging to her as a young female.


"I'd imagine that World of Darkness, although not officially announced, would *have* to be aimed at that sort of thing."

Monsters we are, lest pale faced teens with a penchant for victorian clothes and My Chemical Romance CDs we become...

galiel, I think "A Tale in the Desert" is something maybe in line with your thoughts?


You all forget something called the LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR. It rules everything.

Nice, intelligent, creative people on TerraNova would love to see nice, intelligent, creative online worlds for themselves to frolic in.

But most people are not like that. They're stupid, rude, arrogant, obsessed with themselves .. humankind is a swine that loves wallowing in filth.

If you make a game that throws all the nice ideals out the window, and focuses on sex, violence and humiliations of others, it will be a big hit.

Thanks for reading - I feel better now.


"Then if a developer wants anatomically correct models, waves of gore and destruction -no holds barred etc. they be free to build to suit."

Hear hear! So far the only two games I've been able to get a female character with B-Cup breasts have been CoH and DAoC. Every other game has the smallest starting breast size as a D-Cup. Honestly that just isn't attractive to me. Also these are the only two games where the shape is aesthetically pleasing as well. The breasts in Vangaurd are huge and malformed ugly things. Part of the reason I'm not playing.

I realize that was a little off topic, but maybe someone will see it and do some serious looking into what is actually an aesthetically pleasing body for future art in games.


I should blog on this... but what the hell. I'm here.

What we have here is a dissonance between the core ideas, attitudes and values related to violence and sexuality (and other issues, but mostly those), and the responses to representations of them. It is, essentially, an iconoclastic fissure, if I may wax verbose. The real problem comes, of course, when people (especially children) have problems separating representational ideas from realistic ones.

When you "kiddify" something, usually that means that you remove those elements that have a highly realistic element of material that requires an adult level of interpretation to be understood to be fictional, fantastic and/or removed from reality. For example, it's OK for kids to watch "cartoony" violence, because it is far removed from truly representational, realistic violence. It is OK for kids to watch highly stylized romantic encounters, but not porn. This is because the contextualization of fiction vs. fact takes some time to learn. Frankly, it takes longer to learn than we often give our kids time for, and children sometimes go years without the proper media consumption lessons/tools.

For example... as an adult who has studied literature and film for many years, I can watch a complex film like "Schindler's List," which is based partly on fact, and is partly dramatized, and make a series of (hopefully) intelligent assumptions about it. They may be different than yours, but, as adults, we can also disagree intelligently.

A child who has not been taught or had the time to digest many years worth of media "portions" is not going to bring to the experience enough ideas about how to react, other than the base emotional reactions of anyone who sees the raw building blocks of the piece. It is not, in short, a "good film for kids to watch without proper supervision and discussion." In a lot of ways. Does that make it a "bad film?" Hell, no. It's a great film. And I'll watch it with my son. But not until he's at least 13 or 14. Should they "kidify" it? Again, hell no. But are there ways to talk about some of the subjects in the film to kids younger than 14? Sure.

What is most troublesome about these issues to me is when the explicit, dramatic content of a medium is at direct odds with the implicit manner in which it is delivered; as I said above, when we have an "iconoclastic fissure."

Take for example something that I call "The Love Boat Paradox." On that show, in the last 1970's, strangers would meet, and, in short order, end up in the sack. It happened every week, often to more than one couple. The explicit message is, "Casual sex is OK." But just as the couple would be about to go beyond kissing... they'd cut to a commercial. Upon returning to the show, it would be morning, and the couple would be in bed, clearly post-coitus, with the sheets pulled up to their necks. The implicit message there is, "Sex is sacred and we can't show it to you."

"Sacred" and "casual" are concepts that are diametrically opposed. If sex is so special that we can't see people doing it, they shouldn't be doing it to each other upon having just met less than a day ago on a cruise ship. The dramatic, content-message (go have casual sex) and the media-shell message (but we can't let you t see it) cause a kind of cognitive dissonance.

That's often what happens when you "kiddify" the content of something without considering the entire platform of delivery. "The Sims" is fairly "kid friendly" in terms of the explicit content... but the themes are deeply weird if you don't have a fairly adult mind that can interpret them in a robust context.

Same for many of the discussions that have gone on here relative to avatar choice. At my age, having played games and written stories and GM'd hundreds of hours of games, I am confident of my ability to stop short of a place where my play in any VW becomes anything other than that; play. But that is because I have, in the past, in 40 years of life, learned some interesting lessons in some "wading pools" of experience. I am not at all confident, though, that a 9-year-old, given the full range of what is available in spaces like WoW and SL, could do the same. Their context isn't as deep. Same as how I wouldn't trust them to be able to watch "Schindler's List" and not be scared or upset without a few more years of intermediate film, history under their belts.

There are some things that shouldn't be "kiddified." Or, perhaps, kids need more concrete, clear-cut examples of media where the explicit and implicit messages are in alignment. If we want to teach the lesson that "honor is good," well... let's build that into both the quests, and the UI and the RMT.


Rich Bryant wrote:

Peter Pan will fight the Pirates forever and never grow old. Would you allow pornogrpahic emotes in a Peter Pan MMO? Because all our current MMOs are Peter Pan.

There are plenty of niche MMOs, usually in the form of text MUDs, that provide adult content.

Off the top of my head, for instance, our text MMOs contain:
* addictive drugs ('gleam') that you snort
* a full "drinking" system complete with the ability to drink yourself to death, build up tolerances, etc
* openly sexual emotes like an "orgasm" emote
* NPC whorehouses
* vivisection

I think what Galiel wrote in the first post rings true though. "Instead, we can chose to embrace the full complexity of human experience, cultural history, and emotional and intellectual expression."

Despite the inclusion of the above, for instance, the world isn't defined by them, but are there as part of the world for those who choose to experience that "side" of it (just as they are in the physical world).



Apologies to the text-MMO/MUD community. Matt's quite correct. The text users tend to be a little to a lot older and posessed of various social skills (not to mention typing skills) that the graphic-MMO players (by and large) don't have and usually don't need, hence the stereotypical "lfg ubrs pst plz lol" guy who is incapable of ever spelling a whole word and uses "lol" as punctuation.

However... all the graphical MMOs are Neverland.


Disagree. Eve (which is only avaliable as a download) has PvP with consequences. You can smash an enemies fleet snd their assets, bottle them up in stations, kill their miners...


This market is still in the Commadore64 days. I know everyone would like this really cool easy to use world where you can do anything. What you ended up with is SL which is kinda cool, but the graphics suck. Its not at all easy to use. You can do almost anything, but its difficult, and its easy to be griefed by other users who and also do anything. In order for anything to succeed short of massive government funding, a solid business case is needed for it. And it just not there yet for the do it all for all users world.
As the head of a company that develops a mature 3D MMO (RedLightCenter) I feel amazingly freed by not having to worry about kids in our world. You are required to be 18 or over and if you are not you and your computer are banned forever. (Still waiting on the call from mom wondering why she cant log on)
Kids are a huge market, but not the only one. As the market for MMOs grows there will be more and more niche players in it. I predict that eventually they will all get gobbled up as the technology matures and the companies get big enough. Give it 25 years.

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