Each Issue's Hot Topic features brief commentary from the Armchair Arcade editors on an issue currently in the news...
Though we at Armchair Arcade typically enjoy talking about classic games, we're certainly not oblivious to some of the issues plaguing the modern game industry. One key difference between vintage and contemporary videogames is the possibilities provided by the hardware for graphic realism. We've come a long way from the blocky boobs of yesterday, as this site dedicated to preserving the "Sexy Side of the Commodore 64" attests. However, with this "advancement" comes all the problems associated with pornography and its slow creep onto videogame shelvesâ€”the concern of most parents, of course, is whether they'll be able to prevent their children from playing these games and whether they should be legal in the first place.
With the recent or upcoming release of games such as Singles: Flirt Up Your Life (Uncensored version), Playboy: The Mansion, Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude, and The Guy Game, adult gaming finally hits its stride on the PC and consoles. But is it a good thing for the industry?
Fun for a boy or a girl?
Buck Feris, Editor: Not really bad or good. Although one of my article's this month discusses violent videogames, many of the rules apply for sexual content as well. People want sexual content in their games. As long as the demand is there, game makers are going to supply this product. Our culture is inundated with sexually explicit movies, music, theater, poetry, prose, and yesâ€”videogames. Complain, lobby, and pass all the laws you want. Sexually explicit content is here to stay. The last line of defense is in your own home. Parents, do you know where your kids are?
Matt Barton, Editor: Should we strive to keep young people ignorant about the two most basic aspects of human lifeâ€”namely, sex and death? Anyone who has ever been 12 years old knows that the more a subject is held as forbidden or taboo, the more kids want to learn more about it. Hell, if my parents had decided that geometry was of the devil and that it was a mortal sin to line up angles with a compass and protractor, I'd likely be a math professor right now. Why do so many young people smoke and drink? Because it was forbidden to them as children, and now they want to demonstrate their maturity (and adult status) by doing "grown up things." These are some pretty hasty generalizations, of course, but theyâ€™re not a bit hastier than those launched by groups dedicated to censoring and distorting the truth to young people.
Sex and death are certainly not forbidden topics for young people in every country, particularly in so-called "Third World" countries that haven't become infected by the Western paranoia about such things. It also wasn't so forbidden in America's historyâ€”some of my great-great grandmothers were married and having children at the age of 13, and let's face itâ€”mothers and fathers haven't always had the luxury of a private bedroom. These people lived, raised big families, and died without the benefit of knowing that they were immature and socially underdeveloped.
The idea that young people need to be shielded from the facts is distinctly Western and distinctly modern, and that's mostly because we have the economy to support a large population of young people who are legally and socially ineligible to be anything but freeloaders. In countries that lack advanced technology, fast food, and Wal-Marts, itâ€™s practically impossible to support such a large leisure group. For late capitalism, it makes sense to have a large a group of pure consumers as possible, which means (a) early retirement and (b) ever-prolonged childhoods. They donâ€™t waste their time doing anything but spending money, and considering how many products are available at your local shopping mall, itâ€™s important that at least some people have the time to think up reasons to buy them.
Our beloved videogames are in many ways a result of this widening bracket of childhood consumers. A large, highly-developed toy market would never be possible in a country where people were worried about where their next meal was coming from. A starving kid will take a box of Pac-Man cereal over a Pac-Man Atari 2600 cart any day of the week. Come to think of it, almost any kid would.
Once you start to understand that the whole idea of "innocent children" arises purely from a late-modern capitalist ideology, the easier it is to realize why so many people have a problem with sex in cartoons and videogames. Let's face it; the two are lumped together in most people's minds like T&A. For the love of God in His Painfully Prolonged Chastity, we canâ€™t keep a husband and wife married for more than a year, but if we can do something to stop Junior from sneaking off to watch Porkyâ€™s, I guess weâ€™ve upheld our moral obligations this time around the sun.
Now, we all know that the good folks who made Porkyâ€™s and even Debbie Does Disney World arenâ€™t responsible for keeping it out of Juniorâ€™s hands. Thatâ€™s clearly the fault of the clerk who sells it to him or the parents who donâ€™t keep their DVD collection in a safe deposit box. Good parents know the whereabouts of their children as surely as a man sight-seeing at a sausage slicing factory knows the whereabouts of his danglies. Itâ€™s those bad parents who let their chilluns run wild, do drugs, get pregnant, commit violent atrocities, and watch cartoons that cuss.
Magnum Cum Laude
Matt: I know I sure enjoyed playing LSL as a kid.
Fortunately, even the most neurotic parents, bless their souls, have trouble keeping their wee-ones under constant visual and aural surveillance. The best they can do is threaten them with slow bodily dismemberment if they go near that Tree of Knowledge.
And whatâ€™s the result of stringing up an electrified barbwire fence around that unwholesome tree? Curious, sex-obsessed children engage in constant sexual experimentation without the benefit of reliable information. Is keeping children in the dark about sex and death really worth the whole of society lying to them about it? Listen, every kid has the equipment, and for Godâ€™s sake, at a certain age thereâ€™s even hair growing on it. Thereâ€™s no harm and probably a lot of good in providing kids with manuals for these puzzling and potentially devastating devices. Games like Leisure Suit Larry can provide kids with a safe sexual playground to try new things and gain insight into this mysterious matter of being a human.
Consider: What's more likely to keep a kid from smoking pot? (a) "Marijuana doesnâ€™t exist." (b) "You're not old enough to know what marijuana is." (c) "Hereâ€™s some pot, and here's what it does, and here's some videos of people who are now dying of a fatal marijuana overdose." You don't have to be a psychologist to figure out which is the more effective preventative measure, though you may need one if you think those videos are going to be easy to find. Kids aren't nearly as stupid as we'd like to think they are. They also don't like being lied to anymore than we do, and no, smoking pot wonâ€™t make you go blind or grow hair on your palms, though itâ€™d be a lot easier on the cops if it did.
So, back to the original question. Sex and death can be presented to young people in a way that is neither dishonest nor harmful, but it requires plenty of foresight and consideration on the part of the presenter. Iâ€™m not talking about exposing kids to the same things we ought not be exposing to any sane individual, young or old. It's a worse sin in the eyes of Plato to let kids play a videogame that has them smashing-in the heads of innocent goombas than it is to let them play games in which husbands and wives engage in honest sexual activity. It's better to show young people what the world is and how it should be like, so they can learn about its problems and the best ways to cope with them.
You can be honest without being obscene, just as you can discuss the most sensitive topics without resorting to profanity (or the word â€œtherapy,â€ a thoroughly obscene term that ought to make the hardest felon blush redder than my checking account). I'd say what's needed in the videogame market is a sensible approach to incorporating "adult" elements in a manner that is both instructive and morally encouraging; the kind of â€œpersonal activitiesâ€ that we wish everyone would engage in. This means expecting a little more from our young people than being brainless â€œbuy me that!â€ machines that require zombifier pills to keep them civilized. For Godâ€™s sake, if we want our children to behave like responsible citizens, weâ€™d better find it in our advanced capitalist brains to treat them as such. If Joe Camel, Jack Daniels, and Ron Jeremy are poisons for our bodies and souls, then maybe we ought to pass some laws to protect ourselves as well as our children. My bet is we need it more than those sons of upstanding young mothers anyway.
Oh, and, folks, that â€œmature humorâ€ they talk about in movie and videogame guides; itâ€™s anything butt. Yeah, I said "butt."
Bill Loguidice, Editor: Bad thing. While I welcome the influx of any new game types, these particular games will be attaching a dangerous image to the industry if they're not tempered with other types of games. I talk about this in one of my articles this issue, and I think it's especially applicable here: we need games that make us think, care and feelâ€”in other words experience real emotion. Sure, keep on expanding what we can play, even if it's silly games that objectify women and show naked boobs like the games listed above. But if we do so, developers and especially publishers better start pushing gaming in the OTHER direction as well, more towards the high brow artistic side to balance it all out. Our industry has been given a bad enough name over the years as it is.
Does this game come in a plain brown wrapper?
David Torre, Assistant Editor: I think this is good for the industry because erotica is truely one of the last frontiers (content wise) in gaming. Virtually every other art form has its form of erotica. A film for mature audiences can have violence and softcore erotica and still recieve an R rating. A relationship simulation game like Singles: Flirt Up Your Life features similar softcore erotica but instead of this game receiving a "Mature" rating, the game receives an "Adults Only" rating. Even with this unfair, but clear distinction, I expect a major campaign from "family values" groups similar to what we faced with games like Mortal Kombat and Night Trap. It will stop once people realize that these games are played by average, normal adults.
Even though Singles: Flirt Up Your Life has been toned down for a US audience (only breasts are shown), I think even the European (uncensored version) of this game has been tastefully done, as it only shows erotica as a result from building a strong "virtual relationship". I've been playing this game, and although it's clearly a ripoff of one of the Sims romance expansion packs, I prefer it to Sims because I feel a game that simulates relationships should include experiences that happen in real relationships.
Your Life: Should your kids even be
seeing the box?
Whatever the case, it is a parent's responsibility to watch their kids. Some parents do not realize that they have incredible control over their children. Already the law makes it very difficult for children to come across this content. Furthermore, a parent's discussion about healthy sexuality with their child at a young age will have a significantly greater impact than the potentially negative outside influences that their child may come in contact with, whether it be a foul-mouthed classmate on the playground, or an erotic magazine they find in a field.
Take it to our forums and let us know where you stand!
Damn Matt, you scared me to death!!! Only kidding, but it was funny.
I'm all for sex in games if done right. So far nobody has done it right. The Leisure Suit Larry series was pretty funny and I enjoyed playing the games when they came out a long time ago. I may have to try the Singles: Flirt Up Your Life, however, it pisses me off that the U.S. has to censor the game. The Europeans have all the fun, hahaha.
What other games are out there that are similar to Singles?