By Gerhabio 54 Comments
The Japanese Tragedy and MotorStorm: ApocalypseAs some of you may know, Sony decided to delay the launch of the third PlayStation 3 iteration of its MotorStorm racing series, MotorStorm: Apocalypse (Motorstorm 3 in Japan), because it features a level called 'Waves Of Mutilation' that takes place during a relentless tsunami. Appearing in the Pro stage of the main Festival Campaign, 'Waves Of Mutilation' is an insane four-lap race that unleashes aquatic devastation on your surroundings as you speed around the track. In the level, you compete against other drivers through destruction as powerful waves cause ships, cars, and buildings to topple under impact. MotorStorm: Apocalypse has been in development for a long time, so neither developer Evolution Studios nor publisher Sony Computer Entertainment could ever have imagined in their wildest nightmares that one of their levels would parallel this real world disaster so closely, but its timing is indeed both incredible and unfortunate. Here's some gameplay of the aforementioned level:
This is, of course, not the first time any of us has played a video game that displays a tragedy where human life was lost. Most of the time, however, massive loss of life is shown in the form of future, sci-fi crazyness like the atomic destruction of Megaton in Fallout 3 or in the form of wars which take place in the distant past (e.g. all them WWII FPS) or are based on fake conflict (e.g. Modern Warfare) significantly softening their impact. With MotorStorm: Apocalypse, however, these events are still very raw. With the Japan disaster coming tragically unannounced, and the fact that Sony’s new racing title features such potent imagery that we’ve all seen on the news in the last few days, its impact is particularly poignant. The race, which was intended to be fictional, became all too real. Because of this I applaud Sony's decision to delay the game as the most sensitive course of action. Now, for the other side...
The Mexican Drug War and Call of Juarez: The CartelFirst, we must admit that like Motorstorm 3, Call of Juarez: The Cartel has not been released and we have very few details about it so we can't make any final judgements. We do know a couple of key facts, however: 1) Part of its story will be set in Ciudad Juarez, in Mexico. 2) It will deal with drug trafficking. 3) Violence will ensue.
From these snippets alone one can already see how many would consider this title problematic. Cd. Juárez is a hotspot of violence, just last year (2010) the city saw its homicide count reach 3075 people. The city's inhabitants live day to day in fear (they are struggling right now as you read this), scared of a system of violence that the authorities have continuously failed to control. In the middle of this comes Call of Juarez:
While I am cautious of the whole "Video games incite violence in children" debate, I am painfully aware of the contemporary suffering of these people. The colloquial expression "Too soon" does not even get close to fully describe the level of insensitivity I feel this release carries. Regardless of whether Call of Juarez glorifies cartel violence or not (we will see when it hits the shelves) or whether it functions as a bloody gateway for youth who are already predisposed to a a life of violence by their tragic environment, it is not difficult to understand why a parent would frown upon the idea of their child filling in their playtime with images of the same oppressive aggression that riddles their day to day existence. Nor is it difficult to visualize a victim of the drug war clenching her teeth at the notion that in the living rooms of her city and other parts of the world (particularly the developed world) people are treating her suffering --her present suffering-- as mere entertainment.
The QuestionIn my opinion then, the video game industry as a whole should take up the social responsibility of respecting people's contemporary suffering; they should avoid present tragic subjects as material for mere amusement. Sony took the right decision when in delayed MotorStorm 3. Sony recognized that its title utilized images that were reminiscent of present, real suffering and that this images were there only for the sake of entertainment. It is too early to tell whether Call of Juarez: The Cartel will utilize its own tragic imagery simply as a tool for amusement or as medium of constructive social critique. But if it is the former (as years of video game history would have us suspect), I believe it insensible --almost insulting!-- for this game to be released at the same time the people of Cd. Juárez are suffering. Ubisoft: The sensible decision is rarely the necessary decision but always the most ethical.
So then, What do you think about the above examples? What do you think about video games that use imagery that is either reminescent or based on contemporary tragedies? Should developers and the industry in general have limits to what subjects they can deal with, particularly those based on real life?