Friday, December 5, 2008

someone please think of the children

I can’t say anything about God of War that hasn’t been said already. It’s fast and loud and violent and entertaining. Its story, while simple, is satisfying – it is fan fiction of a considerably higher caliber than some. The NES has its Mario 3, the Genesis has its Sonic the HedgehogGod of War can be associated with the PS2 in much the same way.

It’s not the perfect game some paint it as. The camera, universal scourge of games everywhere since their entry into the third dimension, is good-not-great. The graphics are impressive but done almost entirely in shades of brown and grey that manage to homogenize many of its environments. Every puzzle involves pushing some damn boxes. Still, these flaws are forgivable in light of the Big Picture. It’s a strong package at its current asking price of $20 or less, if (heaven forbid) you take longer to buy and play games than I do.

God of War fully earns its M rating – its got blood and boobs and scary dragon-type things. It’s no Grand Theft Auto, that dearest whipping boy of the mainstream media, but it’s the type of game that parents and pundits love to point to when they need a scapegoat.

“Look,” they say. “Look at that. That is why our children have problems.”

The funny thing about the most vocal opponents of mature games is that they often don’t play games, period, and are unwilling to. Enough of them seem to get upset about the fact that such games exist, without considering that some people might prefer certain experiences to others. There are no angry support groups up in arms every time a stupid R-rated movie starring Keanu Reeves comes out. Maybe there should be, but there aren’t, because people expect that sometimes movies meant for older and more mature audiences will be released. Constantine is awful, but it doesn’t corrupt the youth merely by being, and neither does Manhunt 2.

The fact of the matter is that we have a damn good ratings system in place, courtesy the ESRB. It’s clear and direct, and just as if not more informative than the systems in place for TV and movies. Even the least educated parent should be able to pick up the box or look online and find what games have what rating, and exactly why the games are rated the way they are. You can then use this information to decide whether your offspring should be exposed to this media. IT IS NOT THAT HARD WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT.

God of War is an excellent game, and a genre-defining experience. While it’s a true must-play for a mature audience, I can say without reservation that it’s not something a ten-year-old should get for his birthday. Go beyond the on-the-surface shock value of the chained knives and blood fountains, for a minute – this is a game in which you are required to push a caged man down a hallway, put him in an incinerator and pull the lever, all so you can move forward. While you’re doing this, your victim pleads for mercy that you cannot give him. To someone developed enough to think about it, this goes beyond gratuitous violence to be an excellent character moment – the player is controlling a man who has committed such awful acts that in order to purge his memory of them, he willingly and without hesitation sacrifices another human being. For a young child, something like this has the power to be singularly disturbing.

If people are really concerned about protecting their children from things like this, what it really comes down to is vigilance – not vigilance from self-righteous watchdog groups and sensationalist lawyers, but vigilance from the parents of the children playing the games in question. This goes not just for single-player games with mature themes, but for online games as well – for every swearing kid you meet in Halo, there’s at least one parent that doesn’t know (or, worse, doesn’t care) what’s going on. If all the armchair parents of the world would step up and stop depending on part-time Wal-Mart clerks to moderate what ends up in their kids’ game libraries, that would be a serious step in the right direction.