Lunchtime Discussion: Just A Game?

The recent release of GTA: Chinatown Wars for the PSP injected the subject of morally questionable game content into my bloodstream once again. Now, GTA has a plethora of content that could be considered morally questionable, well pretty much all of it in the best ones, but I’m specifically talking about the drug dealing side of the game. Yes, that’s right, I don’t mind mowing down passers-by, but drug dealing is a little uncomfortable for me.

Of course, gaming’s history has given us plenty of other moments where our own values affect how we feel during play. I’ve written numerous times about my love for Manhunt, but some of the execution moves made me feel uneasy; At times, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be performing those moves. Even now, thinking back to the beheading, I can remember scouting around for a different weapon to the machete, one that wouldn’t have such a disturbing animation associated with it.

It’s easy to pass off everything as “just” a game, and to use that as the barrier to feeling anything other than excitement while playing. But I think that’s a cop out. If we’re honest about our feelings, there must be times when something has made us question whether we want it to be a part of gaming?

Chinatown Wars doesn’t make drug dealing mandatory, so you can mostly avoid it if it offends. More interestingly, my time with Manhunt shows that I consciously tried to avoid certain methods of killing. These moral choices add an interesting layer to a game, but are there some layers you’d be happier not to see at all? Is it ok for gaming to have an “anything goes” approach, or are there things that just shouldn’t be part of the gaming landscape?

Thanks once again to Michael for all his help on Lunchtime Discussions this week.