Pitchford Says Games are Art, Have No More Lines To Cross

Gamasutra has a pretty great interview with Gearbox boss Randy Pitchford about stuff — and I really mean “stuff,” as it’s not about Duke Nukem Forever — and you should read it in a minute. I just want to highlight one bit real quick and opine all over it. Here’s the quote referenced in the headline:

“Is there a line [to cross]? If our medium is art, how could there be a line? How could we allow there to be a line, and who gets to decide what the line is? That’s a very slippery slope — there should not be a line.”

Disregarding the whole art question, let’s move straight on to that “line” business. Even today, there are societal lines in art. Few of them are government legislated in the first world, but they do exist. The movie biz have one extremely important thing in common with the games industry, that being the movies and games that earn the harshest of content ratings by the US’s accepted ratings systems are basically shunned by society at large. Just as you’d have to self-distribute an AO game and would only be able to release it on PC, there are few movie theaters willing to show an NC-17 or unrated film. And that’s with movies being far more accepted as an art form that game probably will be for decades, if ever. On the other hand, you CAN buy any released NC-17 film on DVD, because DVD and Blu-ray player manufacturers don’t regulate content as console manufacturers do.

In movies, as in games, the line is usually drawn at sex or sexual. I’ve only seen one NC-17 film that got that rating strictly for violence (High Tension) out of the few dozen I’ve watched. Likewise, games slapped with the AO almost always get it for sexual content — the major exception being Manhunt 2 — although the ESRB is a lot less strict about that than you might think, particularly in recent years. But, as Pitchford also points out in the interview, we don’t see the line that much because developers usually attempt to stay well clear of it so as to avoid controversy in the media, as was the case with Mass Effect 2′s toned down sex scenes.

In an important way, Pitchford’s rhetorical questions are spot on. DNF got an M without appealing, apparently (glory hole and all), and both Postal and Postal 2 carried the rating in the 90s, and that means the line is where the developers set it. You can get away with most anything you’d want to put in a game, and thanks to the miracle of the internet, an indie developer doesn’t even need to use the ESRB. Minecraft not having any ESRB rating hasn’t done it any harm, I don’t think.

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