Some of modern cinema’s greatest filmmakers regularly make movies full of violence, blood, foul language and/or nudity. Most people would agree that Martin Scorcese is one of the best directors of all time, and other than his occasional detour into tamer movies like Hugo and The Aviator, his films are frequently about crime, murder, and violence that earn every bit of their R ratings…and sometimes even stretch that classification to its absolute limit. Quentin Tarantino is also an incredibly celebrated filmmaker, and he’s earned Oscar nominations for movies featuring gallons of blood, strings of obscenities (including racial epithets), and non-consensual anal sex. Then we have critically-acclaimed comedies like American Pie and There’s Something About Mary that showcase a man sticking his genitals into food and a woman who unknowingly uses semen as hair gel.
Yet the moment a video game dares to feature violence, blood, foul language and/or nudity, many gamers immediately write it off as what certainly has to be a subpar game that relies on shock value and juvenile themes and humor to sell copies. I’ve always found that to be a curious and also infuriating inconsistency. Why is it that a movie can be bloody, violent, and sexual and not automatically be written off as trash but the same can’t be done for a video game? In retrospect, the original Mortal Kombat isn’t the strongest, most well-polished fighting game around, especially compared to the nearly flawless Street Fighter II. And sure, had it not featured buckets of blood and violent decapitations, it might’ve faded into obscurity as quickly as any number of other me-too fighting games of the early 90’s. But the series definitely came into its own and was a much better game mechanically beginning with its second installment, and has had anumber of solid entries since, including the most recent two games both of which have been met with much acclaim. None of that matters, though, to the people who cynically wrote it off after the first time they saw someone’s still-beating heart get ripped out of their chest and never bothered to give the series a chance, preferring to scoff at it and judge it from the sidelines based entirely on screenshots of the ever-more-brutal fatalities without ever actually bothering to play any of the games. It’s not just by dumb luck that the Mortal Kombat series has outlasted and stayed consistently more popular than most of its fighting game contemporaries, especially the other ones that have tried to make violence and/or half-naked girls their star attraction – it’s because the MK games have generally been legitimately solid fighting games. If all we cared about was violence and dismemberment, why wasn’t Time Killers more successful? Or the second Eternal Champions game? Or Primal Rage? Or Way of the Warrior? Or Kakuto Chojin? Or Tao Feng: Fist of the Lotus (created by MK co-creator John Tobias, no less)? Because none of those games were particularly good. Mortal Kombat was and is, simple as that.
The Grand Theft Auto series has seen similar close-mindedness. The early GTA games, especially when the series was still in 2D, were certainly built around the shock value of the mass violent mayhem one could create, with bonuses for mowing down groups of people and the gleeful masochism of the trails of blood that you’d leave as you crushed a pedestrian under your tires. But the series came into its own in the move to 3D, and beginning with San Andreas especially the games began to tell compelling, mature stories full of legitimate character depth and razor-sharp satire. Again, though, people heard the early stories of how you could have sex with a hooker and then kill her to get your money back, or visit strip clubs, or mow down people with chainsaws, and decided right then and there that the GTA games were exactly what Jack Thompson and Fox News said they were: sex and murder simulators aimed at kids and immature adults.
Nevermind that any number of Martin Scorcese movies feature trips to strip clubs, violent murders, or sex with hookers. Nevermind that most Quentin Tarantino movies showcase body counts in the dozens with rivers of blood to match. It’s fine when a movie does it. It’s art when a movie does it. It’s mature storytelling when a movie does it. But when a game does it? Mindless, immature drivel aimed at the lowest common denominator, and more importantly, awful games no doubt. I’m not saying you aren’t entitled to hate Mortal Kombat or Grand Theft Auto or any other game. I’m also not saying you aren’t entitled to feel like violence and blood and sex have no place in video games. Both of those opinions are 100% valid. However, what you shouldn’t do is automatically write off a game just because it has the nerve to feature a spray of blood or a drop of the F-bomb or a peek at a woman’s exposed front and/or backside. Especially if you don’t do so with movies. If you can enjoy an R-rated movie in spite of its content, you should be willing to at least try to do so with a game (and that doesn’t include playing the 1992 original of a game and decided its garbage for the ensuing two decades). Ironically, to dismiss any and all “mature” games on principle is quite an immature stance to have.
I know that I have good taste overall, and I certainly believe that I have good taste in games. I also know that I’m not so easily swayed by blood or cursing or boobs, especially not as an adult in his 30’s. My years of foolishly renting or buying any game that promised to let me rip off some heads and see some bounciness in bikinis – which was as naked as video game girls got when I was young dumb and, well, you know the rest – ended when my age no longer had the word “teen” in it. If I play a game now that just so happens to be violent or bloody or naughty, it’s because it is a legitimately good game that just happens to feature those things, not the other way around. And I can say I have been legitimately enjoying both Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto games for way longer than I would’ve still been fooled by the allure of their illicit content. Who has the time or the disposable income to pay $60 and spend dozens of hours on a game just for the thrill of the occasional – computer-rendered, no less – scene of explicit violence or softcore sex? You can find both, for free, on the internet in about 10 seconds, even on your phone. To imply that anyone, even a teenager in this day and age with all they have access to, would buy and suffer through an otherwise terrible video game just for that is an implication that I have trouble seeing how anyone could make anymore. I can’t imagine that even the most blood-thirsty and sex-crazed among us wouldn’t just seek those things out under cheaper, easier means than getting it from a video game. We’ve all seen what happens to the truly awful games that hide behind shock value – they usually flop, or at most fool enough people the first time around and then their sequels flop decisively. When a series goes on for 5, 10, 20 years and reaches sequel numbers into the double digits, clearly those games couldn’t have fooled that many millions of people for that many years. I don’t see how you’d even want to be involved in a hobby that you think is filled with that many stupid, easily-seduced people, because what does that say about you to share a past time with them? I certainly don’t like that implication, which is why I tend to believe the best about the overall gaming community rather than the worst.