Games, Guns, Politics and EA Earnings Call

“… there has been an  enormous amount of research done in the entertainment field about looking for linkages between entertainment content and actual violence, and they haven’t found any.  And I could give you long stories about how people in Denmark or the UK or Ireland or Canada consume as much or more violent games and violent media as they do  in the United States, and yet they have an infinitely smaller incidence of gun violence.”

- John Riccitello, EA Earnings Call, 31st Jan 2013

Like many non-Americans, I watch the current round of discussion in the aftermath of the (latest) tragic school shootings with mild bemusement. To me it reads as though the NRA blames computer games and basically anything and everything else they can think of except guns. And whilst the various industries and groups picked out rebutt the claims, they don’t seem able to respond in kind. Like:  It’s not the games, it’s the everything else including the guns. (I know how playground arguments go, that’s what you do.)

The part where the government then runs around consulting everyone and tries to think of some kind of quick fix doesn’t induce mild bemusement, that’s business as usual – except that the US government is more competent than our homegrown omnishambles.

Riccitello isn’t politically able to take a poke at the NRA  (too many US gamers and investors don’t want to hear that argument), but it is his job to defend his corner of the gaming industry, which is an uphill struggle when you can’t use one of your best arguments. As soon as he starts citing countries like Canada, the UK, Denmark, and Ireland (as per the above quote), it’s kind of implicit that:

  • Gamers are gamers. People are people.  So you can compare like with like in different countries.
  • One of the big differences between all of those places and the US is that they all have strict gun control, which may be relevant if we’re talking about gun crime.

In any case, EA are shuttering the Medal of Honor series for awhile, because the last game was a critical disaster that vastly underperformed in sales.   This is a purely business decision and nothing at all to do with the political climate. They’re enthusiastic about other shooters like Battlefield and again, they’re too reliant on selling shooters to criticise them or stop making them anyway.

So again, a bit of dancing on eggshells to put this across while backing the government’s call for research into video game violence and also asserting that there’s no connection between gaming and RL violence.

Gaming <—> Violence? Who knows?

We take tremendous joy in virtual violence. We squeal with glee when life-giving liquid squirts out of men’s necks. Does that cause violence? Probably not. I don’t have any concrete reason to believe so, anyway. But it gives violence an active, constant role in our day-to-day lives. We can’t just ignore that. We shouldn’t ignore that. It’d be outright irresponsible to do so.

– Nathan Grayson, Rock Paper Shotgun

Personally, I’m all for more research being done on links between gaming and violence. I doubt that gaming has much to do with violence, it’s as likely to be a substitute (i.e. people who might otherwise have gone out and got into fights may play games instead) as a normaliser. But I could be wrong, and it would be good to know more if we can.

And if it becomes less politically fashionable for devs to make ultra-realistic ultra-violent shmups then I won’t be complaining, since it increases the chance that more games will be made that I personally like. John Walker (also in RPS) argues that EA should not have canned Medal of Honor but instead use it to springboard a series of FPS games that challenges the players preconceptions and portrays the experience of soldiers with more choice (and therefore taking responsibility for the consequences of those choices) and less railroaded “kill X enemies” scenarios.

And I think “yes, that sounds interesting”, I’m playing through The Walking Dead at the moment and loving how it carefully explores its genre. I could imagine a war game that took a similar approach. But I don’t like FPS games, and that’s the problem in a nutshell. Your average FPS player may not be your average story-loving RPG fan. EA probably did the right thing to shoot MoH in the head.

Thought of the Day: An MMO of Thrones

I’ve been catching up recently with episodes of A Game of Thrones (can’t wait to go to Comic Con now, since Arb informed me that GRRM was going to be there on the Game of Thrones panel) which seems to be getting better and better every week as the pacing kicks in.

It makes me wonder about the role of politics in MMOs. And how interesting it might be to play a more strategic and political game.

Probably EVE is the strongest implementation of this type of concept, and the player politics there sprang up from within the setting. Partly because the game allows players/ corps to effectively claim and try to hold areas of space, so there is something worth fighting over. Without this sort of stake, the politics is going to feel fairly pointless.

And ultimately, in a MMO, the role any individual player is going to play is far more likely to be that of a grunt than of a kingmaker, unless you keep the size of the game small and have tight-knit, active factions.

So I think politics in an MMO is awesome for flavour, and factions have a lot more potential than most designers give them credit for. But ultimately the most fun sorts of politics for games are played out on a smaller canvas, where individuals feel that they matter.

Note: This is not to say I wouldn’t jump for an Amber MMO, because that would be crazy fun … but not for Westeros.

Thought of the Day: On welfare epics, workers, and the industrial MMO economy

Once upon a time, in the pre-industrial age, life was simpler and easier to understand in the MMO world. People quietly got on with their own game and formed into like minded guilds, mostly for social reasons or to work on shared tasks. Some took a hardcore raiding approach and were somewhat respected as the server elite (by some people at least). But there was very little pressure on players to stress over their gear and play if they weren’t in one of those guilds. Raiding society put a lot of emphasis on which guild you joined, but outside this circle it was mostly unimportant.

As raiding became more accessible, there was a lot more pressure on regular players to buy in to the system. A system which defined players by the progression of their current guild and forced those who were deeply concerned with their status to put in more and more time, and keep jumping to more and more progressed guilds.

You could imagine raid guilds as being like production lines. The pressure on players to conform and gear and play to an approved style (with the use of external metrics like gearscore and damage meters to enforce) was like the work ethic that was imposed on pre-industrial workers in the real world. Lists of meaningless achievements replaced meaningless production goals set down by management, which in turn replaced meaningful individual goals from the pre-industrial MMO which people defined for themselves.

And the welfare epics? Well named, perhaps, because just as in the real world, welfare picked up some of the slack in that there were more workers than there were jobs; more players who wanted to be part of the endgame than there were guild spots.

So if that’s the industrial cycle, what happens now? Are we drifting into a post-industrial MMO age where raiding might become optional again, or at least less of a defining factor in how a player sees themselves?