Sunday, May 3, 2009

we all need the little sisters

I so wanted to make one last post and then get on with this. This was not to be, partially because Blondin Linden brained me midway through the last entry.

This is the latter half of that entry:

Blondin Linden
finally resurfaced on the thread, nearly one hundred pages past the last time he replied; he started his usual bit of picking the easier questions or the non sequiturs to answer first. But Valerius Constantine asked about unlucky chairs--you know, the red ones you sit in that then either electrify, behead, or stake your av, before tossing you the prize?

This was Blondin's reply on page 295:

Are you selling unlucky chairs or using them? Are they in your club or in your house? Sounds like something that would classify as Adult but I'd be happy to drop by and take a look if you'd like to pass me a LM.

And here I've hit, not my first, but perhaps my most telling moment of stark, brutal, incomprehension.

The Unlucky Chair premiered in stores and in sims two Octobers ago, I believe; and many of us flocked to them to see what would happen when we sat down. Some designers mixed apple cauldrons with Unlucky Chairs; some mixed them with regular Lucky Chairs for the amusement factor. It was treated as a Hallowe'en gag, never a serious deathing; and so far beyond what even "cartoon violence" entails, it staggers me to consider it in the same vein as some of the other sims/concepts that have come up as "Adult" content.

This is a page featuring American entertainment software ratings (about the closest comparable ratings system I could find to SL). This is how they list things out:

"Harry and the Haunted House: Follow Harry and his friends as they search for their baseball in the old house down the street. Is it haunted? Harry D. Rabbit, his dog Spot, and his friends Earl Earwax, Amy Fourpaws, and Stinky embark on an adventure when Harry hits Stinky's ball into the old house down the street. Join them and find out what the scariest thing is in the old house. Kids love the Living Books with great stories, beautiful graphics and tons of clickable hotspots. Text is highlighted as the story is read increasing reading comprehension and confidence. Kids can also click on individual words to hear them read. Choose to have the story read to you or play in the story. You can interact with the story in English or Spanish."

Essentially, there's nothing in there for anyone to be offended by--they're quick little programs, brightly-colored, fast-moving...perfect for the baby with the four-second attention span who, mysteriously, finds themselves in front of a computer screen. Cheerful, perky, virtual pablum.

"Bratz Rock Angelz: You get the chance to live the life of a Rock Angel as you help Cloe, Jade, Sasha, and Yasmin start their own fashion magazine. The search for the perfect scoop will take you around the globe, where famous places and famous people make for amazing adventures."

I admit, the "Bratz" as a concept sort of stretch the definition, but boiled down, the "Everyone" rating is free of nudity, sexual content, drug references, and if there is violence, it is of a broadly cartoon nature--think, less violent than Tom & Jerry cartoons--and can easily be understood as not connecting to real life.

"Master the magic in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire™. Enjoy a new spell-casting system that controls every flick of the wand. This time, you're able to play through the game as Harry, Ron, or Hermione, and team up with up to two other friends to combine magical skills that will produce more powerful spells, compete in the Triwizard Tournament, rescue your friends from the Black Lake, and navigate a magical maze."

Now we're getting somewhere. The plus 10 adds more in the way of mild violence--be it superficial cartoon-style, or somewhat deeper "fantasy" violence, mild language--think, the occasional "damn" gets through--and minimally suggestive themes. In that case, we're talking sight of occasional cleavage, short skirts, or makeup, in general--nothing more extreme than seeing Aunt Sofia come over and cross her long tanned legs in the living room, basically.

"Fantasy" violence, by the way, is defined as violence committed against humans or non-humans in a purely fantasy context, so, though it can be violent, it is clearly distinguishable from actual real-world violence.

"Alien vs. Predator: Extinction: On a cold, distant planet, the war against extinction is on, and your command skills will determine its outcome. For the first time ever on Xbox®, control an Alien hive, direct a Predator clan, or lead an elite squad of Colonial Marines to fight for the survival of your race. Experience the Alien Versus Predator™ universe from the perspective of the Aliens, the Predators, or the Colonial Marines in seven unique missions customized for each race. Control never-before-seen Aliens, Predators, or Marines, and upgrade your weapons and abilities to gain a tactical advantage. Do you have what it takes to win this ultimate battle of the species?"

The "Teen" rating brings us clearly into PG-13 territory--there may be violence, there may be "suggestive" themes, crude humor, you'll start to see a little blood here and there. Interestingly enough, this level also counts in "simulated" gambling, and "strong language"--if used infrequently.

I'm told the Teen rating is basically the rating for World of Warcraft, which, considering, doesn't really protect teens from much.

But then, considering the media world in which teenagers are steeped on an hourly basis...nothing will.

"BioShock is the "genetically enhanced" first-person shooter that lets you do things never before possible in the genre. Turn everything into a weapon, biologically mod your body with plasmids, hack devices and systems, upgrade your weapons and craft new ammo variants, and experiment with different battle techniques."

And now we hit "Mature", and BioShock. A lot of parents bought this for their teenagers, or the teens bought it themselves, and the parents didn't care, before they ever realized the game pretty much starts with a mad doctor eviscerating women.

The official rating guidelines make this equivalent to R-rated films, mostly--moderate to intense violence, blood, gore, horror, strong sexual content, casual mention of drugs or actual drug usage, and strong language. This is where they want the adults to play. (Problem is, so many parents equate video games to harmless fun--and the games are far from harmless, these days.)

"It may not be a splashy leap forward, but Rockstar Games' Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas: As in previous installments, here you play as a thug with problems you must steal and shoot your way out of, but the problems this time are disconcertingly more realistic. You play as Carl Johnson, known on the street as CJ, a likeable criminal type who has just returned to his hometown, Los Santos (a fictionalized Los Angeles), to find that his mother has been murdered and that the police have framed him for another murder. Reunions with his friends and a troubled relationship with his brother set off a sprawling, complex plot line, taking place at first in the immediate Los Santos area but eventually spilling into San Fierro (based on San Francisco) and Las Venturas (Las Vegas)."

And finally, the "Adult" rating, which means, in game terms, eighteen and up--like Runes of Magic, like Second Life. This level may--and usually does--include "prolonged" scenes of "intense" violence--in other words, beat-downs, bloodspatter, up-close-and-personal shootings, you get the idea--and/or graphic sexual content, as well as nudity--generally female, but we're starting to see a lot of male nudity now, as well.

"In a Kingdom ruled by insanity, a new hero rises in Arcania – A Gothic Tale®. After a war-like past, the tides are once again turning … and an entire kingdom's future is at stake. The once-beloved hero King has gone mad and now a young fisherman is chosen by fate to fulfill his destiny."

And admittedly, this--and the game quoted--is just here as filler to get all the categories down; the "Rate Pending" rating is just that--the game has been packaged and put to press, but the ESRB hasn't sat down and looked it over yet--so games in this category of pre-release but post-press could conceivably go anywhere.

Okay, so let's break this down further, for exactly what each category defines:
* Alcohol Reference - Reference to and/or images of alcoholic beverages
* Animated Blood - Cartoon or pixilated depictions of blood
* Blood - Depictions of blood
* Blood and Gore - Depictions of blood or the mutilation of body parts
* Cartoon Violence - Violent actions involving cartoon-like characters. May include violence where a character is unharmed after the action has been inflicted
* Comic Mischief - Scenes depicting slapstick or gross vulgar humor
* Crude Humor - Moderately vulgar antics, including bathroom humor; also called Mature Humor
* Drug Reference - Reference to and/or images of illegal drugs
* Fantasy Violence - Violent actions of a fantasy nature, involving human or non-human characters in situations easily distinguishable from real life
* Real Gambling - Betting, or betting-like behavior
* Intense Violence - Graphic and realistic-looking depictions of physical conflict. May involve extreme and/or realistic blood, gore, weapons, and depictions of human injury and death
* Mature Sexual Themes - Provocative material, possibly including partial nudity
* Language - Mild references to profanity, sexuality, violence, alcohol, or drug use
* Lyrics - Mild references to profanity, sexuality, violence, alcohol, or drug use in music
* Mild Violence - Mild scenes depicting characters in unsafe and/or violent situations
* Nudity - Graphic or prolonged depictions of nudity
* Partial Nudity - Brief and mild depictions of nudity
* Sexual Violence - Depictions of rape or other sexual acts
* Some Adult Assistance May Be Needed - Early Childhood Descriptor only; in other words, babies cannot always find the "on" switch for the machine, and may need help guiding the mouse. (Babies need to play on computers, though? This has always mystified me.)
* Strong Language - Profanity and explicit references to sexuality, violence, alcohol, or drug use
* Strong Lyrics - Profanity and explicit references to sex, violence, alcohol, or drug use in music
* Strong Sexual Content - Graphic depiction of sexual behavior, possibly including nudity
* Suggestive Themes - Mild provocative references or materials
* Tobacco Reference - Reference to and/or images of tobacco products
* Use of Drugs - The consumption or use of illegal drugs
* Use of Alcohol - The consumption of alcoholic beverages
* Use of Tobacco - The consumption of tobacco products
* Violence - Scenes involving aggressive conflict
So. Those are our operating guidelines. Now, using those, for games like Second Life, would the Unlucky Chair include:
* Animated Blood - Cartoon or pixilated depictions of blood
* Blood - Depictions of blood
* Blood and Gore - Depictions of blood or the mutilation of body parts
* Cartoon Violence - Violent actions involving cartoon-like characters. May include violence where a character is unharmed after the action has been inflicted
* Fantasy Violence - Violent actions of a fantasy nature, involving human or non-human characters in situations easily distinguishable from real life
* Intense Violence - Graphic and realistic-looking depictions of physical conflict. May involve extreme and/or realistic blood, gore, weapons, and depictions of human injury and death
* Mild Violence - Mild scenes depicting characters in unsafe and/or violent situations
* Violence - Scenes involving aggressive conflict
Well, let's see: for beheading on the Chair: animated (particle) blood and effects, also animations that involve the avatar's head inverting while a spinning saw blade (also equipped with particle blood) hovers through where the 'neck' would be. For staking on the Chair: animated (particle) blood and effects, also a large stake thrust through the 'chest' of the avatar, complete with animation to make it seem as if one is held up by the stake from the chair. For electrocution on the Chair: animated electrical effects surrounding the 'body' of the avatar, while animation causing flailing within the electrical effects is shown.

So. Violence (rated Teen); Fantasy Violence (rated Teen); Cartoon Violence (because everyone lives through the Unlucky Chair experience, so rated Teen); Animated Blood (rated Teen).

Yet, Blondin wants this to be clearly marked "Adult" in nature. Which would mean (by these guidelines) the Unlucky Chair would have to offer wounding that would persist after the avatar stood up; removal of limbs; evisceration; shock or shooting effects that resulted in particle blood from the avatar, not the device; screaming on behalf of the avatar with the avatar clearly and reliably seen as being in pain by any reasonable observer/player...

...in other words, we're talking virtual and extreme death again, with or without sexual components, and the Unlucky Chair? Just doesn't go that far.

What on earth are the Lindens debating for "Adult" content, then? And why is there such a divisive split between Blondin Linden and Jack Linden? I'm not crazed about ignoring the announcements of any Linden, because it's their game, but--I'm getting a strong, strong feeling that we can no longer trust Blondin to tell us the truth.

And that is an extreme loss of faith in the process. And that is very, very dangerous.

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