Julian Eggebrecht held a really interesting keynote address at GCDC this year, about a subject dear to my heart: the idiotic standards used to censor games.
Just before I became a producer in 2004, I heard a particularly ludicrous story about an extremely convoluted way to access "sexual content" (a nipple) in Max Payne 2, and how the developers were forced to take it out. It's not quite "hack the game to reactivate dead code" a la Dead Coffee, but it came pretty close. The irony is of course that violence is regularly removed from games for non-US markets, often using somewhat Byzantine rules (no blood, no violence related to sex, etc.).
I vowed that in my next project, as a European developer, I would try to add enough sexual content so that it would need to be censored for the US market, much like Basic Instinct or Julian's example, Eyes Wide Shut. From a development point of view it's not a big deal: if you're making multiple SKUs with different content changes for each, why not add one more? (At some point I may be able to tell what became of that vow.)
Anyway, Julian makes three excellent points:
- The standards used by various rating organisations are nonsensical. Of course, that's true for other media as well, but I think it's worse in games right now.
- This is caused by the more general issue that games are not generally recognized as an art form, a topic that is being discussed more and more in the last few years, to the point where it has spilled over into mainstream culture.
- Finally, Julian urges developers to push the boundaries of sex and violence, but to do it in an artistic way. This reminds me of something Brian Moriarty said in one of his excellent talks at GDC in the late 90s: if you're going to portray violence, do it for a good reason.