It made (soft) news recently when the The International Committee of the Red Cross announced that they were looking into whether or not the international treaties signed to protect the those caught up in war, soldiers and civilians alike, known as the Geneva (and Hague) Conventions were being weakened by the perception that they were not being applied properly in video games. Their aim seems not to scold gamers and game developers, but just to have it pointed out when the treaties are broken and have the consequences of such actions reflected in-game.
It is a noble concern, being a criticism of gaming that at least takes an original tack in the larger gaming violence debate; seeking to educate instead of demanding an unrealistic comprehensive ban. After all teaching the war fighters of tomorrow now to respect international law could be good for the gaming industry, after all one can't use the old “where were the parents?” defense with the actions of generals or commanders in the field.
So, with tongue in cheek, what other genres' gameplay could we expect to be cautioned about, and by whom?
Genre: Creature Battling Games
Organization: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
Out of context it sounds monstrous. Capturing a creature in the wild, training it to fight and pitting it against similarly trained captured creatures of others for sport. It’s not only appalling, it’s illegal (just ask Mike Vick), but it’s not just shocking that this practice in common in gaming, but orders of magnitude worse given that some of these games, Pokemon in particular, have gone out of their way to anthropomorphize their combatants. Most reasonable people don’t send their human friends into fights, shouting orders all the way.
The ASPCA could advise the addition of real-time scarring of a player’s creatures, or at least force the players to fight a round or two against a giant bird with steel talons, laser eyes and wings of flame for themselves occasionally.
Genre: Role Playing Games
Organization: National Crime Prevention Council
“Dibs” seems to be the law of the land in most, if not all, Role Playing Games. Any object, be it clothing, fresh fruit or weaponry that is not nailed down or part of a background tile is up for grabs to whomever lays their hands on it first. Moreover, this is not limited to the contents of chests that various mythological creatures keep packed full of goods they apparently have no use for in their caves/lairs/dungeons. Leave an object of value out in anything less secure than a clay pot and it is going to be swiped by a passing adventurer with a snooping habit that borders on the pathological and who’s just as about as likely to sell whatever he’s taken for less than half its value then use it as intended. Such behavior in reality, while a boon to the pawn shop/eBay communities, could engender widespread mistrust between citizens.
The National Crime Prevention Council could petition game developers to include their popular mascot, McGruff the Crime Dog, in every adventuring party. Dogs have a proud legacy as companions in RPGs from as far back as Secret of Evermore to the more recent Fable franchise, so in addition to using his canine abilities, McGruff can serve as a reminder to gamers not to take things that don’t belong to them, at least until he’s swapped out for the spunky ninja girl or the team’s designated healer.
Genre: God Games
Organization: Federal Election Commission
The power to reshape the surface of worlds notwithstanding, there is something patently unbelievable in most games that classify under the “God” genre; that any kind of sentient life would allow itself to be controlled so completely by a capricious force for which there is little recourse to depose. In the SimCity franchise, so-called Mayors can rule for hundreds of years all the while bulldozing homes and placing coal burning power plants next door to schools and hospitals with no accountability save for cases of absolute financial ruin or an apocalyptic, omnicidal disaster. Such autocratic behavior could lead future civic leaders to think they can act with impunity instead of with the blessing and guidance of their supporters like promised in the weeks leading up to the election.
As the regulatory body responsible for tracking the most important, most determinate factor in every election in the United States: campaign funding, the Federal Election Commission should insist that all civic simulators include a realistic system in which the player has to maintain the control of their cities/nations/planets though regular elections that include all of the attendant factors. From kissing babies to digitally altering photographs of your opponent to place him in unsavory situations, a realistic campaign will let the player really know how important they should take their responsibilities to every single one of their virtual citizens once they’ve convinced 50.1% of them that they are better off on the player’s side.
Organization: National Rifle Association
Along with “Stop, Drop and Roll” the first rule that every Kindergartner learns is “don’t run with scissors.” Obviously the developers of just about every open-world game, and regardless of what side of the law they portray from the rampaging crooks of Saint’s Row to the rampaging cops of True Crime, never learned about scampering with shears. Their protagonist’s weapons, from basic handguns to rocket launchers and flamethrowers are always out and in hand, ready to be fired at press of a button.
Gun safety is no joke. Think what you will about the NRA, they at least try to promote the safe operation of firearms. They could turn their colossal lobbying power on the gaming industry to insist that virtual weapons come with safety switches and gun-locks, which could open up some mini-games or collectible opportunities. Failing that, they could at least push for a careless player who does not holster their weapon before running with accidental discharge into their own bodies that will take several seconds of hiding behind a waist-high wall to heal.
Genre: Racing Games
Organization: American Institute of Physics
As thrilling as driving is, it’s also an activity fraught with peril. Not just to life and limb, but to your wallet. Even during casual neighborhood driving at the slowest speeds the slightest bump could end up costing the driver hundreds of dollars to repair. Outside of realistic (aka less fun) racing games, car wrecks in video games rarely take into account the consequences of tons of metal traveling at great speeds can have on both cars and the surrounding environment.
The American Institute of Physics, an umbrella organization that is dedicated to “promoting the advancement and diffusion of the knowledge of physics and its application to human welfare” can and should demand that in-game physics should be applied to more than the crumpling of gunned down Nazi corpses or puzzles in Valve games, but to any part of a game environment that can be struck with a hurtling, out of control automobile. Couple the resulting scene of devastation with a huge virtual repair bill and weeks in-game of driving around in a rented Ford Taurus while your car is in the shop, and the lesson to drive carefully should sink in.