Friday, September 15, 2006

Sex and violence in videogames and puzzles

This week's Escapist includes Corvus Elrod's article, "Screenshots and Boobies." Don't worry, that link is safe for work. The article, unsurprisingly, talks about marketing videogames, starting off with some interesting observations of women's behavior in stores that rent videogames.

Elrod also touches on the print ad campaign for the newest game in the Hitman series, Blood Money. Instead of focusing on the pervasive violence, the print ads push the thus-far barely existent sexuality in the game, to the point of pressing the "why glamorize violence against women" button. Perhaps more interestingly is that none of the trailers (NB, that I've seen) for the game include this sexualized violence.

At the same time that I picked up Hitman, I was hoping to snag SimCity 4, as well. Sadly, they were out of the second title; never fear, I shall find a copy yet. However, another game caught my eye, Safecracker; a pure puzzle game. You're the eponymous safecracker and you've got some thirty-five safes to crack. The box text seemed reminiscent of the 7th Guest. It was less than twenty bucks, so I wound up purchasing it.

After a few hours of gleefully working through the first some levels of Hitman, it occurred to me that I was playing a puzzle more than a game. (Greg Costikiyan's definitions, of course.) The game now rewards making the hit look like an accident, and players are punished for being sloppy: being caught on camera, killing innocents, leaving evidence, etc. Yes, each level has more than one solution or tactic (do I go on a rampage or can I pull the level off without getting caught?), but some are clearly more optimal than others, hence the larger in-game reward.

I'm struck by the intersection of these three games:

Hitman: Blood Money, the latest in a controversial game series about undetectable murder. SimCity, the latest in a critically acclaimed long-running game/toy series about creating and managing a city. Safecracker, a semi-obscure puzzle game that's a semi-sequel to a 1999 release.

What do these have in common? Why do they all appeal to me? There's an interesting rock-paper-scissors relation going on here: Hitman and SimCity have a high degree of simulation, SimCity and Safecracker are both abstracted to a certain degree, and Safecracker's safes and Hitman's levels are puzzles to solve.

Expect few posts this weekend; I'll likely be playing games.


Nyarly said...

Regarding the "sexualized violence" of Hitman: Blood Money. I think this is a hypersensitive button for some people. When in the linked Gilded Lily post I read the phrase "sexual violence" in reference to the ad spread she quotes, I turn completely off to the rest of her argument.

Advertisers use sex in ads because it sells. You buy it. If we stop buying it, they'll stop using it. Myself, I don't see the real issue with the general case - certain publications excepted.

In the case of the Hit Man ads, if you're advertising a game about a hired killer, dead people probably make pleasing ad copy. I found the ad she reference tastefully chilling, and utterly appropriate to its context in a gamer's magazine.

Granted, all of this is coming off of seeing This Film Has Not Yet Been Rated, so there might be a stronger bias than is usual.

catzmiyow said...

Like nyarly, I found the Gilded Lily post a bit off-putting; there's an odd sort of "feminist" logic that supposes violence is only sexual when it happens to women. Or when it happens to sexy women.

I can sort of appreciate GL's complaint that the print ads for Hitman could appear to portray it as a much more "sexy" game than it really is, but regardless of whether or not there are any actual sexy ladies in the game, I'm with nyarly again: sex sells. It doesn't need to be accurate or true or an honest representation. If you want to hock your wares, put them next to some boobies. It works.

When folks get all hinky about sex and violence sharing real estate - in print, pictoral, music or otherwise - it's not that they seriously worry little Johnny's going to grow up and be Ted Bundy, it's not that they think all men are stupid and/or dangerous and/or shallow . . . it's that, well, sex and violence ARE in the same psycho-social-sexual-biological neighborhood. And that makes some people very uncomfortable.