Thursday, July 14, 2011

On being edgy in games

I just read a review of Duke Nukem Forever that pretty much demolished the game, criticizing virtually every aspect of it.  One of the biggest complaints was the 'humour' (though the author called it 'humor' since it was written for the crazy Yanks who don't know how to spell things properly...) and how the game was focused around denigrating women and gays in particular.  The reviewer was really put off my the gratuitous sexual content and juvenile humour including the main character picking up feces from toilets to earn achievements.

So here are the facts, folks.  Kids love bathroom humour.  They think it is the height of comedy to deal with poop in any form and can be perfectly content just shouting words for body parts or fluids ad nauseum.  Blizzard has had an excess of quests in WOW that involve searching through poop for various things as if this is original and hilarious - which it *is* to the 6 year olds, and *is not* to the adults.  Another fact is that adults like sexual content.  Porn makes up half the bloody internet for a reason - people want to look at other naked people having sex.  Including that in a game can keep some people interested even if the gameplay is otherwise quite terrible, which is abundantly illustrated by the wealth of sex themed games on the internet that are less compelling that Xs and Os.  People can't agree on which sort of questionable content is good and which is not though, which is where the problems come in.  Fact is that although kids love bathroom humour and there are tons of people out there who love their porn there are also great hordes who hate bathroom humour and have no interest in their games being filled with naked bodies.

Say you make a game and it is bad.  You hope to gain a greater number of purchases by throwing in edgy content like cursing, sex, bathroom humour, etc.  The question is, are you even helping yourself?  I suspect that there is virtually no correlation between adding in edgy content and the success of the product at all - rather that it is mostly a sign that the product would be too obviously garbage when the viewer is not distracted.  Harry Potter isn't exactly filled with questionable content and yet it is hilariously successful, Plants vs. Zombies is full of cute but decidedly lacking in poop and Farmville lets you run a farm without the realistic problem of disposing of all the animal crap.  The best you can hope for in adding in all this stuff is to fill the game up with things to do and look at that aren't fun but are shocking and hope that somehow people don't notice... but unfortunately that doesn't work.

I have no objection whatsoever to porn or feces.  I think that people should be bloody comfortable with nudity and that neither sex nor bodily functions need any kind of repugnance associated with them.  However, that doesn't mean that throwing those things around randomly accomplishes anything useful!  There are plenty of places where sex, nudity and bodily functions can fit in very naturally, like in the Game of Thrones HBO series for example, but trying to add in more just to get attention is a failing strategy.  Even in the case of WOW I think the poop quests were a failure as they were so clearly slathered on top in an attempt to get the kids to giggle rather than being used where they were clearly needed.  If you look at the original Duke Nukem 3D you can find light nudity and bathroom humour too but there it is very much secondary to the action and only appears as a backdrop to the real game.

Edgy content, whether that be swearing, bathroom humour or sex is only going to make things better when it is worked in where it fits easily, and is just a blight when it is shoveled on as if it were a goal all its own.  The game will sell on its gameplay, not on its boobs and poop.  Misogyny and gay bashing, on the other hand, are downright wrong and the fact that they were included in a mainstream game is both disgusting and a sign that those in charge are utterly lost.

Edit:  I meant to type "without" instead of "with" about Farmville.  There is no poop management there.  Sigh.


  1. Has Farmville changed since I played it? I don't recall ever having to deal with animal poop. If you do now then I apologize to anyone I sent dozens of pigs to!

  2. Indeed, I made a typo. I meant to type without instead of with. Curses.