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Old 11-12-2003, 05:16 PM   #1
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Default Ken Williams on video game violence

These posts are taken from Ken Williams' Sierra Archive sites. A user identified as Brian Austin submitted the following post to the Archive's forums, and Ken replied. I'm not going to comment much on this (though I'm sure I will if any discussion pops up) because I very much agree with Ken anyway, and I've posted plenty about this subject in the past.


Brian Austin's post:

The ESRB and video game violence
Ken, this debate has been ongoing for some time, and I'd like to know your take on the situation since you have been tightly involved with the gaming community. For years now there has been a lot of talk about video game violence and its effect on children and adults. By some standards we have become a more violent society, and that has some people pointing fingers at the video game industry. In 1994 the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) was established as a self-regulatory group to rate video games on their violence and adult themes. Yet, in the wake of tragedies like Columbine and cases of children blaming his/her behavior on video games, some are lobbying for stricter controls or all out censorship of video games. I know that in the past Sierra put out a lot of great titles that were enjoyed by youngsters and adults alike. Did you make a conscious effort to makes games as family friendly as possible and shy away from using violence unless it truly fit within the storyline? Did you or Sierra have any part in the formation of the ESRB? And on the broader topic, what do you think of lawsuits like the one in Knoxville, Tenn. alleging that a violent video game caused two boys to commit criminal acts? Do you believe that the ESRB ratings are working, or do you think we need stricter controls on video games?
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Old 11-12-2003, 05:17 PM   #2
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Ken's response:


re: The ESRB and video game violence
There is no doubt in my mind that people learn from the games they play. It's tough for me to believe that anyone argues against this.

Sierra didn't make violent games because I didn't like them. I did ultimately approve Half-Life, but it was a tough decision, and not one that I would make today (post Columbine).

I saw the lawsuit. I am anti-censorship, but I have very different feelings about what is appropriate for a mature adult, and what is appropriate for a 10, or 13, year old child.

Theoretically, if the rating system is working, games can be published with mature, or violent, content and their distribution restricted to adults. Unfortunately, this doesn't work. Store clerks don't check IDs, and many parents don't care what games their kids play.

I am VERY opposed to censorship. However, I have come to the point where there needs to be some common-sense legislation. The tricky part is who decides what is appropriate, and who defines what is appropriate.

For instance, It seems clear to me that films such as Shindlers List, or Saving Private Ryan should exist, yet these are just as violent as most computer games. I spent much of my life arguing that telling stories on a computer is just as important as telling them through film, and that the same rules of content, and breadth of content, should apply.

There are important distinctions between violent films, and a game in which the player runs (or drives) from place to place killing everyone in sight. In a film, there is a greater level of abstraction between the viewer and the characters in the film. Great films do make you identify with the characters, but not nearly to the level of a computer game. A great computer game makes the player a character within the game. Done correctly, a computer game becomes a simulation. It's like a story-based version of Microsoft Flight Simulator.

Just as film works best when there is a "suspension of disbelief", games work best when you literally become the protagonist in the game. Games are MUCH stronger than film, in that deep down, when watching a film, you know that ultimately the film is going to end the way that it ends. Nothing you can do is going to change the outcome. This is not true with a game. Games can be realistic simulations of synthetic worlds.

Films can, and do, change opinions. Computer games have even more power to do so. If you take a kid, particularly one whose value system is already a little out of whack, and then place them into a simulator (computer game) wherein they are given a gun, and told to shoot everyone in site, and then they are rewarded by both the computer simulation, and their fellow gamers, based on their success as a killer, and then send that kid out into the real world where they are perhaps teased by those around them, you have a VERY dangerous situation.

I do not intend to say that a normal kid can be turned into a killer by a computer game. Most of our value system comes from our parents and our peers. If 99% of what a kid sees/hears is sending the right message, then a violent computer game (or song, or book, or film) is not going to change their lives. On the other hand, if a youth, who was borderline anyhow, finds themselves respected, as the hero in a violent computer simulation, it could easily be the straw that breaks the camels back.

I am not a psychologist, nor am I a politician. I have no idea what a law would look like that I could support. For me, the key issue is the goal of the game or movie. Creators must understand the power they have to shape opinions, and the responsibilty that comes with this. If they reward, or glamorize, indiscriminate killing, then they shouldn't be surprised when this conduct is repeated on the streets.
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Old 11-15-2003, 03:32 PM   #3
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I agree with everything except that there needs to be legislation. In any case, this thread is 83 threads old, so feel free to let it die.
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Old 11-15-2003, 07:11 PM   #4
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UhhhHhhhHhh he released Phantasmagoria 2... that was violent. So was one. Quest for Glory had blood in some of the sequels. Space Quest also. I think King's Quest was always too much of a pansy for blood though...
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Old 11-15-2003, 07:18 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by syntheticgerbil
UhhhHhhhHhh he released Phantasmagoria 2... that was violent. So was one. Quest for Glory had blood in some of the sequels. Space Quest also. I think King's Quest was always too much of a pansy for blood though...
He was emphatic, though, about the Phant games being only for adults, and did everything in his power to restrict distribution and target the proper audience. Sierra pioneered a rating system before anyone else did, with the "MA-17" rating on LSL6 boxes--unfortunately, no one else picked up on this rating system. Ken definitely did his part and had a conscience about every decision he made.

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Old 11-16-2003, 10:55 AM   #6
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Violence only seems like it has increased because of glorification through the media. In the year 2000 there were less murders than in 1976, and less of them were from handguns than in 1976 too. It is interesting to note that there were no violent video-games in the late 60s to early 70s to influence that generation of murderers and movies were quite tame compared to now. There was a spike in homicide in the late 80s to mid 90s that is thought to be linked to the "War on Drugs" but homicide rates have been declining to normal levels from 1997 onward. Obviously, neither games, guns, nor movies are the real deciding factor in homicide rates. The biggest jump was between 87-88, which was before "murder simulators" like Doom came out. In fact, by the time Doom became popular enough to largely influence teens by getting widespread release on consoles in 1994-1995, murder rates had already peaked and started into a massive decline afterwards. Homicide rates have actually declined as games became more realistic and violent between 1997 and 2000. These relatively peaceful years saw the release of games such as Soldier of Fortune, Quake 2 & 3, Unreal & UT, Rainbow Six & the Ghost Recon Series, and many many more. If you ignore the media propaganda and the agendas of "outspoken" minority groups and look at only the numbers themselves, it is clear that there is no relation between media and violence whatsoever. There are only scapegoats by parents to explain away their own lack of influence over their kids. Everything else is always to blame. Rock 'n roll in the 50s & 60s. D&D in the 70s & 80s. Heavy Metal in the 80s. Movies, videogames, guns, television, whatever, from the 90s forward. I'm not sure what new media will appear in the future, but you can bet it will be added to the list...
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Old 11-16-2003, 12:42 PM   #7
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Oh shut up, movies were so much more daring and violent in the seventies.

Zombies?! Dawn of the Dead?!

Man the gore flicks in the seventies were not the "breathtaking thrillers" of today. They were gory, they were seriously enough to make me queasy. Movies today don't phase me. Neither does the violence today. If you ask me, I'd say it's all childish violence compared to centuries (Yes, centuries!) of pure savagery, want or creation, from the average citizen. Compare Taxi Driver to today's monumental masterpiece "THE MATRIX!"

I mean Kill Bill was sort of a homage to that sort of seventies mentality, and still it was too extreme for most of the public.

Violence is our nature. We love gore every once and a while. If parents have stupid children that don't know the difference between reality and fantasy, then I hope they all end up killing eachother and killing themselves and many a politician while they are at it. Do the cess... ahem GENEpool a favor.
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Old 11-16-2003, 01:55 PM   #8
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You bring up a point that I would agree with. That 70s films were gorier than todays, particularly in horror. It is however irrelevant to my point, because gore is not something that influences violence. It may desensitize, but doesn't justify it. Although I think we both agree that movies don't really influence people, if they did, it wouldn't be through gore. It would be through glorification of violence with character empathy/sympathy. It is hard to empathize with a zombie who wants to munch on some brains. Compare that to say a more modern John Woo film (or copycat) where violence is portrayed via Bullet Ballet in a method that makes it seem very cool and hip. Then add in one of those scripts where the "Bad Guy" is overly humanized to the point that he just seems like he is a victim of circumstance or simply misunderstood and would do the right thing if only he could go back and start over but it is too late, and you have a character that someone can relate to, unlike the zombies. That blurring of the lines between good and bad is the potential problem. I am just playing devil's advocate with the above, but it is a more realistic argument IMO, than just to say gore causes violence in people. If it did, doctors and coroners would be one of the largest groups of violent criminals out there. And if the gore made you queasy you probably didn't want to produce any real gore, so it may actually be a deterrant to violence for you.

Kill Bill, the worst script Tarantino ever wrote, was only saved by its gore and Yuen Wo Ping, the martial arts choreographer IMO. And the gore was as humorous and farcical as it's 60s and 70s counterparts. It could not be taken seriously...
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Old 11-16-2003, 03:41 PM   #9
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Okay, now I agree with you. (Except about Kill Bill being awful. I had a dandy time.)
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