Summer vacation is creeping up, and that means children will have all kinds of free time on their hands. For many boys, that means almost non-stop video game action, leaving them a pasty shade of white as they battle away the summer in the basement. Parents must wonder if their children don't get button-finger callouses, or carpal-tunnel syndrome, or "controller elbow," or something.
So what will all that playing accomplish? A parent can only hope the boys will spend a large chunk of the summer role-playing as heroic knights, or dashing spies, or glamorous power-hitters. But video-game manufacturers wouldn't mind if our kids imagined themselves as role-playing ultra-violent killers - and now pornographers.
"Playboy: The Mansion" could be in stores before the kids crack a book again. You, too, can be a sleazy pornographer like Hugh Hefner, who in this game's vision is about 30 years younger and resembles Superman more than the dirty old man he is. The electronic "playmates" strip for you to photograph. (They're considering putting real Playboy photographs into the software, too.) Who says pornography isn't for children?
The decadent sex-game makers are frantically lobbying the industry's toothless ratings regulator, the Electronic Software Ratings Board, to go easy on handing out the "adults only" rating, which means you can't buy them at Wal-Mart and other more parent-friendly mass retailers. "We've been working really closely with the ESRB from day one," says the marketing director at Cyberlore, makers of the Playboy game. "Everyone knows what the limits are for violence because everyone has pushed that envelope. But no one knows where the limits are for sex and nudity."
Doesn't that sum up the manufacturer mentality perfectly? We don't know where the limits are, and we won't assume any responsibility for locating them on our own. We're going as far off the deep end as they'll let us. Right and wrong is irrelevant.
Beyond reasonable limits is the game "Singles: Flirt Up Your Life," a naughty version of "The Sims," in which you run little cyber-people's lives. The game-makers at Eidos went all out, with graphically sophisticated male and female full frontal nudity. Players set up characters as roommates and run their daily routines, until they've successfully got the roommates, well, mating - and then the player gets to watch all the steamy action. Character couplings can be homosexual if the player chooses.
After the ESRB gave this game an "adults only" title, Eidos decided to go around the retailers and sell the sex game starting this summer through Internet downloads for $30, as much as $20 cheaper than new video games at retailers.
How many teenagers with their own computers are going to get around Mom and Dad to download that salacious content? How obvious is it that Eidos wants to circumnavigate parental consent, and teach the kids to lie and cheat on their way to the smutty payoff?
Eidos even complained about the rating, with a spokesman saying it should be seen like an R-rated movie: "there's full frontal nudity in movies. I don't really think someone is going to get the same feeling of attraction in seeing a full frontal digital game character as they would from seeing that in an actor or actress." That doesn't pass the laugh test, sex-game salesmen asserting we don't think teenage boys will get genuine thrills out of full-frontal cyber-nudity and simulated intercourse.
Kids who want less graphic thrills will still have "The Sims 2," a personal-computer game which will be rated T for teenagers when it's released in August. The characters you manipulate can have intercourse, but AP reports that "onscreen coitus resembles giggly horseplay and tickling, not nudity or penetration." Will parents be aware of this, or will they just take comfort in the T rating, thinking there's nothing "adult" in the content?
Parents are already nervous about what their children can catch on television. But they better start worrying about video games, and now easily downloadable PC porno games. Even if it's kept out of your house, how about the playmate down the street? Industry self-regulators, retailers, and the media need to stay on top of these scandalmongering companies, since it's obvious they're spreading cultural contamination, not social responsibility.