Sometimes digging just beneath the surface is all it takes to change your point of view.
Bringing the tale of the Witcher saga to its conclusion, the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt looks to go out with a serious bang. Presenting us with an absolutely gorgeous open world (that is reportedly even bigger than that found in Skyrim) we are truly getting an epic next-gen sendoff worthy of a finale. However, as we inch closer to its launch date, there are two bones that simply must be picked (or perhaps nit-picked). One centers around an announcement made by the developer regarding exclusive content (or rather the lack thereof) while the second is more of a wonderment I have about the ESRB and the nature of our rating system (which I’ve touched on in the past).
First, let’s tackle the developer’s most recent statements.
Video gaming 101 tells us that exclusives drive sales. It’s been an age old practice of game makers. Having to purchase a particular system in order to play a title that is unavailable anywhere else is no different than DLC for cross-platform releases being offered only to certain console owners. It is a proven tool to shift the stream of gaming dollars in one direction or the other (while also doing a great deal to cause ill will among different camps). This approach will always cause a rift, breeding resentment that one gamer didn’t get something that another did (even though they own the exact same product). Now enter CD Projekt Red co-founder Marcin Iwinski. Fortunately for Witcher fans, Iwinski happens to be one who finds this particular business model deplorable. This is apparent, as he said as much in a recent interview. Stating that they plan to “…treat all gamers equally,” the company head stated that “We'll not deliver exclusive content to any of the platforms, nor will we artificially delay release of the game on any of the platforms because somebody's paying us money for that. It's definitely against our values. We are not doing that.”
While I commend Iwinski for his stance on keeping things on an even playing field, there is another trend I’ve seen lately (albeit out of his control) that could also use a bit of evening out.
While my intent is not to talk politics here, I can tell you that my views have definitely taken on more of a libertarian flavor as I’ve gotten older. Stopping people from doing the things they want to do, watching the things they want to watch or playing the things they want to play is something I see as intrusive at best (and tyrannical at worst). Having said that, I do think a basic level of moderation is not only important with most things in life, it’s very much essential. Thus, the ESRB and their rating system for video games can be a valuable tool to help parents make better decisions as to what’s best for their child. What we expose our children to is an important part of parenting. I know, as I’ve recently seen the world through different eyes after my Son was born. Unfortunately, some in the video game industry seem all too eager to divorce themselves from their moral obligations (due to their yearning to generate revenue).
Take a game like Witcher 3 as exhibit A, B and C.
This game is admittedly called “mature” by its creators on their official site. While any fantasy-based romp would SEEM to be perfect fodder for kids to spend a Saturday afternoon with in their rooms, an Adults Only rating would have more accurately reflected the true nature of the game’s content. While I must say it does indeed look awesome, I can’t honestly look you in the face and tell you, the demo of young adults it’s intended for, should necessarily be playing it. The blood, violence and partial nudity (topless mermaids) are just some of the themes that help push this game over the top.
Don’t get me wrong; blood, violence and nudity can sometimes be a perfect recipe for a fun experience (God of War or GTA anyone). Frankly, I hope Witcher 3 makes its money back ten times over! The take away from this article shouldn’t be that I’m in any way calling for the removal or censorship of its artistic expressions. Quite the contrary. I say if it fits with the creator’s vision…add more for all I care! The point is it once again reflects our broken rating system that needs to be fixed ASAP. “Not tomorrow. Not after breakfast. NOW!” as the warden of Shawshank would say.
However, giving Witcher the legit AO rating it deserves would result in certain death. It would have a hard time finding space on store shelves, and would ultimately doom the title to failure. It’s the worst scarlet letter that can possibly be given in our industry. So am I to honestly believe there is not SOME happy medium? Are we forever destined to live with these skewed labels which result in games being sold to inappropriate audiences on one end of the spectrum, vs. bankrupting the company who made them on the other?
If I recall, we put a man on the Moon right? I think revamping this one aspect of our rating system is completely within our realm of capability.