May Contain Content Inappropriate for Children: A Conversation of the Ethical Line that Video Games Cross (Part 1)

May Contain Content Inappropriate for Children: A Conversation of the Ethical Line that Video Games Cross (Part 1)

By Jordann Sadler ’18, Perspectives Section Editor

For the past two weeks, I’ve been interviewing students and teachers about the subject of video game violence. There were many reoccurring themes and subjects discussed: where does the moral line reside for video games and what happens if that line is crossed? Can video games affect a person’s (mostly young children’s) minds? What about the freedom of speech? What is the next step in the video game world? Along with other daunting questions about games and society. The ethical line becomes very blurry, especially when dealing with entertainment. Is it just a game? There is never a clear answer.

In 1993, the U.S. Senate had a hearing on video game violence. In 1994, The ESRB (the Entertainment Software Rating Board) was created and established all ratings on video games. The ratings today are Ec (Early childhood); E (Everyone); E 10+ (Everyone ages 10 and up); T (Teen); M (Mature ages 17 and up); Ao (Adults Only ages 18 and up). Three games—Night Trap 1992, Mortal Kombat 1992, and Doom 1993—triggered angry parents and the U.S. government to put warnings and restrictions on interactive entertainment. The ESRB for games, Parental Advisory on music, television ratings, and other restrictions on entertainment gave rise to the censored media that we have today.

Night Trap developed by Digital Pictures, released by Sega for the Sega CD in 1992 mixed live-action with interaction. Night Trap brings together two forms of media, video games and cinema: the interaction of a video game and the passive experience of a movie. Instead of using pixels or computer-generated graphics, the game used pre-recorded scenes with actors to create a unique game. The premise of Night Trap is very horror-flick-like: a group of teenage girls go vacationing for a weekend, only to be welcomed by Auger monsters and a family of vampires. The player, must protect the teens from being attacked using cameras and traps that were set around the house. Night Trap was criticized for promoting rape culture and sexual violence against females. In one scene, a woman is in the bathroom wearing a nightgown when an Auger abducts her and attempts to drain the blood out of her neck using a drill-like device. Dr. Jeremiah McCall suggests that the creators were making fun of horror movies. Kesler Stapp ’18 also described the scene as “a little cheesy.” Although, there is no blood, many of the interviewees described this scene as still violent and horrifying. Mr. John Christiansen says because of the lack of blood, the game puts a “positive spin” on violence and “make it seem less gruesome than it should be.”  The Senate said that this promote violence against females, so would this scene be different if it were a man being attacked?

“Given that we live in a world of patriarchy and there’s a lot of male privilege, I don’t think you would have asked me ‘would this promote violence against males?’ I guess it would be different then,” says Dr. McCall, exposing the male and female inequality.

Kesler Stapp describes that “her screaming” is a T.V. trope often used to heighten fear. Usually a woman is seen to scream louder and higher in media. For some, the gender of the person attacked did not matter—a drill was going into a human being’s neck, but one can’t ignore the ideas that we are taught as a child to believe.

Mr. Christiansen states that “You always want to say no, but with the male/female physical power structures, some are conditioned to see women as less physically able to defend themselves.

Another factor that makes this scene in Night Trap even more horrifying is the girl’s vulnerability. This person was in the bathroom, in private. The sense of protection is broken when that safe space or personal space is invaded. “You are led to believe she is comfortable as if the violence can come out of nowhere,” as Mr. Christiansen states. This scene in Night Trap was nicknamed the “night gown scene” as the symbolic object of the scene is the frilly, pink apparel of the woman. The safe, home-feel of the nightgown adds to the vulnerability as the shower scene in Alfred’s Hitchcock’s Psycho adds to the horror. In both scenes, a woman is in the bathroom (one being in the shower and the other preparing her hair for bed), which is universally known to be a private space. Psycho went a step further with the horror by having the woman nude, while Night Trap, with a nightgown, had the same effect, but instead the violence is due to the player’s failing in capturing the creatures.

When I asked my interviewees if this scene would be difference if it were animated instead of live-action, I received a whole mix of answers. For some, the concept is what’s most disturbing.

For example, Mrs. Jamie Back says, “I have opinions about violence against anything. There are times when violence against anything propagates violence.”

The action of a person dying whether animated or real is still horrific. For others, Night Trap crossed the line between fantasy and reality. Although the device may look fake, there is a lack of blood, and the game seems to be a spoof on horror movies, the fact that a real person and not code in a computer is being harmed heightens the realism and alters the reception.

Night Trap was one of the first games to start the conversation of game violence, especially sexuality and sexual violence in games. In 2017, the game was re-released and remastered, but this time, it was given a Teen rating. More people disagreed with this re-released rating than those who found it some-what okay. Is the lowering of the rating an example of how society comes to accept things overtime? Is this a product of desensitization? Night Trap certainly bring up many debates on interactive media, but following this one-shot is a series that brought up even more discussion on gruesome violence and is known to be one of the most controversial and most beloved video game franchises: Mortal Kombat.