House of the Dead Overkill and Madworld developers miss the point

When Wii owners 17 and over say they want “mature” titles for the Wii, our request has less to do with the blood, gore, and profanity that earns an M rating and more to do with the depth and complexity of titles.

Headstrong Games (developer of House of the Dead Overkill), Platinum Games (developer of Madworld), and Sega (publisher of both games) gave Wii owners 17 and over games packed to the brim with violence, profanity, and the sensibility of a 13-year old boy mimicking an Andrew Dice Clay (whose Wikipedia included such course language that I decided not to link it) stand-up routine. In the process of packing as many f-bombs as possible into their games, they completely missed the point–and alienated many potential customers.

I know it may seem hypocritical for a person who lauded Capcom’s Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles as one of the greatest console on-rails shooter of all time to blast two games that use graphic violence as a selling feature. The differences may seem murky at first, but upon closer inspection, the distinction between the titles is clear:

Context. In Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles, the player is charged with shooting zombies to survive. In House of the Dead Overkill, the characters’ motive includes survival, but also revenge. In Madworld, the player-character kills for sport, with more “creative” kills earning more points. The methods for killing your opponents in Madworld are disturbingly gruesome more often than not.

Profanity. An M rating is almost required for a good zombie shooter game. I didn’t pass on purchasing House of the Dead Overkill because of the violence, which is (as far as the end of the game’s first stage) on par with Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles. The premise of the game is simple: Shoot zombies. I’m not surprised when that means spilling a copious amount of zombie blood. But when the main characters are spouting profanities (spoken, not written, and with no option to disable in-game voice tracks) at every available opportunity, I refuse to buy the title. Madworld includes an abundance of crude humor and profanity in its tutorial level.

If developers think that profanity attracts more players than it repulses, they are (I hope) sadly mistaken.

I have played M-rated games that feature profanity. Persona 3 FES and Persona 4 features occasional profanity–but the profanity is never gratuitous.

(On a side note: I would rather Valve pulled the profanity from Left 4 Dead or at least offer a content filtering option, but I can imagine that fighting for one’s survival during the zombie apocalypse might elicit the occasional profanity.)

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona titles most definitely are not for children. Persona 3 features characters struggling to deal with the death of loved ones, a character who cuts herself, use of drugs to suppress one’s true self, and other mature themes. Persona 4 features a murder mystery, characters confronting and dealing with manifestations of their “hidden” selves (quite possibly a metaphor for the Japanese concept of honne and tatemae), characters struggling to make sense of life after loss, and the base nature of humanity.

House of the Dead Overkill features an exploitation film motif, complete with all the gratutious profanity, crude humor, and “shock material” featured heavily in that genre of film.

Madworld features a control system that allows player-characters to drive a road sign through another character’s skull then repeatedly slam that same character into a wall of spikes.

The difference is clear. A mature game or movie may feature graphic violence, profanity, and even nudity (e.g. Schindler’s List), but that content will not serve as the central focus of the game or movie.

As a Wii owner and long-time gamer, I care less about an M rating and more about a game’s quality and depth. That’s why I’m excited about The Conduit, even though the game will (tentatively) ship with a T rating. True, The Conduit will, according to its own developers, feature a fairly generic story and characters, but the gameplay will be far more involved than the latest batch of minigames or whatever other shovelware third-party developers are currently rushing to the Wii for a quick buck.

When I fire up my console or computer to play games, I’m not expecting Shakespeare. But I’m also not expecting Andrew Dice Clay.

House of the Dead Overkill could have been a pretty good game. If it weren’t for the profanity and crude humor, I likely would have purchased a copy (after it went on sale; the gameplay is okay, but not worth $50).

And Madworld was developed by many of the same people who created Okami, widely regarded as one of the most beautiful video games ever made. Just typing that out makes me cringe. What a waste of time and talent.

It boils down to this: I want to play a well-designed game that’s fun, immersive, and well-designed, whether it’s Super Mario Galaxy, Grim Fandango, Persona 4, or Henry Hatsworth and the Puzzling Adventure.

I don’t want to hear a steady stream of profanity or see senseless and gratuitous violence. If I wanted to watch something that appealed to my base desires, I’d just turn on network television during primetime and save myself $50.

EDIT: Developers: You say you want to develop Wii games for “core” gamers, but won’t do it if the “core” gamers won’t purchase them? How about discarding your outdated and myopic definition of “core” gamers and just make a great game?

Packing a mediocre or even a good game with profanity, crude humor, and graphic violence doesn’t make it great. The game is still just mediocre or good and now you’ve limited your potential customer base.

And don’t use that tired excuse that third-party or M-rated games won’t sell on the Wii. Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles sold over a million copies as of last March.

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