Updated Fri, Jan 02, 2009 by Ethec
by Jeff "Ethec" Woleslagle
It might be a little odd to talk about EverQuest 2 in light of ESRB ratings; it seems that first-person shooter (FPS) gaming industry is the sole heir of the "Hot Coffee" mess. EQ2 is tagged "Teen" (teens and older) for "violence" and "suggestive themes." Anyone that's ever played a modern console game in addition to EQ2 is asking "what violence?" and as far as suggestive themes, I've seen worse on daytime TV. Couple this with the 25 years and older majority on the servers (and the how much time most players spend playing rather than truly devious activities like spending money shopping, drinking, and chores) and EQ2 might be the most wholesome way to spend your time ever conjured up. Nonetheless, EverQuest 2 is a videogame with plenty of reach and impact in the youth (and "youthful") culture, so we'll step back and take a look at the influence of videogame violence in a broader context.
The classic defense for videogame violence is that your character resides in an alternate world with its own moral code: killing 150 baddies to get to the boss mob is simply what you have to do to play the game. Though the Sims franchise proved (in a big way) that you could sell games without mayhem and pervasive destruction (finding clever ways to kill off your sim vis a vis cloistering him in a doorless room doesn't count), strategy and violence typically make for a more interesting and a more cathartic experience- since most of us can't enjoy much in the way of destructive power in real life. Whether or not power and violence are worth creating an appetite for is another discussion entirely, and largely depends on your view of raw human nature and its aptitude for ultimate peace and justice. We'll leave that one alone.
Opponents of videogame violence contend that players apply "alternate reality" thinking to real life, and thus potentially put emotional distance between themselves and their real-life targets by dehumanizing them. Gore adds a desensitizing effect; similar to the WWII-era bootcamp practice of requiring recruits to crawl through bloody animal parts daily to accustom the greenies to the shock of seeing a living being turned inside out before the real action starts. How well a player of a given maturity can subconsciously and consciously separate the alternate gaming reality from real life becomes central to the debate. As I'm not a adolescent psychologist, I can't presume to say how big an impact playing Doom had with the high school-aged perpetrators of the Columbine massacre, except to say that criminals need a means, motive, and opportunity. Gaming could only conceivably affect "opportunity"- I can see how playing an first person shooter could build your confidence at using a firearm in real life, but it seems like a bit of a stretch. Anyone that's fired a weapon in real life knows that even the BFG 9000 just doesn't compare to the loud, kicking terror of the real thing.
Whatever your feelings on videogame violence, I doubt you could mistake the mainstream of today's MMOs as anything close to Doom or whatever the first-person shooter of the day is. The violence is bloodless, much of the game is both cooperative and somewhat cerebral, and the action is bureaucratically slow. Coordinating a raid in the high level game is more likely to prepare you for a project planning meeting than a shootout, and I guess I've been fortunate to play games where the Massively Multiplayer aspect has been about adventure and community and not so much player vs. player competition. Even the competition aspect (while limited to /duel spamming in EverQuest 2) serves as a tool of justice in that it allows for natural consequences to ill-advised interactions.
And then, there's the videogame vixens. Digitally, just about every female of normal stature represented in an MMO like EverQuest 2 is beautifully proportioned and, in a word, stunning. And if high elves and human ladies are hot, the lamias in the Enchanted Lands are dressed downright kinky. To confound the sensual expectations of the male gamer further, at any given games conference developers provide harems of real-life models dressed up as in-game characters. Understand, I'm not really a prude, I can even understand why some guys play girl avatars: they're easy on the eyes, for sure. But when it comes to skantily clad, enough is too much: leave more to the imagination! Whatever your feelings on the effect of... enhanced... females on younger ladies' self-image and the reduction of modest feminine beauty to "meat," videogames probably have a little more of their share of skin, quite honestly. The Queen Antonia contest was a borderline insult to the gaming community in my opinion, but this is coming from a guy whose brightest contest idea was "Halfling Haiku for Free EQ2" (which the community did a great job with, by the way).
There's always a 13th man in multiplayer gaming controversy, the nasty griefing punk. If you really want a look at the human condition, try out a few pickup groups in high-casualty areas (or simply stay in a guild for a while). Now, I don't mean to knock the player community of EQ2 too much, it's by and large fantastic, but every five of the seven deadly sins are probably going to rear their head an hour of play. Plus some of the not-quite-as-deadly transgressions like leaving the group at an importune time, or taking much too long to meet up with your group. I beat griefing to death in another opinion article, therefore I'll spare you a lengthy discourse, but suffice it to say that the bulk of your disgust at the tendencies of your fellow man won't come from violence, or half-nude elvettes, or animated violence.
So that's about all I've got on the subject of ratings and EverQuest 2. I imagine that the "monthly subscription required" caveat printed on the box does more to dissuade parents than the ESRB "violence and breasts" warning, and tagging EQ2 for violence is like saying barefooted people could be harmed by growing grass. But nonetheless, its there, in accord with standards made to rein in gory FPS fragfests and the criminal-as-hero single-player RPGs.
Just a few thoughts. Thanks for reading! What do you think? Does EQ2 still have too much sexual innuendo and violence? Want to see more? Start a forum thread and let's talk about it!