Won’t Back Down

You know, his heart is in the right place when Brandon Sheffield complains about EA’s Dead Space 2 promotion:

It’s in this climate that EA has chosen to launch its Design a Kill for Dead Space 2 contest, which to me runs second only to Acclaim’s attempt to buy ad space on tombstones in terms of irresponsibility.

But I find it hard to sympathize. There was zero outrage over the first Dead Space game whose main innovative play mechanic was, in fact, dismemberment. Sheffield attempts to draw some sort of moral line between professional creators and fan ideas:

Yes, this is what many of us do every day – there are those of us who design combat and combat scenarios for a living. But asking fans to do it is just too much. First, it’s acknowledging that games can inspire fans to think of ways to kill.

But it seems Sheffield has more of a problem with the promotion of the game than with the game itself, which confounds me. Are we okay with a game about dismemberment but not okay with people knowing it is a game about dismemberment? Would it be better if we continued to deny what is patently obvious? Some games are schadenfreude-filled escapades of murder-porn. The same is true of movies or books in the horror field. Horror is about the shocking and it has been since Poe. To just go “shhhh” and not draw attention to it in the hopes that the enemies of the medium will not notice is wishful thinking.

I think there’s an underlying issue here. Sheffield just isn’t comfortable with schlock in our industry. I think all of us in the ivory tower that is Game Design with capital letters would like to see more “literary” and “meaningful” games, whatever that means today. But entertaining schlock is also valuable. Should Martin Scorsese wince when someone mentions Halloween because they are in the same industry? I don’t think so.

By getting in a tizzy over something over-the-top like Dead Space 2 is to play into the hands of the socially conservative enemies that radicalize our industry. It’s accepting their premise that what we do is to debase society when we shy away from fun ideas because they might offend their razor-thin moral sensibilities. Being on the defensive will block off our creativity. Will Dead Space 2 be a title that moves our industry forward? I’d bet no, but does every title have to be to have worth?

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