On Disgrace and Dismissal

A lot of noise gets thrown around over opinions. Whose opinion is right, whose is wrong. By definition, opinions are subjective and vary from person to person. They can however, be influenced by more prominent external factors. Gaming sites featuring preferred personalities, independent podcasters and even casual word of mouth all factor into a purchasing decision. Outside of these traditional channels, every now and then we are gifted with a rare perspective on a new release that warrants some serious attention. This week our lucky contributor is the ESRB, although not in the way you might think. The ESRB recently rated Dead or Alive Paradise for the PlayStation Portable and generated a lot of attention throughout the Internet with their view on the game.

Thankfully, the rest of this post is rated A for Awesome.

Created in 1994 by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is a non-profit, self-regulatory body tasked with assigning “computer and video game content ratings, enforces industry-adopted advertising guidelines and helps ensure responsible online privacy practices for the interactive entertainment software industry.” (ESRB.org) In July 2008, the ESRB started to include rating summaries to complement the official ratings that you see on the back of a game box. The typical rating only has the Rating Symbol and Content Descriptors like “Graphic Violence”, “Cartoon Mischief”, and “Mild Language”. If you are looking for more specifics, that’s where the rating summaries can help you out. “Rating summaries are a supplementary source of information that provide a brief, descriptive explanation of the context and relevant content that factored into a video game’s ESRB rating. Consumers can use rating summaries to go beyond the ratings and make more fully informed decisions when considering which games to purchase.” These rating summaries are a welcome addition for the uninformed consumer, especially if spoiling plot elements is not a concern. However, what happens when the ESRB forgets to put on their professional hat when publishing a rating summary?

For those of you familiar with the recent trend of the Dead or Alive series, the final rating for the series’ latest entry on PSP comes as no surprise: Mature – Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Simulated Gambling. A mature rated game is nothing to write home or blog about, but the initial rating summary that accompanied this final rating was particularly noteworthy, and entertaining. The full before and after of the rating summary can be found at GamePro (among other sites), I suggest you read it now. The conclusion of the summary stands on a rather tall soapbox, “Parents and consumers should know that the game contains a fair amount of “cheesy,” and at times, creepy voyeurism—especially when users have complete rotate-pan-zoom control; but the game also contains bizarre, misguided notions of what women really want (if given two weeks, paid vacation, island resort)—Paradise cannot mean straddling felled tree trunks in dental-floss thongs.” The ESRB was quick to replace this summary with a more objective one and an apology for the mistake. In this gamer’s opinion, they had nothing to apologize for. This is the same garbage we have been putting up with from Team Ninja for years and it was only a matter of time before our frustrations boiled over.

There was a certain novelty to the ‘Bouncing Breast Effect’ option in the original Dead or Alive. Maybe that’s because I was 12 years old at the time. Now that I tend to resemble an adult most of the time, those kinds of cheap ploys are the epitome of juvenile and immature. Each successive game stepped a little further over the line until we were finally awarded Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball. A game that wrapped digital voyeurism with a shell of a volleyball game. That shell was cracked and reduced to nearly nothing with the current-gen sequel, Dead or Alive: Xtreme 2. Team Ninja couldn’t even include ‘volleyball’ in the title. There was no hiding what that game was. And now with this portable entry it would seem the ESRB, if only for a moment, had had enough with Team Ninja’s antics. I wholeheartedly agree with the initial tone of the ESRB’s rating summary. While I have a tough time trying to define exactly what a video game is in concise terms, I do know that Dead or Alive Paradise is not a video game. Team Ninja has been sprinting down a path of blatant exploitation, satisfying the lowest common denominator of what gamers used to be thought of: pre-pubescent, immature, and irrational. Times have changed, and if Team Ninja considers this their only line of business then maybe they need a new direction. Or better yet, maybe they need to leave the rest of the video game industry alone.

At this point I believe contraction, exile, ostracize, banishing or any other synonym you can think of for Team Ninja and their creative directors is the only solution. Their products set the efforts of legitimacy and mainstream acceptance back with each new release from their hands. They are a cancer on the respectable reputation that we are trying to build for this industry. What has Team Ninja done for gamers recently worth mentioning? 2004 (Ninja Gaiden) was a long time ago. I think we would all be much better off if Team Ninja would just go away. Tomonobu Itagaki‘s legacy of embarrassment and exploitation has run its course. It is time for Team Ninja to go.

I’m willing to discuss the propriety of nudity in Dante’s Inferno or the clichéd sex mini-games that have become a staple of the God of War series. Games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age: Origins open up the opportunity for dialog about hetero and homosexual relationships. Hopefully Heavy Rain will use sexual themes and situations as a part of the story telling experience and not for the hopes of some cheap thrills. Those games do not treat sexuality with such a care-free and careless demeanor. I have had it with Team Ninja. The Dead or Alive Franchise is only a few steps away from being on the same level as the Leisure Suit Larry franchise. What was once a competent and often preferred fighting series has been reduced to a representative embarrassment of the video game industry. Video games may never get the respect we feel they deserve, but Team Ninja is doing nothing to help their case. And Tecmo should be ashamed.

My posts are also featured on Talking About Games

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