What Is Adult Gaming?
Since the late 1950ï¿½s, changes in social attitudes saw the first uses of the word ï¿½adultï¿½ to be used euphemistically for being sexually explicit, graphically violent or generally not for the eyes of children. Yet, gaming is a form of play and play is one of the more acceptable forms of education. Whilst cynics may point to the greatest number of gamers being male and adolescent, others may find that there are an increasing number of gamers sticking with the hobby into their 30s, 40s and beyond.
Since the late 1950's, changes in social attitudes saw the first uses of the word 'adult' to be used euphemistically for being sexually explicit, graphically violent or generally not for the eyes of children. Yet, gaming is a form of play and play is one of the more acceptable forms of education. Whilst cynics may point to the greatest number of gamers being male and adolescent, others may find there are an increasing number of gamers sticking with the hobby into their 30s, 40s and beyond.
The image of gaming has always been one plagued by controversial issues - issues of sexism, cult activity, religious intolerance and general social ineptitude, yet there is a sudden appeal for our games to be more adult, mature, or more realistic, if you will. The result is a crop of games that graphically show violence, social ills and equally using profanity and titillation.
Whilst everyone will point at White Wolf's World of Darkness and 'Games for Mature Minds' tagline and numerous computer games, the roots of this lie as far back as first edition AD&D, a game that showcased torture for amusement, recreational drug taking and costumes suited more to the likes of Victoria's Secret than Camelot in the hands of the enemy. Whilst some of this art is as much a product of the 1970's as the genre, for Conan is a child of the 1920's after all - fantasy artists followed the zeitgeist and the after-effects echo today to the displeasure of women gamers and others.
Here, then, is the paradox between the childish activity of play and the setting of adult issues. A line where bogeymen (some of them human) teach morality and monsters stalk in fantasies with both moral and ethical lessons that requires more than childish innocence and reason. Yet this is something 'mature' games will often eschew in favour of 'gritty realism' and high body counts more suited to action-adventure, the latter is more accessible to the public than a morality play that may question the ubiquity of violence in a 'peaceful' society. One need only look at any Black Dog product to see the implied promise of games, dealing with issues most avoid, is avoided in favour of splatterpunk or at best, grand guignol.
The conventions of fantasy and sci-fi have played fast and loose with morality, often walking outside the bounds of the norm; this is a mixture of pioneer spirit and archaic attitudes from the first inter-racial kiss on Star Trek, to the bondage of Gor. There are many examples written by people, who if you believe the hype, are incapable of dating. Horror has been more overt in it's blurring of morality to provoke but it clearly signposts its intention to shock.
The computer gaming market imposed a rating system; bans on games such as Grand Theft Auto 3 and Kingpin illustrate whilst the rating system is a helpful guide, there really is no substitute for parental responsibility, yet the solution is not putting gaming products into a brown paper bag or banning it outright for fear of showing it to the impressionable.
So what makes a game adult?
If it deals with issues you don't mention in front of the children, does it become adult? Does it require ultra-violence in bloody bucketfuls? Does it require each protagonist to have a preferred chemical addiction or social dysfunction in his or her personality? Is it at all necessary to feature full-frontal nudity or involve sex professionals in the game?
Does it need any of these traits at all? Of course not. Adult is not specific to any set of traits or characteristics but more of outlook than attributes. Consider the above issues if you wish to, these fantasies are personal after all, but they may reveal more about you than you realise. You might be able to convey the feeling of shame and lost innocence, fear of harm and the violent impulse, how a lack of self-esteem can lead to a need for external stimuli or how society can fail it's participants (or vice versa) without having to depend on any of the items in the previous paragraph at all. Worth a try, isn't it?
So, you may ask how do you play in an adult game? Certainly the author has been guilty of splatterpunk-style play, pushing the buttons of players and featuring overtly sexual situations in a game. But then again, I've also used stable communities, romantic love and letting players explore sides of them they never knew they had. The trick I'm told is to view things from a balanced perspective and to be responsible for your words and actions.
Gamers must also keep in mind a need for consensus and a respect for participants in the same game. With MMORPGs rising in popularity, it is too easy to be selfish or think 'It's only a game'. Keep in mind playing has a powerful effect upon people, and it's often a form of education. Whilst I'm not advocating you handle everyone with kid gloves, certainly ask if people are cool with issues and consider how your latest plotlines would be reacted to should someone accidentally overhear you.