Rule of Rose is a game with some pretty disturbing scenes. Kotaku has a story about the game causing controversy in Europe. It looks like the debate stems from the game’s use of children as antagonists, as well as some misinformation about scenes depicted in the game (one news agency erroneously reported that the game rewards players for burying a girl alive).
Now, censorship in general bugs me. I can sort of understand how some information, especially information that pertains to national security, can’t be allowed to flow freely. I have a much harder time understanding censorship that is targeted at works deemed obscene or offensive, as those terms are neither objective nor universal. Censorship aimed to suppress work that a particular group finds morally offensive forces one viewpoint upon all consumers, removing choice. I think that you can take almost any work and find somebody somewhere who is offended by it, so such subjective classifications are not very useful when creating rules for an entire country.
For example, my wife and I once chanced upon an exhibit of Picasso’s sexually explicit paintings while visiting Montreal. Picasso is universally considered one of the great artists of the 20th century, yet this particular collection of his work was never shown in America because it was about sex. We thought the exhibit was wonderful, but due to objections of one group or another, Americans never even had the chance to see it in their own country. One particular group’s perspective removed the opportunity to even choose to view Picasso’s work.
But censorship regarding video games bugs me even more. What is it about games that causes them to attract the ire of would-be arbiters of morality? Films like Natural Born Killers and Saw came out in Italy (where a ban of Rule of Rose has been proposed), and are far more violent, disturbing, and mainstream than anything in this obscure Japanese horror title. What is it about video games that makes them a target for censorship when other media is not?
I think that there are several factors involved. First, many people who did not grow up playing video games often associate games with children, as children were the target market twenty years ago when the Nintendo Entertainment System was released. While this impression is understandable, it is also fallacious and easily dispensed with cursory research about the contemporary game market. The second issue that plays a role here is that the older generation did not grow up with video games in their household. As with comic books and rock and roll before it, games continue to suffer from a certain degree of foreignness to many adults over the age of 30. It seems that most detractors of games do not play games regularly themselves. That’s not to say that the opinion of non-gamers is invalid, just that such people cannot claim to have an informed opinion of the medium.
But what bothers me the most about this particular story is that those calling for a ban on Rule of Rose obviously haven’t played the game. There’s a burial scene in the first five minutes of game play, but it’s a non-interactive cutscene. The character being buried does not die, nor does the player win when this event occurs; it’s just a scene in the story. Since this event occurs early on in the game, even a few minutes of play would have dispelled any misunderstanding about how the game works. Clearly, the people arguing this particular point about Rule of Rose have not played at all.
And finally, any sort of controversy over Rule of Rose requires giving it a little more credit than it is worth. Though I haven’t finished it, I don’t think the game is all that great, and I am sure that had this particular debate not erupted, the game would have vanished quietly into obscurity.