Wednesday, May 7, 2008

C'mon Mr. Spielberg: You Gotta Be Kidding Edition



I was traveling the past few days, and when I travel USA Today is often outside my hotel room door. Yesterday it was there and it was exciting to see a USA Today story about games. From the headline, it looked like Steven Spielberg was talking about his new game . . . and it was for kids. . . and it was not violent . . . and it was good. . . and we could all be happy. . . and we get national coverage for a game in a story which is not slamming the business . . . and then I read the story. Sure he is on a marketing campaign for the game, but does he really have to bash the industry to put his game in a positive light? He is not saying his kids can't see Iron Man in in his promotional interviews for Indiana Jones. Mr. Spielberg explained:

Though as a filmmaker he has created some of the screen's most intense experiences, he says, "some games are so over-the-top violent and so extraordinarily interactive that I am even afraid of them. I am not going to name names."

He believes that M-rated (mature) games are a stronger lure for children than R-rated movies. "My kids will never go in and take an R-rated DVD and play it. But there is something very compelling and different about the artwork on the box of what might be an M game that could tempt my kids."


Since Jaws was PG (he says it would be PG 13 today) he isn't technically contradicting himself in this quote from a January 2008 Vanity Fair interview, but he comes pretty damn close:

What age do you set for Jaws?

I haven’t shown Jaws to my 10- or 11-year-old, and I won’t. I showed Jaws to Sawyer when he was, I think, 13. Because then they use the argument, “Dad, I was bar mitzvahed last week. Everybody said today I’m a man, and you still won’t let me see Jaws?” Sometimes the kids outsmart me. It is PG, but that was before the PG-13 rating. Today Jaws would obviously be PG-13.

There was a lot of blood in Jaws and it is pretty intense for a 13 year-old, so I can understand his concern. But with regard to the film, his son is exhibiting the very behavior Mr. Spielberg fears from games. Since his quote is about covers, let's look at the covers side by side:







Art is very subjective, so it may just be me, but in terms of appeal, these boxes look pretty similar. Granted Raiders is PG, but as he expressed in interviews, the content in these films is not appropriate for children. These pictures were all grabbed from Amazon, and I do pick up on a very apparent distinction. All of the game boxes have ratings positioned prominently on the front of the box, none of the films do, an obvious distinction when I am walking through Blockbuster, looking to pick out a film to watch with my son. I look all around the box, and pull out my magnifying glass to determine whether the film is R or PG. When considering a game, the rating is right there on the front of the box, and in Wal Mart, Target, Best Buy, Blockbuster and Gamestop, the register will prompt the cashier to check id and not sell a game to someone under 17.

These ratings on the front of the box are very useful for parents, like Mr. Spielberg, who want to be involved in their children's media consumption. As he explained the USA Today piece:

As a parent, he strictly monitors the games in his home. "There are games that are taboo. And I won't have them on the premises. I don't want my kids saying, 'How come Dad is playing that and we can't?' "

He is right, this is a tough question to answer. My son is 12 and has yet to ask to play an M Rated game, but if he does, I will tell him it is because he is not old enough. If he pushes too hard, as 12 year-olds can do, perhaps I will rely on points raised in another interview with Mr. Spielberg, where he brilliantly explained the role of parental involvement in the Vanity Fair interview:
I was wondering what you’ve done with your own kids. Do you show them Jaws at some point?

I don’t really have a schedule of when I want to show my children my movies. They usually ask me to see Indiana Jones, which I think is fine for my younger kids, but then they’ve asked me to see Jaws and even Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List, and when they ask me these questions, I pretty much have to evaluate their relative maturation, because kids, even in the same family, mature at different rates. For instance—I don’t want to name names, because kids in the same family like to protest the unfairness of one child gaining a privilege over another—I have a couple of kids who saw Schindler’s List when they were younger than the average audience that would be permitted by average parents to see that story.

Like under 10?

Not under 10. Not at all. No one’s seen Schindler’s List in my family under 15. No one has.

That sounds about right.

The important thing is, you’ve got to know your kids, and you’ve got to know them as individuals. I love my kids as individuals, not as a herd, and I do have a herd of children: I have seven kids.

So, if I understand this correctly, Mr. Spielberg's children are drawn to films which they are not yet ready to see and Mr. Spielberg is able to explain they have to wait until they are older - even though Dad not only watches the films, but made them. Call me a radical, but it kind of sounds like kids testing boundaries and parents being parents. Who'd a thunk it. He's just like the rest of us. Wouldn't this work for games too?





4 comments:

Mauricio Bowers said...

As I began to read this particular post, I wondered if I was wandering into a situation exposing contradiction and hypocrisy. After all, as I reread the title 'C'mon Mr. Spielberg: You Gotta Be Kidding Edition,' there is a minor suggestion of my broad assumption of that this post is set out to expose a confliction of 'industries' (videogames and movies) among one of our world's most renown filmmakers. Upon further reading, I began to realize that although in contrast to the plethora of violent videogames, he views 'his' passive game in a more positive field, he appears to be nothing more than an uninformed, conservative, and concerned parent. There is anything wrong with the description I have just laid out, it's just the fact that his reasoning is "some games are so over-the-top violent and so extraordinarily interactive that I am even afraid of them". This argument for the violent movies that he creates is nullified, because of the fact that he was involved in it's creation process, he is blessed with an abundant understanding for the particular movie. Plug this lack this insight onto the fact that games are, for the most part, still being explored to him (and other ill-advised parents), and you merely have an adult with the common problem of attempting to keep his children out of harm's way. His problem to his quandary is simple: Play the games. Get to the core of the problem and explore what intrigues your children. I understand that you are a busy individual, but as far as I'm concerned, being involved with the activities that your kids partake in warrants extra attention from you, Mr. Responsible Parent. Don't be afraid of the videogames, they don't bite. This isn't as if it's drugs, and, God forbid, your 12 year old is smoking marijuana. I couldn't imagine what my children would think of me, having read the fact that I'm afraid of blood and gore, as if to say that this 'blood' isn't coursing my very veins, and not to mention, I am, in fact, producing dramas about dinosaurs devouring civilians.

Quite possibly, he's afraid of titles such as Gears of War, Unreal Tournament or No More Heroes. Don't worry, Mr. Spielberg, I'll 'name the names' for you. These games pose viable arguments toward your case. Regardless, it is a shame that the word or thought of "interaction" in videogames sends shivering waves of shock throughout concerned parents. Understandably, because this medium is so foreign to some parents, Mr. Spielberg included, that because they are so unfamiliar with a videogame's elements of engagement and involvement, parents shy away from it, afraid of its unfamiliar guise. We're not promoting murder simulators. If you could walk up to anyone outside of the virtual universes at your disposal, and tap your 'auto-aiming right trigger' along your Xbox controller, and murder them, then we'd have a bigger problem. Videogames are, in reality, comprised of minimum interaction when it comes to 'killing anything'. I'm not attempting to justify videogame violence, nor am I advocating letting your children play, on the contrary, keeping for example 'No More Heroes' away from your 12 year old is very sound, but you should at least indulge yourself and attempt to understand this medium instead of writing it off as a gore-fest, which is the unparalleled road you take when discussing violent movies.

Thanks for the article, Keith. Sorry about the long-winded response, I'm off today. ;)

Anonymous said...

I've always wondered what would happen if he didn't cram mentioning Schindler's List into ever single interview he ever does. He even managed to cram it into his first "lol imma wii gamez" announcement. Would he melt like the Nazis in his (apparently child-safe) Raiders?

Stephen Peacock said...

Perhaps its just me but when as a kid I went to see Bruce Lee films (Fist of Fury too many times), Rocky etc. I would come out of the movie theater roundhouse kicking - karate chopping and punching anything in sight.. I would beg to get boxing or karate classes... violent films made me want to hit things! In contrast, hours spent playing Street Fighter II never made me violent as I had already been violent...in the game!

I will let my children play violent games before I let them watch violent movies like raiders of the lost arc

MCW said...

www.dearmrspielberg.com