The other day I was googling for “I’m stuck on an island with a total moron,” er, I mean, reading a bit about Lost in Blue 2, and I stumbled upon this Guide 2 Games review of Jack and Amy’s adventures.
At one point, the two teens discover a hot spring, and there’s the option to have them bathe together. Amy responds to this by telling you she’s a little shy. However, both are shown with their clothes still on even in the water. Still, at first the implication is there that this was not the case, especially if you choose one of them to go in alone. The other one will look away.
Also worth noting is that Amy and Jack live together while on the island. Now, both are shown sleeping in separate beds, but it’s still worth noting in this day and age.
My first reaction was giggles, because the hot springs cutscene takes about 15 seconds, compared to the HOURS AND HOURS OF MY LIFE I’ve spent repetitively spear-fishing, picking fruit, cooking food, walking Jack to the stream to drink, and trying to get Jack to eat the lunchboxes in his bag instead of STARVING TO DEATH.
Where was I going with this? Oh, right, Lost in Blue 2 is so open-ended that you need to have a certain relationship level been Jack and Amy, go visit the hot springs, and pick a certain dialogue option, and then the kids relax in the hot spring together, fully clothed, with space between them. (But the famed Hot Coffee mod in Grand Theft Auto was much harder to access, and I don’t think being less-than-obvious makes content unimportant.) Also the kids sleep on separate piles of leaves when they take shelter in the same cave after a shipwreck, it’s hardly steamy cohabitating romance.
This type of rating review seems to have a checklist of what the writer or publication thinks may cause offense, so the review becomes a boob, booze and blood alert. One of the first computer games I played was the original Monkey Island, a game that would earn a Teen rating — and some of the ire that Nancy Drew Dosser: Lights, Camera, Curses received — for existing in a universe that also involves alcohol. The problem with the checklist type of review is that it doesn’t address how that element is incorporated into the game. A pirate drinking grog is different from, say, a struggling, recovering alcoholic as an NPC. Review ratings often cite Princess Maker — an awesome game — for showing your princess’ paper-doll panties as she changes her dress, and more rarely mention the assumptions in the game’s goal of helping your princess to be pretty, cook, look after children and marry rich. There’s no blood when Grandpa Sim dies, but seeing his grieving family is much more emotionally affecting than a huge, bloody bodycount in a shooter. I could go on and on with examples of disservices the hotbutton checklist does to games and to potential players.
But we read reviews because we really want to know what’s in the game. It’s important let players and game shoppers know what they’re getting into, whether it’s a parent choosing a game for a child, or just a player of any age looking for a suitable, enjoyable game. I don’t need a rating to protect me from so-called objectionable themes, but I don’t really enjoy running through corridors splattering guts. I recently focus-tested the new Shutter Island game, but I spent most of the session asking the producer to please please warn me if there were going to be any body parts or dead people or icky things. The lines between an adventure game, a RPG with combat, a RPG with bloody combat, and a total gorefest can be fluid, and I’d like to know what I’m going to play.
I wonder if there’s any way to talk about game content without condemning games with certain elements or slapping on an age rating. Can reviewers talk about what a game contains, without jumping to decide who should play it? Can we let potential players know what they’ll find in the game without putting our own biases into a rating review? Or is what’s acceptable on the screen too closely linked with what we find acceptable in real life?