Tuesday, April 12, 2011

6 mortifying moments that make you wonder about RPG developers

As a genre, RPGs aren't especially controversial. A Huffington Post article from last year rating the top 15 most controversial videogames included exactly one RPG - Mass Effect - and basically acknowledged that the kerfuffle over it was sheer nonsense.

Maybe it's the genre's origins in tabletop Dungeons and Dragons, an all-ages game that at one time got plenty of attention from anti-satanic church ladies while doing nothing to deserve it. Or it could be that RPGs almost always feature fantasy or sci-fit settings with non-human enemies, which - in contrast to shooters - makes it hard to relate the violence to real-life. Or maybe RPGs are just better at hiding the naughty stuff, what with their longer play times and loads of optional, nonlinear content.

Here's one thing we can rule out: It's not because RPG developers are more high-minded than their counterparts. If you think otherwise, just take a look at the following list of tasteless moments from RPGs. I won't claim that these are the most controversial things out there, as I haven't played every RPG (if you know of better examples, please share). And actually, they're all quite harmless as far as I'm concerned. However, they certainly make you wonder what these people would be doing if they weren't making games.

Naturally, this list doesn't include things like obscure Japanese RPGs, or user-created mods. If it did, it would probably set a record for longest list on the Internet.

1. Gothic 2: Public urination 
Whenever there's a debate about realism in RPGs and to what extent they should model real-life behavior like resting or eating, some wiseacre always chimes in with something like: "What next, should the PC be forced to take a potty break every so often?"

Well, Gothic 2 brought that anticipated day one step closer when it included an NPC taking a leak near a city wall. When you click on him, he actually finishes up before turning to talk to you, which as any guy who's ever had a conversation in the Men's Room can tell you, isn't what typically happens. This one actually didn't creep me out much until I considered the fact that it was somebody's job to create this animation for the game. How's that for a bullet point on your resume?

2. The Fallout Series: Prostitution 
There's nothing unusual about prostitutes in RPGs. If you include unnamed NPCs, I think it's safe to say that it's the most common occupation for female characters in RPGs (draw what conclusion you like from that). However, the twisted, post-apocalyptic world featured in the Fallout series deserves to be singled out for its extensive treatment of the subject. The Fallout wiki's prostitution page - yes, there's a prostitution page - lists 26 named prostitute NPCs in the series, to say nothing of the unnamed "extras."

3. Dragon Age: Bestiality
After making a name for themselves with classic Dungeons and Dragons titles, Bioware kicked off their own, more "mature" fantasy franchise with the highly anticipated Dragon Age: Origins. The new setting was to be more gritty and adult-oriented, in the style of George RR Martin's books. So what kinds of things can you do in Origins that you can't in, say, Baldur's Gate?

Well, have sex with animals, for one. Yay, creative freedom.

Fortunately, the above scene only happens if you visit a brothel and tell the madam to "surprise you." It's purely optional, and the depraved acts that led to it are, thankfully, left to the player's imagination.

4. The Witcher: Sexual trophies
While Bioware romances tend to be modern and inclusive, The Witcher is, purely and unabashedly, a male fantasy. It's the late-night skin flick to Bioware's date-night chick flick. Not only does the main character Geralt have more potential sexual encounters than any other PC in an RPG (at least until the sequel comes out next month), but the game actually features a "sex card" minigame in which the player collects mementos of all his conquests. Sort of like a secret stash of Polaroids kept in a cigar box under your bed. Stay classy, Geralt.

5. Gothic 2: Racial insensitivity
Gothic 2 makes the list again, this time for some, er, questionable voice acting. It's just a wee bit off-putting when you enter the first city in this medieval fantasy game and encounter a guard who inexplicably jive-talks like a character from a blaxploitation flick. But when you later run into a pimp - apparently voiced by the same actor - who speaks in the same stereotypical Ebonics? Even the least politically correct among us has to cringe a little at that.

The game was created by a German developer, so maybe something was lost in the translation. Like, maybe, all sense of decency and decorum.

6. Oblivion: Necrophilia

One of the many NPCs you can meet in Oblivion is a merchant by the name of Falanu Hlaalu. If you make the mistake of chatting with her, she complains about business being slow before hinting at some trouble back in Morrowind. Then, in the ultimate example of TMI, she casually asks if you happen to know what the fine for necrophilia is.  Gee, Falanu, I wonder if your lack of business could have something to do with the fact that YOU'RE ASKING YOUR CUSTOMERS QUESTIONS ABOUT NECROPHILIA. Just a theory.

Granted, necrophilia is only talked about, and anyone who doesn't know what the term means - like perhaps kiddies who happened to get their hands on the game - would be none the wiser. Still, that's quite enough to make the list. In fact, it's hard to imagine anything that could top it.


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