Here’s something I wrote on Spielfrieks list in response to a discussion about inappropriate game themes. (See the start of the thread.)
Daniel Karp wrote:
The question is, are their subjects which are inappropriate for games under all circumstances? What does it mean if someone likes such a game, and does it matter for what reason they like it?
I have a game about one of the most horrid subjects and I consider it one of the gems in my collection: Charnel Houses of the Europe: The Shoah, which is a Wraith RPG source book about the Holocaust.
I’ve yet to face such a piece of game art. The author writes in preface about the prejudice his project faced, but I think it’s magnificent. Of course, it treats the victims of the Holocaust with most respect. Players can take various roles, but most of the characters presented in the book are "good"; jews and other people oppressed by the Nazis.
I don’t think Holocaust is unsuitable material for games. There’s definite need to remember these things. If games can keep the issue in people’s minds and prevent it from happening again, that’s good. I wouldn’t like to see a game that makes fun of the Holocaust or denies it ever happened, however.
But I don’t think there’s any way to really say what’s appropriate or not. I know I would consider many subjects suitable that more conservative people might consider taboo. If you say that something is inappropriate, you’re going to tread on a fine line. This issue is perhaps unfamiliar when it comes to games — but think about books. It’s Banned Books Week now, you know. Many people consider Harry Potter inappropriate — the series topped the Most challenged books of 2001 list. Are Harry Potter games suitable for children? As ridiculous as it sounds to me, some people are going to say
Is a game about homosexuality acceptable? Most of the books on the most challenged books list are there because their content is considered sexually explicit. I don’t think it’s that much about subject matter alone — one should also consider the audience. I don’t think sexuality (straight, gay or whatever) is appropriate for children’s games. For consenting adults, anything goes.
So, to make a point, what I’m saying is that everyone should pretty much decide themselves what’s appropriate. I will not take someone else’s opinions about what’s appropriate for me. I understand it was necessary when I was a child and I do thank my parents for at least trying to be strict. But now I can and will choose for myself. In the other hand, I am not going to press my opinions on someone else. Not about religion, not about appropriate subject matter for books, games, tv or whatever, not about my political opinions.
Of course, one will always have to take in account the environment they live in. The Finnish state is an authority I have respect for, and I have chosen to live by the standards set in the Finnish law. I will disagree with the general opinion where necessary, but I will agree with the laws (except those, which don’t make any sense at all).
To condense my long ramblings:
* Let me play games about whatever subjects I think are appropriate and I will let you play whatever you think is appropriate, as long as we both respect the local laws and so on.
* Let people vote with their feet — if something is inappropriate enough, no one will want to play or buy it.