Lawful Good

Make a saving throw against lay-offsOn Monday (or was it last week?) I saw a friend I haven’t seen in a long time, and he asked how I was liking the new job. I’m so used to answering that question by launching into a string of complaints or highly-qualified compliments, that it surprised me I couldn’t come up with much more than “I like it a lot.” It really struck me how nice it feels to be working for a company that’s so completely not evil.

Now, I should point out that I don’t really think any of the companies I’ve worked for are actually evil. The closest was really more just arrogant. And the other two were more “chaotic good,” as I understand the term: there were plenty of good intentions, but the company had gotten so monstrously huge that it tended to steamroll things in its path on its quest to make wholesome family entertainment.

I’d forgotten how much I like working for a smaller company in general. When you add the hands-down best community-building and support people in the business (possibly in any business), and combine that with a mission statement that the company has actually succeeded in pulling off, that makes it that much more impressive. It helps that everybody just seems more concerned with making cool games than anything else — doubly remarkable when you consider how long most of the staff has been working in videogames, and should by all rights be hopelessly jaded.

(I should also point out that my love of the company doesn’t extend to myself. My fluid and ephemeral understanding of the concept of “schedules” tends to be a detriment in a place that makes episodic content.)

I was reminded of it again today after reading reactions to this story making the rounds in videogame-related blogs: the developers of Condemned 2 are reportedly “working closely with the ESRB” to avoid a repeat of the “defacto banning OMG!!!!” of the genital-mutilation game Manhunt 2. Bloggers and posters on message boards are, predictably, railing against the ratings board and fretting about the implications towards free speech. Just as it was with Manhunt 2, you hear a lot about the “chilling effect” of the “Adults Only” rating, which most major retailers refuse to sell, and the console manufacturers refuse to license.

What you hardly ever hear about, though, is the developers’ responsibility. You never hear that this story is actually a very good thing, because it means a developer is willfully complying with the industry’s own ratings board, exactly as the system was intended to work. With all the cries of censorship, you never hear anyone ask if videogame developers really need to show a guy’s head getting crushed by a vice in order to realize their true artistic vision. It’s just automatically assumed that they should be able to, never questioned whether they ought to.

Which is good for me because it lets me affect a sense of smug superiority, my favorite thing to do. I can point out that my company makes unrated games and sells them online. So in theory, we could show gory decapitations and a guy’s head getting crushed by a vice. Just like any other developer could — as long as they were willing to use an alternate distribution model and forego the millions and millions of dollars you make selling big-ticket multi-platform games. We just choose not to.

And instead, have cartoony decapitations and make jokes about crushing a guy’s head in a vice.