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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Old Controversy, New Controversy

It's all the same old story. From Wikipedia's entry on the computer game version of I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream:

Not everyone had praise for the game. After previews of the game appeared, the Simon Wiesenthal Center sent Cyberdreams a letter expressing their concern that Nimdok’s adventure involved the Holocaust, a subject too serious to be made light of by appearing in a game, they felt.

However, Ellison was very passionate about using an adventure-plot centering around the Holocaust within this game about good versus evil. As he said in one magazine review, "I’m a Jew and I wanted to put something in the game that would deal with the Holocaust. The job of an artist is to set your synapses on fire, and that’s what I wanted to do in this game."
-- I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream (computer game) [Wikipedia]

That was interactive fiction a graphic adventure released in 1995. It's almost the exact same argument Baxter raised against Super Columbine RPG and it's a kissing cousin to the complaints about Bully and the like. It's not that you can't talk about it - it's that games aren't an appropriate medium. The reasons shift - either games are too juvenile, too interactive, too entertaining or whatnot - but the gist is the same.

Although I guess that's not entirely true. There's an odd spectrum here. In one hand, games aren't serious and shouldn't be taken seriously. Or - games are aggressively interactive and therefore too influential on the player to deal with serious topics. That's night and day. Either we're dealing with trivial toys or machines with serious impacts. Critics can't have it both ways.

I know some gamers have a polarized view of Harlan Ellison - but that's really beside the point. I'm reading the short story because (as it turns out) it shares some thematic concepts with the backstory to Dreadnought. The point is that back in the day a computerized version of fiction was considered, by some, to be insulting to a memory simply because it was computerized. In a similar way, Super Columbine was deemed unfit for consumption by Slamdance not because of the subject material per se ... but simply because it was computerized. The arguments have changed but the fear remains the same.

I just finished the short story and what's interesting is that I suspect the interactive game might actually be a better and more powerful narrative. I wish I could find a playable copy.

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Weefz said...

Wait, so "interactive fiction" includes graphical games that use click-on-verb click-on-subject interaction? That's pretty broad. I never thought of Monkey Island as being included.

Point being, I loved that game even though it was incredibly creepy and quirky. Sadly, don't have it any more :( Have you tried contacting the webmaster at ? He lists the game as available for order in the US but I don't know how current that is, nor if a 1995 Mac or "IBM PC" version would sstill be playable.

Josh said...

It was graphical? Ah, ok - from the wikipedia it sounded more like IF with a graphic interface (like the old Avalon series). I couldn't even find a decent screenshot of the title.

I saw HERC had it - but it's $32 (+S/H I assume) for a game which might not even work on XP :( I suppose I could order it and hope it runs on Classic emulation for the Mac.

Maybe someone should just convince Ellison to write it as proper IF :)