Was criticism of Duke Nukem Forever's 'Capture the Babe' mode fair? Is it reflective of the video game 'moral panic'? We spoke to Randy Pitchford, President of Gearbox about the generation gap, Barack Obama's gamertag and why Duke Nukem would kick Chris Brown's ass.
“Our job is really dumb,” says Gearbox Vice President Steve Gibson, chomping down on a hamburger. Randy Pitchford, President of Gearbox, is right behind him, charging up the stairs, his face flush with a smile, He’s just had his photo taken with three terrifyingly flexible pole dancers.
This is not your regular video game interview.
Post the mainstream media witch hunt Gearbox was embroiled in with Duke Nukem Forever - in relation to it’s ‘Capture the Babe’ multiplayer mode and its risqué use of gentle spanking - you might have expected Pitchford and co to tone things done a little for this event. But they haven’t.
In celebration of Duke Nukem Forever's impending release, Darlinghurst’s Slide Bar has been duly transformed - into Duke’s Titty City. Beer is on the menu, as are meaty hamburgers and the three afore-mentioned pole dancers who just got done putting on quite the show for the Aussie press.
Gearbox isn’t downplaying the afore-mentioned controversy – it’s embracing it.
DUKE'S HANGOVER “Duke is satire and parody,” explains Pitchford. “Take The Hangover – a hilarious film. My wife loved it too. It’s a funny set of contexts taken to the absolute extreme. When my wife watches it, she’s saying ‘it’s funny how stupid men can be sometimes.’ That’s part of what you get with satire. By doing this you’re lampooning it.”
Men can be stupid - that seems to encapsulate the entire existence of Duke Nukem as a character. According to Randy, Duke is stupid, utterly inappropriate - but in a completely harmless way.
“In this case, Duke is like a Tony Stark style character,” begins Pitchford. “You just played the Capture the Babe mode – you know there are very few journalists who have played that mode and, when that story broke about Duke, there was only one journalist in the world who had played it.
“The problem was that all the people who wrote stories on it hadn’t actually played what they were writing about. As a consequence it got kind of convoluted from this Tony Stark style character to suggesting he was some kind of Chris Brown character. “
"You know, Chris Brown,” continues Pitchford, “he’s a piece of shit, and I think Duke would kick that guy’s ass. There’s a big difference between being a Tony Stark style character and being into violence against women.”
THE SCRAMBLE FOR APPROVAL The interesting thing about the Duke Nukem backlash is that, in addition to mainstream press (who you would expect to jump on the story), there was a subset of gamers who had issues with the ‘Capture the Babe’ multiplayer mode. Including myself.
Does mainstream media really need another reason to beat up video games as a medium? Or are gamers so insecure about our hobby that we feel the need to squeeze a broad spectrum of experiences into a neat tidy box - like good little boys and girls?
“I think that we know how great our medium is,” begins Pitchford, “but there’s this generation gap between the people who understand and play video games – the people for whom video games are a part of their lives – and those that don’t.
“As gamers we want these people to see what we see, and we want them to love and respect games in the way that we do.”
Is it unfair that our own insecurities as gamers, which tend to surface in the scramble for mainstream approval, result in us being unfairly critical of games that don’t fit our pre-conceived notions of what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’?
“If all entertainment was the same,” shrugs Randy, “we would be really bored.”
Steve Gibson chimes in, getting a word in edgeways.
“The Hangover is not The Godfather. They’re both very entertaining movies, but for different reasons. One doesn’t necessarily need to reflect on the other.”
Is the controversy over Duke Nukem Forever simply the moral panic in action? Is there a generation of misinformed non-gamers happy to tar and feather an entire medium with their own ignorance?
Yes, believes Randy Pitchford, but there is a silver lining.
"The last generation gap we really experienced was with Rock and Roll music, and you had an older generation that believed that music would be the downfall of western civilisation and they banned music from the airwaves.
"But, you know, at least they understood what music was! They just didn’t like that particular content! With our generation – they don’t even know what a video game is, so the gap is even more radical.
“But we’re in a great spot,” believes Randy. “Our industry and our world has matured to the point where the policy makers, who tend to be older and non gamers - they’re not out there burning our stuff. Because they were on the other side of it with Rock and Roll, and they’re learning to be tolerant. “
We disagree with Randy - muttering something under our breath about the ubiquity of the ‘Moral Panic’, about society never learning from its mistakes. Didn’t Plato get in a kerfuffle over poetry; didn’t Victorians get their mutton chops in a twist over dime novels? What makes our generation superior? Won’t we just find something else to be offended by. Isn’t there something Randy Pitchford himself will find cause to ban/burn/eradicate in the future?
“There are lots of things I’m offended by,” laughs Randy, “but there’s a difference between being offended by things and trying to suppress its existence for all people. As a world we’re sort of moving towards this belief that ideas aren’t the problem. Ideas are just ideas.”
We hop onto Randy’s earlier point – about most policy makers being non-gamers – and allude to Australia’s own issues with censorship, particularly with relation to the R18+ debate. Does he envision a future where gaming will be treated on par with other forms of media?
“We’ll see,” says Pitchford. “We know that new people play video games. We know that people who existed before video games probably don’t. We know that people who grew up playing video games continue to play. In the US the average gamer is 36.
“Policy makers tend to be older than 36,” he continues, “but as time goes on the one inescapable truth is that we will all die – all the old people will go away! The new people that replace us will be people that grew up with video games as part of their world.
"One day our President will have a gamertag. One day the Prime Minister of Australia will have a gamertag. That will happen, and it’ll be well within our lifetime!”
You never know, we say. Barack Obama is a pretty hip dude. Maybe he already has a gamertag?
We forgot that Randy Pitchford comes from the state of Texas, Republican stronghold and home to one George W. Bush.
“I doubt it!” He laughs.