In the wake of this year’s Japanese earthquake disasters, a game called Disaster Report 4 was cancelled, and all its earlier iterations were removed from Japanese shelves. Insert Credit has done an interesting write-up about the circumstances surrounding the game’s removal and why it should stay.
The Disaster Report games put the player in the shoes of someone trying to help others and themselves after a disaster has struck — sometimes the player succeeds, sometimes they fail. While it may not seem unusual for a game of this nature to be pulled from shelves after an event like the Japanese earthquakes, closer inspection reveals that it makes little sense to remove the game from sale.
Hamish at Insert Credit writes:
“… despite the garish way they’re marketed in the west, the Disaster Report titles were really quite slow and respectful games. Their subtlety is immediately visible in the trailers and Japanese boxart, which is soft and innocent. They don’t promise the thrills or graphical punch of some games. They only promise that they will try and show you what it is like to be a person escaping from a beautiful and welcoming environment that has suddenly become hostile… In the games, you try to help people, but sometimes they die. There may be something you can do about it, something difficult and frightening. But often there isn’t. Coming to terms with this is evocative — it is not great art, but it is sincere.“
“How would you or I go about making a game about death? Bearing in mind that in almost every game ever made there is an awful lot of ‘dying’. In video games we drown, we have our bones crushed, we are burned into paralysis. What usually happens then is that the screen fades out, fades in, and there we are again, standing where we were a minute or so ago, right as rain.”
The piece is a fascinating read and gives pause to consider ethics and morality in games. Often we’ll be quick to criticise a game for its realistic depiction of violence and death, suggesting that it trivialises the issue, but we’ll readily accept a censored and softer approach to the same heavy subjects. This isn’t to say that one approach is more moral or even better than the other, but it’s something worth thinking about. When death is treated respectfully and realistically in a game, will we be ready for it?