“Video Games” and “Videogames”

This may seem a bit trivial, but I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the difference of spelling “video game” as two words or one word.

Why? Well, contrary to what some people may think, “videogame” is not necessarily an accidental misspelling. In fact, it was originally and deliberately coined by the late Bill Kunkel, who’s considered one of the pioneers of video game journalism. As one of the founders of Electronic Games magazine in 1981, the very first publication devoted to video games, Kunkel was responsible for creating a lot of the nomenclature still used in writing about games today. Kunkel preferred to used the single-word spelling due to the extra connotation it carried for video games as an expressive medium.

It’s interesting to note that many common terms used when talking about video games are compound words, such as “screenshot,” “cutscene,” and “gameplay,” to name a few. All of them are considered acceptable in the medium’s lexicon (even though my word processor is currently flagging them with red underlines), but ironically, “videogame” is one that doesn’t seem to have caught on to the same degree.

I, myself, have tended to used the two-word spelling simply because it’s the more common spelling I see used. In fact, while Kunkel was originally a proponent of the one-word spelling, he switched to the two-word version in 2007 when he realized that it was more recognized by search engines. Still, the single-word spelling has its advocates for the same reasons Kunkel began using it in the first place.

This brief article on the subject from 2010 makes some interesting points about the use of the single-word variation. Personally, I have come to recognize a slight difference in meaning between the two spellings. I’m dipping my toes into philosophical waters here, but to me, “video games” carries a more literal description of what the medium is, while “videogames” implies what the medium achieves. It’s kind of like the difference between “moving pictures” and “movies.”

As a writer, it’s always a matter of finding the right word to use in the right context. I think there’s value in both spellings, and so I intend to start using each one where appropriate. Was it worth writing a whole blog post to explain this? Well, for my own integrity, I wanted to clarify why I might choose to use the word “videogames.”

Most people probably don’t care, but some people seem to have strong feelings about spelling and grammar. If you have an opinion, I’d love to hear it! Do you prefer “video games” or “videogames,” and why?

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Icon - M-rating

Nintendo Myths: Mature Content and Censorship

Icon - M-ratingRecently, Nintendo has been gaining some attention for producing and publishing games like Platinum Games’ Bayonetta 2 and Valhalla Game Studios’ upcoming Devil’s Third, both of which feature overt “adult” content, such as graphic violence and sexual themes. Some news outlets are proclaiming that these games signal a shift in Nintendo’s policies away from the colorful family-friendly games that permeate their platforms to games with more mature content. Interviews with the developers often include questions about whether Nintendo is enforcing any kind of censorship. It’s clear that Nintendo’s reputation for making “kiddy” games or having strict content policies is taken at face value, but is it really accurate?

In fact, Nintendo’s consoles are no strangers to mature-themed games. Bayonetta 2 is far from the first M-rated game Nintendo has ever published. It’s not even the first M-rated game Nintendo has published on the Wii U. (Launch title Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge was published by Nintendo in North America.) Nor does Nintendo prohibit third-parties from releasing mature-themed games on their consoles, or force them to censor content to make it more family-friendly. This is a misconception about Nintendo that has lasted for the better part of two decades.

Screenshot - Bayonetta 2
Bayonetta 2 is far from the first M-rated game Nintendo has published.

But before we go any further, there’s an issue of semantics that needs to be addressed. What are we really talking about when we say “mature” games? Games with explicit violence, sex and foul language are often deemed “mature,” strictly for the fact that the content may be inappropriate for children. Some people like to point out that “mature” has a more literal meaning, and that it pertains to how content is handled rather than the content itself. (For example, some argue that Mario Kart 8 is a mature game.) For the purpose of this editorial, I’m sticking with the vernacular use of the word to describe the presence of explicit violence, sex and foul language. This, of course, is a bit subjective, and it varies across different societies and rating systems, but the ESRB’s ‘M’ rating (signaling content for players 17 and over) is a convenient guideline.

Now that that’s out of the way, it must be said that Nintendo’s reputation is not unearned. Most of Nintendo’s in-house developed games are whimsical and kid-friendly, and contain very little objectionable content. Some games occasionally venture into darker territory (for example, Super Metroid, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess), but never really go too far. It’s also true that in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Nintendo did enforce strict content guidelines (mostly in North America and Europe), although some surprising things still occasionally slipped past the censors. Nintendo of America even went so far as to flaunt their policies in front of the U.S. Congress in 1993. However, competition from the less stringent Sega, as well as the foundation of the ESRB rating system, began loosening Nintendo’s policies almost overnight.[1] Let’s not forget that the SNES received a completely uncensored port of Mortal Kombat II in 1994, and that Nintendo, itself, published the SNES port of Killer Instinct (T-rated, but still quite violent) in 1995.

Screenshot - Mortal Kombat II
Unlike the first game, Mortal Kombat II was completely uncensored on SNES.

Now, I’m not saying that the number of games with explicit content that have appeared on Nintendo’s consoles is necessarily equal to those of rival platforms, but they’re not quite the rarity that they’re often perceived as. In fact, I would argue it’s not even a numbers game. The mere presence of them in the first place disproves the notion of Nintendo having severe content restrictions.

Still, I think it’s worth pointing out that several notable “mature” games have appeared on every Nintendo console of the last 20 years. I hate to turn this into a list, but I almost feel it’s necessary as some people seem to ignore that these games existed.

Nintendo 64:

  • Conker’s Bad Fur Day (ironically, the Xbox remake was censored)
  • Doom 64
  • Duke Nukem 64 and Duke Nukem: Zero Hour
  • Killer Instinct Gold (published by Nintendo)
  • Perfect Dark (published by Nintendo in Japan, Rare elsewhere)
  • Quake 64 and Quake II
  • Resident Evil 2
  • Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, Turok 2: Seeds of Evil, Turok: Rage Wars, and Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion

GameCube:

  • Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem (published by Nintendo)
  • Geist (published by Nintendo)
  • Killer 7 (originally part of the “Capcom 5”)
  • Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes (published by Konami, produced in collaboration with Nintendo)
  • Resident Evil (2002 remake), Resident Evil Zero and Resident Evil 4

Wii:

  • Dead Space: Extraction
  • The House of the Dead: Overkill (at the time, received the Guinness World Record for most profanity in a video game)
  • MadWorld
  • No More Heroes and No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle
  • Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles and Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles
  • Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

Wii U:

  • Bayonetta and Bayonetta 2 (published by Nintendo)
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Director’s Cut
  • Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge (published by Nintendo in North America, Koei Tecmo elsewhere)
  • Resident Evil: Revelations (originally a Nintendo 3DS title)
  • ZombiU

This is a selective list and by no means comprehensive. This also does not include several popular multi-platform games, such as Mortal Kombat, Call of Duty, Splinter Cell, Assassin’s Creed, etc., all of which have had several installments appear on Nintendo consoles. I have also not included Nintendo’s handheld systems, which have been home to games like Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. But I think it provides a good overview of the more significant titles, and it demonstrates that Nintendo hasn’t prohibited violent or sexual content for many years.

Screenshot - Conker's Bad Fur Day
Conker’s N64 game was more profane than the Xbox remake.

However, there have been a couple of known instances of censorship in recent Nintendo games that are worth addressing. The North American release of Chibi-Robo! Photo Finder on the Nintendo 3DS removed a depiction of a naked cartoon butt that was present in the Japanese version. Also, an image of a scantily clad female character in the 3DS title Fire Emblem: Awakening was also partially covered for its North American and European releases (ironically making it look even more suggestive). In light of what Nintendo does allow on their platforms, it’s not likely that this was done for the sake of internal content guidelines, and more likely that it was intended to manipulate the ESRB and PEGI ratings to fit the games’ target audiences in their respective regions.

Screenshot - Fire Emblem: Awakening
A recent example of censorship in Fire Emblem: Awakening.

It must also be said that Nintendo does prohibit games that are rated “AO” for Adults Only, signifying the most extreme depictions of sex and violence, but this is also the policy of Sony and Microsoft who do not allow such games to be published on their PlayStation or Xbox consoles, and many retailers refuse to carry games with the “AO” rating.

Of course, whether or not a game includes “mature” content has no bearing on the actual quality of the game, but that’s not really the point of this editorial. Nintendo consoles do have a lot of family-friendly games, but more in the sense of a classic Disney or Pixar film: enjoyable by players of all ages. Some games, however, aim at an older audience, and as such, may include some content that’s inappropriate for younger players. The point here is that Nintendo does not prohibit or object to those types of games. The notion that it does is about twenty years out of date.

Footnotes:

1 – Nintendo’s Era of Censorship – http://www.jjmccullough.com/Nintendo.php

The Games That Got Away

ryohazuki_iconOver the years, there have been a lot of video games that I’ve really wanted to play, but for one reason or another, wasn’t able to. Fortunately, in many cases, my chance came along eventually, even if it took years or decades. However, there are still those few games that manage to elude me. So, in the spirit of airing my grievances, here is a short, painful list of some of the more notable games that have gotten away from me.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

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Being that I’m a big fan of the Castlevania series, both the classic and metroidvania eras, missing Symphony of the Night is one of my great gaming shames. Not only is it considered one of the best Castlevania games, but also one of the best video games ever made, period.

Really, it all boils down to me primarily owning Nintendo consoles, and oddly enough, Symphony never appeared on any Nintendo system. That’s kind of strange when you think about it, considering how prominent the series usually is with Nintendo. But so be it, and that leaves me out in the bitter, dark cold.

But if Rondo of Blood could make it to the Wii Virtual Console, then perhaps one day, Konami will see fit to bring Symphony to a Nintendo platform as well.

Shenmue II

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This is an even more painful inclusion on this list. I’m a self-proclaimed Shenmue fanboy, and it’s still one of my all-time favorite games.

Now, imagine this: Shenmue II was promised to Dreamcast owners for nearly a year after the first one came out. And then just one month before its scheduled release, it’s canceled so that it can be an Xbox exclusive (and delayed for another year on top of that). Oh, but only in North America. Japan and Europe still got the Dreamcast version on schedule.

At the time, I was pretty bitter about the whole thing, and I wasn’t about to buy a whole new console from something that was supposed to be on one I already owned. And I wasn’t aware that certain retailers were actually importing the European Dreamcast version to sell in America, so I missed my opportunity.

Today, however, I think Shenmue would actually sell me a console. If a Shenmue collection were ever released (or dare I say, Shenmue III), I would try to find a way to play it.

SaGa (series)

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I’ve refrained from including Japan-only releases, because games I want to see localized would be a different list. The SaGa series, though, is a little of both. The games that have been localized have rarely appeared on systems I own, and the ones that did usually stayed in Japan. As of now, the only game in the SaGa series that I’ve played is Final Fantasy Legend II on the original Game Boy. I held my breath with eager anticipation that at least the Nintendo DS remake would make it over, but unfortunately, that’s about the time that Square Enix decided to get picky with their localizations.

So, why am I interested in the series if I’ve had so little experience with it? I guess I kinda like RPGs that are just a little off-beat. Plus, I am a big fan of the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles series, which was made by the same development team and is similarly quirky.

As a series, SaGa seems to be dormant right now, but there are occasional stirrings. Still, I won’t hold my breath.

Various Shoot’em-ups

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I’m just going to make this a catch-all category for all the 2D shmups that have decided to stay out of my arm’s reach for the past couple of decades. As an R-Type fan, I would’ve loved to get my hands on Delta and Final, and Thunder Force V always looked really cool to me. The Gradius Collection was only released on the PSP, so I couldn’t play the only localized version of Gradius Gaiden. There are others as well.

Shmups in general are a bit rare these days, and it’s kinda sad that even the big franchises of the ’80s and ’90s are all but dead. The classics do show up from time to time on digital download services, but as far as Nintendo platforms go, it’s unlikely I’ll see anything that ever appeared on the Saturn or PlayStation.

Lark’s Island: Third Anniversary!

Has it been three years already? September 5, 2011, I posted the very first article here on Lark’s Island. Things have changed a lot since then, and activity has been occasionally sporadic, but I’m still here. So, I thought I’d do a little retrospective.

I was previously a contributor to a blog called LVLs., which belonged to an online friend. (It’s defunt now, but you can still find the affiliate link over on the sidebar.) At some point, I decided I wanted to have my own space and create my own blog.

Now, I’m not terribly good at coming up with names, so “Lark’s Island” probably sounds kind of random, but I can explain where it came from. When I first created the blog, I was browsing through the different WordPress themes, and I decided to use the “Beach” theme because it wasn’t too common, and I liked the way it looked (even though it had nothing to do with video games). So, to run with it, I thought it would be appropriate to call the blog an “island.” But what kind of island? After going through a few ideas, I settled on “Lark,” based on a character from the game Pilotwings 64.

You see, Lark was inspired by the old Nintendo Power comic strip character Nester, which is where I got my online handle from, so I thought it worked as kind of an obscure reference. (Lark, himself, was also a pun referring to both the bird and a lighthearted joke.) Maybe it’s a little too esoteric for its own good, but I have started using “Nester the Lark” as an extended name for myself.

The focus for the blog has always been video games, but the angle has changed a lot over the years. Currently, it’s just a personal outlet for me to write about whatever I want, which I guess is what a personal blog is supposed to be for. On October 19, 2012, I started a separate Tumblr blog called “Lark’s Lagoon,” which I use for posting news and other interesting game-related stuff I come across. Meanwhile, I keep my own written pieces here on WordPress.

As for just this past year, I’d like to point out some of my favorite posts I’ve made:

StarTropics: Test of Island Courage
A retrospective of Nintendo’s short-livewd StarTropics series.

The Wizard: Road To the Past
A look back at the ’80s video game movie The Wizard.

Deeper Waters – Sonic the Hedgehog: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
A full analysis of the original Sonic the Hedgehog. Maybe it’s not that well done, but I’m having fun with it, and it’s still in progress!

I don’t really have any regular readers that I’m aware of, just random visitors. But if you’ve stumbled across this blog somehow, I hope you’ll have a look around! Thanks for visiting!

Editorial – Roger Ebert and Video Games

The passing of film critic and journalist Roger Ebert is not just a huge loss for the film community, but for all of us. His intelligence and insight stretched far beyond his specialization of cinema. And speaking for myself as a video game enthusiast, he was important for my medium of choice as well.

His infamous comments about how video games were incapable of being art “as a matter of principle” unfortunately defined him as an antagonist to many in the gaming community. But what they accomplished was to shine a bright light on the topic, and perhaps caused some of us to think about it just a little bit harder. That was a good thing.

Of course, with the good came the bad. When I first noticed his comments and the impending debate, I was enthusiastic. I thought, “here’s a chance for the gaming community to stand up and really make a case for the possibilities of this incredible medium.” Unfortunately, the vile, immature, and often naïve backlash against Ebert was not only hugely disappointing, but downright embarrassing. Perhaps it was just a sign that it wasn’t only the medium that was young, but the community around it also still had a lot of growing up to do.

I don’t think it had anything to do with anyone needing affirmation of the artistic possibilities of video games. Rather, someone of Ebert’s intelligence and stature acknowledging games as an art form would have lent a lot of credibility to a medium struggling through its own adolescence to find some respect from the outside world. Perhaps it’s just as well he didn’t, since, as the reaction suggests, the community still wasn’t ready.

And when I refer to the “community,” I mean all parts of it: fans, journalists and those working in the industry. No one seemed to have a good reply. It ranged from childish threats and name calling, to weak “art is subjective” arguments that didn’t amount to anything more than new age fluff. Even people that I considered intelligent and articulate completely fumbled in their responses. The whole fiasco was one big fail. Was I expecting too much? I hope I wasn’t. But the most intelligent people at the time were probably those that kept their thoughts to themselves.

It led to me writing a college research paper in which I attempted to create the kind of argument I had wanted to see. Looking back on it, even it wasn’t that good, but I think I was on the right track. I’ve done a lot more thinking on it since then, and it’s taken me in some really interesting directions. Still, I find myself disappointed in most of the rhetoric I see on the subject because it doesn’t really seem to have gone anywhere. Most people are still stuck in their dismissive and “new age fluff” modes.

The good news is, it probably doesn’t matter a whole lot at this point. The relevancy of video games is taking care of itself.

As for Ebert, there should not be any grudges held against him. He took a bold and definitive stance, and he made good points for it. If I had any issues, it would be that he was being a bit dismissive, himself, and it would’ve been nice if his intellectual curiosity had stretched just a little bit into the realm of video games, but even then, I can’t blame him. He devoted his life to cinema, so his hands were full enough as it was.

I enjoyed Ebert’s writing immensely. Not just his movie reviews, where he effectively articulated his thoughts on great movies and entertainingly ripped apart bad ones, but also his blog posts, where he wrote about everything from politics and religion to how much he loved his wife. They were influential to me, and I’m definitely going to miss reading them.

For the rest of us, I guess we’ll just have to make our own insights.