Don’t let the title mislead you – there’s nothing illegal going on here. I’m not talking about using narcotics in real life while playing video games. I’m talking about video games that allow the character to use narcotics to alter results within the game. Whether it’s drinking binge in the popular video game Skyrim or smoking hallucinogenic cactus weed in the text MUD called Achaea
, the introduction of narcotics lends a scary reality to our favorite virtual worlds.
Just because I haven’t ever used an illegal substance in real life doesn’t mean I’m not willing to try it in a game. I like the safety of virtual realms, and just because I try it in a game doesn’t mean I’m going to go out and try it in real life. I’ve seen what drugs can do to people; how they can hook users from the first try and how even limited use can have lasting, negative effects on a person’s body. It’s probably for reasons like these that most games limit substance abuse to alcohol, which offers a basic kind of amusement - like the drinking game quest in Skyrim.
However other games, like Grand Theft Auto and even some text-based MUDs, such as ones produced by Iron Realms Entertainment, take the subject of substance abuse to the next level. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (also known as the ESRB) rating symbols help consumers know what’s age-appropriate for the playing or viewing audience. If you’re specifically looking for a game that allows characters to indulge in things you might never touch in real life, here are some key things to look for in the ESRB Content Descriptors:
Alcohol Reference - Refers to text and/or images of alcoholic beverages
Drug Reference - Refers to text and/or images of illegal drugs
Tobacco Reference - Refers to text and/or images of tobacco products
Use of Drugs - Characters in-game consume or use illegal drugs
Use of Alcohol - Characters in-game consume alcoholic beverages
Use of Tobacco - Characters in-game consume tobacco products
A lot of developers are wary about introducing illegal substances, like drugs and alcohol, into virtual settings portrayed in video or text-based games because of the negative connotations, but it seems with each wave of new games more compromises are being made. For instance, Lord of the Rings Online recently introduced pipeweed, an element Tolkien included in the well-known trilogy. Did you know there are 21 different varieties of pipeweed? Apparently you cross breed different types to increase your skill of farming the plants. And I thought that a smoking a single type of weed in Achaea that created nearly full-screen ASCII smiley faces was entertaining.
The presence of drugs in video games is something that’s taken seriously on a global level. Some countries permit games with content that either shows or allows characters to use substances for their own entertainment, but when using drugs or alcohol is a requirement to level up, that’s when the problems begin – even for some more lenient countries. For instance, the United Arab Emirates banned Saints Row: The Third because of, among other sensitive issues, the use of drugs and alcohol. Australia banned the games Blitz: The League, NARC, Risen, and Fallout 3 for drug use, mostly in conjunction with some kind of in-game reward or incentive. However, an edit that renamed the drug morphine to Med-X across the board resulted in Fallout 3 being unbanned.
What are your thoughts on the topic? Are censors right to tone down how video games represent the drug and alcohol scene, or are they just overreacting? Should there be different policies for graphics-based MMOs versus text-based MUDs
? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.