SWAT, MAG and SOCOM veteran Charles N Cox has sworn off first-person shooters, admitting that it may be a career-limiting movie but affirming his belief that the games industry "is ready to do better things".
"Money isn’t an acceptable stand-in for ethical behavior. Just as legality doesn’t equal morality, so too does profit fail to imply ethical superiority. Great, we’re all making these games. Should we? Did we ever ask?"
"Screw it, I’ve been in the business a full, stormy, self-doubting decade and the world can hear me loud and clear: I will never work on a first-person shooter game, ever again. Period," the former Microsoft, Sony and Sierra staffer wrote in a post on his blog.
Cox acknowledged that action games are among the best-selling and highest-grossing titles the industry produces, and said that the incredible success of shooters has cast a kind of glamour over consumers and developers alike, so it's unlikely they'll stop being made and bought any time soon.
"The problem here is that money isn’t an acceptable stand-in for ethical behavior. Just as legality doesn’t equal morality (seriously, it doesn’t, spread the word), so too does profit fail to imply ethical superiority. Great, we’re all making these games. Should we? Did we ever ask?" he wrote. "I had an experience that forced my hand – I haven’t stopped asking since."
Cox said he was working on a shooter title with an engineer who, thanks to the long hours development demands, had to bring his little girl to work with him some days. If she caught sight of his screen, the engineer would implement a solution of his own devising to remove all traces of violence, telling the girl he was working on a hide-and-seek game. In this way, he was able to shelter her from the very content that was his paying his wages.
"I don’t know how I’d have the courage to do what it took to protect my child from the visible, media-ready horrors we know plague us as humanity every second – and the more insidious, invisible ones like my industry friends experience every day: the fact that deep down inside, we love to shoot people on these giant screens and watch them fall into the dirt," Cox said of this incident.
"It’s not his response to the situation that I take issue with. It’s that there’s even a situation like this that he feels compelled to respond to – that’s the shame, the ugliness of it."
The developer said that he knows there's huge demand for virtual violence and he still very much enjoys shooters himself, but that for a couple of reasons he no longer wants to support this cultural phenomenon. Firstly, he wants to be able to look parents like his engineer colleague in the face and "not to give them some bullshit line about the fascinating duplicity of mankind, and say that I’m honestly working to try to make the world that their children will inhabit a better one".
Second, having established a new company, 4gency, he's in the enviable position of being able to make a choice about what kinds of games he works on.
"There’s an amazing amount of innovation just waiting under the surface for us to tackle – and yes, perhaps violence will be some part of it; we are no simple beings. But we as a self-aware species of gamer – and game developer – can evolve to a more varied diet as a start; a one-course feast of blood and shell casings can perhaps sing its last with this generation and never return, a relic, discarded as the cyanide trappings of our adolescent industry and its hopefully brief era of strip mining for the social soul.
"We are ready to do better, and I’m prepared to do my part. No more first-person shooters will come from me."
Cox's full post is an absorbing and emotive read; do click through the link above and read it in full to gauge his arguments more completely.
Thanks, Critical Distance.