Tuesday, January 14, 2014

An Open Letter To The Co-Presidents of Naughty Dog, Inc.

Dear Mr. Wells & Mr. Balestra,

                My name is Taylor Atkinson and I am writing this letter about your phenomenal 2013 release, The Last of Us.

                Let me begin by expressing my profound respect and admiration for your studio. Video game production is a challenging market to make profits in, and its rapid changes make staying relevant and exciting a unique trial. I played Crash Bandicoot when I was 9 when it came with my first PlayStation. Last year I purchased a digital copy on my PlayStation 3 because I love it now as much as I did then.

                I have also followed the Jak & Daxter series, and I adore Uncharted. They are all more than deserving of the awards and accolades they have received. You can understand, then, how thrilled I was for the release of The Last of Us. Unfortunately, I have not been able to experience it. Yet.

                Watching theatrical and gameplay previews in anticipation of its release, I noticed liberal use of profanity throughout. While I expected my hopes to be in vain, I waited to see if there would be content filtering options. While the game has been given a ‘gore filter’, no language filter has been introduced.

                In writing this, I realize I am not representing the majority of ‘gamers,’ or even the majority of media consumers. Most adults purchase video games with complete disregard for the ESRB rating.  Still, there are many of us who feel that if something cannot be shown in good conscience to people under the age of 18, then there is no great benefit to be gained in exposing adults to that same content.

                I would never advocate for restricting any company’s right to produce this content, but rather for options to be available to enjoy excellent media and still maintain one’s own personal standards.

                My moral decisions are mine alone, and in making them I have no desire to pressure or put down others. I consider no one ‘bad’ or ‘worse’ for having different standards, but I try to live mine and hope that a mutual respect encourages everyone to allow for and accommodate one another’s personal views. I realize that I am coming forward as a representative of a moral stance that many consider archaic at best and pointless at worst. Often, ‘gamers’ are portrayed as a group with looser morals and less concern about exposure to mature content. Often mass media has pushed the argument that video games even encourage a casual disregard towards violence, sexuality, and profanity.

I believe this is a lie, one which we all have a responsibility to expose.

I believe ‘gamers’ are equal participants in the millions of individuals throughout the world who have found that a commitment to avoiding excessive violence, sexuality, and profanity whenever possible has led to greater peace, self-control, and respect for all humanity. I believe I speak for them in saying a collective ‘Thank You!’ for the filters you’ve provided, and asking you to expand that effort.

           Critics often point out that profanity provides a more realistic environment representative of what could actually be expected in the portrayed extreme circumstances, and that profanity is mild in comparison to the violence and sexuality in many games, implying an underlying hypocrisy in its opposition.

Both of these arguments have fundamental flaws:

            Firstly, while fidelity to reality is a welcome enhancement to many games, there are many real-life situations whose reproduction would obviously be damaging and hurtful. Real events so terrible as to be nearly unspeakable -- sexual abuse of children, extremely gruesome violence -- frequently occur at the hands of terrible people, but there is little or nothing to be gained by widespread graphic depictions of these acts. This extreme example implies a spectrum of ‘real-life’ events, with varying degrees of gain from their reproduction. While profanity, as well as sexuality and violence, are a day-to-day reality for many people, there are many of us who live such a life that it isn't, and don’t feel anything to be gained from its inclusion.

            Secondly, the prioritizing of standards is something that every individual decides for themselves. While it may seem self-evident to one person that, of the three, violence is worst, sexuality less so, and profanity the least in affecting a mind or spirit, another person may prioritize them differently and should feel free and enabled to do so. When filters are provided for one and not another, every individual cannot feel validated in their individual standards.

           I realize that I am asking you to do something that will not provide your company with direct financial profits. While a profanity filter would make many of us happy, the cost of providing one would not likely be offset by an increase in sales. All the same, the benefits that it would provide are great and noteworthy: A message of inclusion and respect to the entire gaming community and evidence of your company’s commitment to ideals higher than profits alone.

           Optimistically, this could even be a watershed moment, where your actions could help galvanize a large number of producers to include content filtering options, helping people to live according to their moral standards and showing the world at large that the artistic medium of video games produces a respectful, uplifting community – a perception that has been lost in its vilification at the hands of non-participants who have not seen the friendly competition, amazing storytelling, and beautiful art it has provided for all current and future generations

          I would be extremely thrilled to be able to play what is, by all accounts, one of your greatest masterpieces to date; Currently, I am not able to. Even if my letter does not move you to include the profanity filter which I have argued for, it would thrill me to know that you have received it, read it, and considered the ideas I've presented.

         Thank you so much for your time.

                                                                                                                          -Taylor J Atkinson