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On Running Feuds
Another Feud with No Fucking Ending
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on January 12, 2004   |   Episode 36 (Show Archive)  

   


George Carlin always said there were seven words you cannot say on television, seven words that were so foul just the mention of them would turn innocent, church-going kids and turn them into the high school drop outs. These seven words were Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Mother Fucker, and Tits. They were the worst of the worst, and when Carlin first said this it was completely true. But these days some of these words have seeped into our culture, and at least a couple can be heard on TV on a regular basis now.

But video games have always been a little different. For much of the industry's life we've been saddled by the fact that most of the people who played games were kids, and there was just no reason to use words like Shit and Piss in a Mario game. Of course, the kids that played those innocent games ten or fifteen years ago, are now full grown adults and still enjoy the sweet taste of interactive entertainment. Perhaps that's why newer games are catering to an older audience, and a game like True Crime can use just about every one of those words once thought to be too obscene to even mutter under your breath.

Clearly I'm not offended by profanity, I use it in real life, I use it in the virtual arena, and I mutter it under my breath. My opinion of these words has not changed over the years, and I am still as much a proponent of foul language as I ever was. But not everybody is like; it takes all kinds of gamers to make this industry work.

One such gamer was Timothy Kish, your "average" teenager who just happened to get lucky enough to have his letter printed in Next Generation not once, but twice! Timothy had had enough of the constant barrage of profanity he heard coming out of the mouth of game characters, he was ready for action and let everybody know his intentions through a strongly worded letter to the editors of Next Generation magazine.



From Next Generation Magazine, September 1996 --
My brother recently bought Mega Max X3. We were very relieved once we had gone through the whole game without finding any swearing, since there was some in MM7. We were stuck on the boss for a while and finally beat him only to find Mega Man yell out "D*mn!"

Now some very good games have had this problem on the PC, such as the Wing Commander series. Even Descent had to add in the one word in the opening sequence!

I would buy many of those games except for the constant swearing, I am writing this letter to try to stop this, and I will be sending these out to other companies and organization with which I have this trouble.

After all, how many people would send in a letter like this one complaining that there should be no swearing in a game? So why would you include a single swear word in the entire game? Do people buy games for their swearing? No.

- Timothy Kish, a (normal?) teenager who is fed up with this and wants answers.


Even then, I was the kind of guy who would laugh about the letter, but then ponder it for hours on end. I completely disagreed with him, but he certainly did bring up a valid point. Next Generation decided to post his email address, which offered me a chance to argue his claims straight to him, and not some third party. New to the internet, I collect all my thoughts and decide to write them in a letter explaining my point of view. I didn't really know what to expect, I wasn't even sure he was going to read it. But my pessimistic nature didn't persuade me, I wrote out a nice long letter to Timothy, the very same letter you see below.



EMAIL - 6:41 PM August 14th, 1996

Dear Timothy,
In response to your letter that was written, and printed in NEXT GENERATION magazine ... I have a few things to add to this discussion! Okay, while you are right that people don't go out and buy games solely for the swearing, it does add something to the reality of games!

You see, if you notice, video games, movies, hell, ALL ENTERTAINMENT is a mirror of reality! That is to say that if there weren't wars, then there wouldn't be an outcry for war movies, games, and so on! In certain movies it is important to play homage to reality ... so that not every movie can be a fantasy Disney ride! KIDS, Roger and Me, and many other movies show the way life really is, and the same holds true when it comes to gaming.

In certain games that are not geared at children words like "Damn," "Bitch," and such are perfectly expectable! I mean, in combat people aren't always candy coating their expressions, people say different things than maybe they would on the street. If you ask NBC, ABC, CBS, and FOX they will all say that "Damn," "Bitch," "Ass," and other words are nothing more than words to emphasize another word, or even as an explanation! "DAMN ... I didn't know that" ... and so on so forth.

It really comes back to the argument if you don't like, don't listen! I mean, if you find the word DAMN morally offensive, well you have two options, don't buy the game, watch the movie, listen to the song, read the book, or whatever. The other option is to simply not bother, have fun with the game, and live with it! This is a society driven by different cultures and beliefs ... and not everybody can be heard!

I myself have nothing against those words, or any other words for that matter! I mean, it is only a word! There should be no words that cause that much hate, hurt, or grief! But if I do not like what I see, hear, play, or watch, I do what I can, AND TURN IT OFF! If I do not want to see a Televangelist, well, I simply turn them off. It's like that bumper sticker says: AGAINST ABORTION??? DON'T HAVE ONE! It hold true with just about everything!

Also, do you go to school? I graduated this year from High school (also a normal teenager), and I don't think I went a day with out hearing one of those sacred words, or worse (I don't think so, but for who ever), like "Fuck," "Shit," and whatnot!

I have given you the amount of time I could, and thank you for cheering up, this dull day! The letter made me laugh!

-Cyril Lachel


And with that, I sent it out hoping for the best. I suspected he was probably getting a lot of hate mail, so I didn't know if he would even read my letter. But no more than a day later Timothy responded with some questions and comments. For the next few days the emails were passed back and forth, eventually coming to an acceptable conclusion. Instead of adding insight after every letter, I'll let the email conversation play out like it did eight years ago.



EMAIL - Timothy - 2:55 AM August 15th, 1996

I do have some questions for you. I don't know where you are getting your information, but almost all of my friends are against swearing. Obviously, different people have different ideas about reality. I know there aren't many like me, but I find them. Aren't there other ways to get your point across that don't offend people, even if it only helps with a few of them? I am glad that I could bring some cheer into your day. One thing I do appreciate about your letter is that it at least makes an attempt to explain why you are against me, instead of going on like some deranged psychopath cussing me out. Thank you.


EMAIL - Cyril - 11:47 PM August 15th, 1996

No no no ... I never said that I was against you ... in fact, I am giving you credit for at least voicing your opinion, which others may say is stupid ... that in itself is very brave, and I will give credit where credit is due! I am extremely pleased you didn't write back cussing me out (but then again, that would have gone against what you said, so I guess I wasn't expecting that). I would never write and cuss out somebody for their opinions, that's extremely juvenile!

Oh well ... let me make a few more points. When it comes to games, does it really detract from the game play -- personally speaking I wouldn't mind if the language was like Reservoir Dogs, if the game fit the Reservoir Dog's mood, however, if the game is Sonic, and it had a plethora of FUCKs and SHITs then I will be the first one that tells you that they don't NEED to be there ... it's unrealistic enough of a premise (a hedgehog that goes really fast in red Reebox), but it doesn't need to have a filthy mouth as well. But with games like Wing Commander IV I find it not to be a detraction at all, on the flip side I don't see it improving anything at all ... I mean, I feel that the only reason it's there is because words like DAMN have become more common place. If you don't believe me watch Disney's Aladdin ... it says Damn in their twice.

Plus Wing Comander wasn't aimed at 8-year olds (which I'm not saying you are, don't get me wrong) ... instead it was aimed for 17 - 34 gamers, the prime age group that Sci-Fi appeals to! I work selling games, I understand the marketing effort that goes into these titles. For example, Sega ran a spot in the magazines for their Saturn's that had a naked lady, whose breasts and crotch were covered by pictures of their games. The wording went like this: "In case you didn't notice, there is a beautiful woman in this ad" or something like that ... the mag isn't in front of me! Now, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that that was aimed at males 15 - 25 ... I mean, not only is 18 the sexual peak, but it's blatantly sexist ... but the argument would be, if you don't like it, don't look at it! Maybe that spot wouldn't be there if it weren't for the fact that the Saturn's main market share is testosterone driven ... something like 90% of the Saturn owners claim to be male, so the ad works for that 90% ... and that's who they are trying to hook. Will women not buy it, it's doubtful, most women will forget about it in a week anyways!

The United States is more tolerant about profanity. You can't go anywhere without finding it! I mean, somebody has to live a very sheltered life to not hear some of these things. I am not saying that you are like that; I am just making some points.

Also, here is a question for you. Are you going to public school? Private school? Or home school? If you are going to a private school, that might explain why you don't hear these words in the hallway ... however, I, of course, have yet to go to all high schools (or middle schools), so I don't know how the language barrier is set up. However, I do know that a large majority of todays game players are tolerant of language in the games they play. You must realize that companies that make these games do tests, I mean, they take surveys up the ying/yang!

There seem to be much better reasons for boycotting a game, like bad design and no new ideas. I do believe that there are a few games where the profanity is just fine, I mean, it adds something! Maybe I wouldn't buy the game for that reason, but the package seems much more complete, and less friendly when it is packaged as such. To an extent, there seems to be this sheltering that was happening with the industry, I mean, most of the games of the eighties were pretty goodie goodie ... but recently (in the last 6 years), there has been an influx of more controversial games, mostly from Japan. EVO, which wasn't a great game, but brought the wave of anti-religous games (the game was about evolution). Even Snatchers (one of my personal favorites), had many a bad word, but it was cleaner than the Japanese one.

The USA seems to be the only country that worries about all of these certain things. Think about it ... what other country bothers worrying about abortion, nudity, language, and sex??? Yet all of these things are slowly becoming second nature in the US, and if we help it along, in 20 years nobody will care about any of those things.

I mean no offense by this, I really don't, but you are the only person I know that has bothered to complain orally about language! Hell, when I was in school my teachers said DAMN all of the time. I see nothing that is the matter with that word ... I mean, it is just a word. I ask you now, what is the problem with the word? Please be honest. I am sorry if I rambled on, but I enjoy explaining, and I hope you do to! Thank you for your time!

P.S. -- Next Generations response to your letter was "We think that you're being a little sensitive, Timothy"


EMAIL - Cyril - 7:34 PM August 18th, 1996

One of the things you said stated that you feel that Wing Commander was aimed at older audiences and I agree with you. All I'm saying is that swearing does not necessarily mean that you are mature, in fact, yours was the only letter on your side of things that didn't end up being a call-cuss me out-hang up type of letter. You yourself classified this as juvenile, so why should I take anyone on your side seriously? Another thing, if the only reason you feel that WC is aimed at adults is the swearing, that I'd like to hear the reasons why you think Mega Man X3 is a game made for adults. Also, according to the letters I've received (which I do not claim to be an accurate survey), the companies that use swear words lose out on approximately 15 to 20% of their profits. Even if that isn't accurate, figure for WC3 and 4 every person who stopped buying after WC2, a loss of $100, that can add up. There are other ways to say things that don't offend people, and if increases profit, I don't see why companies use them. Another thing, I don't see where you found Aladdin cussing. Oh well.


Timothy and I were never going to see eye to eye on this subject, it is just the difference in how we grew up. We could probably have continued our argument for months, simply yelling back and forth, but there's no point in that, and we both understood that. I figured I would never hear from Timothy again, he would be just one of those people I talked to on my way to becoming the hugely successful superstar you now know. But Timothy had a different plan, one that involved a second letter to Next Generation that actually mentioned me ... in a very odd, round about kind of way.



Next Generation Magazine, December 1996 --
In NG 21, you answered that you thought I was being a little sensitive about swearing in videogames. Well, maybe I am, but I'm definitely not the only one. Or, maybe it's the other way around. From the letters I got, it seems as through your side seems sensitive about losing your precious swear words. All but one ended up being the type of letter where I get cussed out while being called immature and babyish, and that's it. No reason, no explanations, nothing but that.

Maybe your audience, or at least the people who support you, aren't as mature as you believe they are. I really don't mean to offend anyone, but all of this contradicting stuff just helps to prove my point.

All I want to get across to these companies is that there are profits to be lost here, just because of something that is easily changed. There are simple substitutions here. Anyway, thanks for printing my first letter, and I send out a thank you to everyone who sent me their opinion, even to those who are against me, because, if anything, it made my position stronger.

Timothy Kish


Next Generation responded with a simple, "We respect your opinions, Timothy, and we are well aware of the ignorant, juvenile minority who saw fit to respond aggressively to you. Unfortunately, someone making a stand (such as yourself) invariably attracts such attention."





Eight Years Later: A lot of time has passed since I first got in touch with Tim and a lot of our industry has changed. Eight long years have passes since he was published in Next Generation, and I'm sure we've both done a lot of thinking about where we stand on this issue. I look back at what I wrote almost a decade ago and still agree with most of it, but the constant perfectionist I'd like to be is always thinking of ways of improving it and being even more self indulgent.

Since all this time has passed, perhaps now is the perfect time to actually address some of these points I tried to make eight years ago ... only to be outdone by my young 18-year-old inexperience. I brought up several points, but instead of actually proving them or talking about them in detail, I simply used them in a paragraph and then moved on to the next convoluted point. In my barely legal mind this would get the job done, but now that I'm much older (and have a little more experience arguing), I feel bad that I was never fully able to express my opinions.

Judging by the games we see today, a simple "damn" in Mega Man seems pretty innocent. These days profanity is even more prevalent, found in even your most sanitized TV shows and movies. Words like "damn" are

in heavy rotation, used by just about everybody, and they no longer come with the stigma they once did. That's not to say Tim's point is invalid, if he chooses to live his live without the use of those words, then all the power to him. But if he was offended by what he found in Wing Commander and Mega Man, I would love to know his reactions to BMX XXX, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and Manhunt.

The idea that profanity makes you sound younger is a myth, and is only accurate part of the time. When you use profanity correctly (such as to emphasize something) it does not make you look young, heck, it doesn't even make you look old ... it has no effect what so ever on how mature you look. Now, if you use it every other word instead of thinking of other things to say, then yes, that's lazy and immature ... and a little annoying, too. There is certainly a difference between the two types of people, though, and Timothy was not giving enough credit to the people who actually use profanity in the proper, meaningful way.

Timothy also mentioned that his claims were proven by all the immature people who emailed him yelling and insulting him. He inaccurately claims that these people are on my side; this is just not the case. They may agree with me that profanity is not the end of the world, but they are not waging the same battle as me.

Just like when I say I support our troops, it doesn't mean I always support what they're doing. The people who emailed Tim simply saw him as easy prey, and with the technology, they seized the opportunity to strike.

Since I (strangely) used the abortion analogy in my first letter, it only seems fitting to go ahead and use it again. There are a lot of people in this world that are against the practice of abortions for personal reasons, which is their prerogative. I suspect that most people that are against abortion are also against the people who bomb clinics and attempt to kill abortion doctors. Those people are extremists, much like the people who had nothing but insults for Tim. If Timothy thinks they speak for the other side, then he's wrong.

As for Aladdin, that's something I had heard a long time ago ... but never actually double checked. I still don't know whether my claim was true or not, but I certainly wouldn't put money on what I said. I should have thought of another family film, one that I could point out the exact time and quote in which the profanity appears. It's this kind of claim that landed me a job at a website that gives false information and is lazy at fact checking.

So Timothy, if you're still out there somewhere, I'm dying to know what you think of games today. What do you think of Manhunt, or Grand Theft Auto?? I know you never thought you'd see yourself on Defunct Games, but I'm just the kind of self indulgent asshole to devote a whole feature to this eight year old story. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all.
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