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Nudity can't make a bad game good

Don Reisinger recently played a game on the PS3 containing nudity. It didn't do much for him.

The Godfather II
M or AO? You decide.

EA sent me a copy of The Godfather II for the PlayStation 3 last week. A Godfather trilogy fan, I was excited to see how the game would turn out.

After escaping from Cuba, I was ordained the Corleone family's New York boss and set out to take over some turf. The first place I was told to capture was a bordello. I had to make it clear to the owner, through violence, that I was now in-charge. After a short drive, I walked through the "front" business and proceeded into the brothel. I was greeted by a woman offering me sexual favors. But there was something special about this prostitute. Unlike the dozens I'd seen in the Grand Theft Auto series, this one was topless.

It wasn't the first time a woman has been shown nude or partially nude in a video game. Nudity in gaming dates back all the way to the Atari 2600 when Mystique, a "Swedish Erotica" video game developer, started making adult titles for the console.

Since then, nudity of some kind (breasts, buttocks, or full frontal), has remained an infrequent occurrence in the industry. The vast majority of games containing nudity have been released on the PC, but some titles have found their way to consoles (here's a full list).

So, The Godfather II isn't unique. But nudity played an important role in this game. In fact, it was its only memorable feature.

Earlier this week, I contacted The Godfather II developer, Electronic Arts, with questions about the game's depictions of nudity. I tried multiple times to have my questions answered. After three days of waiting, I received a simple response to a not so simple issue.

"Nudity fits with the fiction, tone and style of the game we created," an EA spokesperson said. "It is part of the team's creative vision. The game is rated M for Mature."

But there's a problem with that response. The Godfather II, the movie, has no nudity in it. Considering the game is supposed to be based on that film, I don't understand why nudity was part "of the team's creative vision." Wasn't the team supposed to follow the movie's creative vision?

EA didn't respond.

But the role of nudity in this game goes beyond how it relates to the movie. I don't see any point in including it. The nudity was gratuitous, had no impact on whether or not you'd be able to complete the game, and struck me as a vehicle to get teenage boys excited to buy it.

Which brings us to another issue with The Godfather II: its rating. As mentioned, the title is rated M for mature. But according to the game's descriptors, keywords that are used in addition to ratings to inform parents about a game's content, the game includes nudity, which is defined by the ESRB as "graphic or prolonged depictions of nudity".

There's just one problem: only the Adults Only rating makes mention of nudity. According to the ESRB's ratings, Adults Only games include "prolonged scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity." Sound familiar? The Mature rating is defined by the ESRB as "intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language."

I asked the ESRB about its definitions and why the game wasn't rated AO. All it could muster was a generic response to address what is, in my opinion, an obvious oversight.

"The Godfather II is rated M with content descriptors for blood, drug reference, intense violence, nudity, sexual themes, and strong language," an ESRB spokesperson said. "This rating information provides a clear warning about the types of content in the game and that it is intended for older audiences.

"The title was reviewed by ESRB's independent raters who reviewed video of actual gameplay compiled by the publisher displaying all of the pertinent content, including nudity," he continued. "The raters then use their own judgment in assigning rating information they feel would be most useful and informative to parents, taking into account elements such as context (which includes setting, storyline, and objectives), intensity, among others."

I don't buy it. I don't see any justification for The Godfather II's Mature rating if we follow the ESRB's plainly stated ratings parameters. The Godfather II should have been rated AO, according to the ESRB's definitions.

But there's more to The Godfather II than its rating. The game is awful. The controls are poor, the gameplay is worse, and the storyline doesn't even follow the movie it's based on. In fact, it has the story out of order.

As I played through The Godfather II, it was clear to me that EA was using nudity to (hopefully) sell copies. What other purpose did it serve? As I mentioned, the movie it was based on features no nudity and the game's repeated use of the "F-word" was perplexing. That word is used just three times in the film version of The Godfather II. Within the first hour of gameplay, you'll hear it used more often that.

But maybe EA got what it wanted out of this game: controversy. If there wasn't nudity in this title, I would have never used this space to discuss it. Without nudity, The Godfather II would be remembered as a joke, instead of joke that shows topless women.

And that's what I'm concerned about. Will more games feature digital breasts to titillate an audience that actually wants to see this stuff? I hope not. In my experience, games that feature nudity are poorly designed titles that use the female body to sell video games. And that's a shame.

Don't even consider trying The Godfather II. It's pathetic on a number of levels.

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