I'm not sure what people expected from a Conan game. It sounds like those who knew their mythos well knew exactly what to expect and embrace it. However, there is, as always, a large amount of the populace who don't know anything about Conan the Barbarian, Robert E. Howard, or the land of Hyboria. So, one must imagine the surprise when this "Age of Conan" game starts to hit the media and attract attention. Imagine more of their surprise when they realize that you can make a woman and flash her boobies to the rest of the virtual population. If I didn't know about Conan the Barbarian, I'd probably be a little uneasy as well.
Conan's risque features have even had us here at Massively guessing in regards to what we can and cannot put into our writing. Our normal office talk about levels, italicizing game names, and standard debates on what MMOs we should be playing have been punctuated by wonderful lines such as, "Hey, can I say 'nipple toggle'?" (Which I can, apparently.)
Yet... all we have here is an adaptation of Robert E. Howard's fictional world and the people who live in it. The legacy of Conan the Barbarian has been available to the public for over 70 years. The population was even exposed to the violent world of Conan in everyone's favorite movie adaptation starring the Governator. All that's really being done here is the introduction of a visual world. If I may say it, Funcom really hit the mark on this one. Instead of giving us a cheap imitation of what goes on in Hyboria, they cut right to the chase and gave us a good interpretation. For the most part, they stuck to the book and the original fiction. That should be commended, not regarded as lunacy.
I've seen movies bloodier than Age of Conan. I've read books scarier and creepier than Age of Conan. And I've seen enough statues and paintings of nude women to last me a lifetime. Yet, here we are, screaming about exposed bosoms and how it might taint the populace. Has anyone walked through Firenze, Italy recently? Seriously, if anyone wants free "porn", just go to your local museum and check out some of the renaissance art.
And that brings me to my point on nudity - there is nothing to be ashamed about concerning the naked form. Surprise, women have breasts! Who knew, right?
Then the inevitable argument comes up concerning the children. Should our children be allowed to see this violent fantasy world? Should we let the young ones step into the world of Hyboria?
Short answer is no. The long answer is no you crazy parents please do not buy this game for your child for Christmas and then leave your child unattended during their game playing on the intarwebz. First of all, I don't want to babysit your child on Age of Conan and explain to them why that lady is naked in the tavern. Second of all, use the ESRB ratings that are so thoughtfully put down in the corner of the front of every game's box.
For those of you who haven't read the back of Conan's box, let me tell you what the ESRB says is in the game's content. The ESRB rates this game as a mature title, meant for children and adults age 17 and over, as this game contains: blood and gore, intense violence, mature language, nudity, and sexual themes. So, please, do not send me e-mails and do not harass your local GameStop employee regarding the fact you had absolutely no clue that there was nudity and violence in this game. It's seriously on the back of the box.
Controversy starts and stops with the parents. I'm begging you, parents of the world, don't go out and blindly purchase games for your child. We of the game industry have the ESRB ratings system in place for a reason; we want you parents to use it. On the back of every game, in the bottom right hand corner, there is a description of what the game contains so you can see if you really want your child being exposed to this material. If you don't want them to buy this MMO, then there are a sea of other MMOs they can play. Some of them are very welcoming to children and a blast to play. They're also much cheaper than Age of Conan. Cheap as free, in fact.
Make no mistake - Hyboria is a dark world that explores dark themes. The women are beautiful, the ale is great, and the treasures are unmistakably epic. But all of these things come with very steep prices that wouldn't be as steep without the mature content. Hyboria is a world that is built on split blood, slave trade, and ruthlessness. In fact, it sounds very much like the history of a certain world that I'm very well acquainted with. Cimmerians remind me of a certain northern people, Aquilonians remind me of a certain set of ancient people who love debates, and Stygians remind me of a certain group of people who built those triangular thingies in the desert. I guess Hyboria isn't that separated from our world after all.
If you ask me, the only controversy that I can see is letting irresponsible parents have children and inconsiderate nutjobs (NSFW) opening their mouths to the media. Maybe we should have a law that will give jail time to parents who give consent to clerks to sell their 10-year-olds Age of Conan and Grand Theft Auto IV, instead of jailing the clerks.
Because I was on vacation last week and was unable to post my column, you all get a bonus! Look for a second edition of Anti-Aliased hitting Massively.com on Thursday. It's like early Christmas, except it's not Christmas and you're not getting any extra presents except my ramblings. But, honestly, is there any better present? I think not.
Colin Brennan is the weekly writer of Anti-Aliased who is angry at stupid people who say stupid things loudly. When he's not writing here for Massively, he's over running Epic Loot For All! with his insane roommates. If you want to meet Colin and yell at him, you can do so in Second Life during his office hours of 12 PM - 2 PM EST on Tuesdays and Thursdays (SL: Seraphina Reymont), or send him an e-mail at colin.brennan AT weblogsinc DOT com.