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End of the debate? Part 2

Oddworld Inhabitant's Lorne Lanning on violence in videogames

Following a debate with Jack Thompson which will become part of the "Moral Kombat" documentary film on the issue of violence in videogames, was able to chat with Oddworld Inhabitants president Lorne Lanning.

This is the second part of the interview. Your Oddworld games aren't really known for their violence, although I suppose falling into a meat grinder is pretty violent...

Lanning: We don't care for violence. I mean, you know, that's why, in some respects, I felt that it was fair to be in this debate because the truth is I feel we can be a lot more responsible with how we build our games.

However, we live in a landscape today where the truth is lost. If there is truth anywhere, it gets presented as "Here's one opinion. Here's another opinion. You decide."

And that's not what journalism is supposed to do. That is not what the media is supposed to present. It is supposed to get to the bottom of it, and bust it out. But we don't see that today. We don't see liars being called liars on network television, unless the network has it in for them.

These issues cannot be separated. If people don't understand the crisis that we have with media in America today, they might think that I'm just on some liberal rant or whatever. I'm sorry, but that's far from the truth.

So it is a much bigger issue than the way most people look at it?

It really is. And to discuss the issue without it being a much bigger issue is to miss the point entirely, and that's why I had no interest in sitting there and refuting this little study and that little claim... Courts in nine states so far have been really irritated that these claims even wound up on their desks after they investigated all the facts.

Why do you think, then, that legislatures around the country continue to pass these laws, despite being told in advance that the courts will strike them down?

Because they know there is a zeitgeist fear out there.

Here's the fact of the matter. Parents know that by their kids playing games, they stay out of other trouble. The crime rate has gone down with the proliferation of videogames with youth. We know that.

There is no proof that games turn kids into murderers.

Although the Oddworld titles aren't excessively violent, they do have some political messages in them. Is that one reason why you are concerned with this issue? If the government is able to censor violent content, they'll control political content next?

They go hand in hand. I mean, the censorship in this country has never been worse.

Personally, I'm interested in the truth. And I'm not going to get the truth by reading the newspaper. Because someone owns that newspaper, they have their own interests. By owning networks, you essentially own your own PR outlets. And you can control the flow of information to misinform the public.

And as long as that is happening, we can't have the real debate. That's the point I was trying to put out there.

People asked me at the show, "Do you think Grand Theft Auto is a work of art?" And I said, you know, you have to distinguish between good art and bad art. And whether or not it is art depends upon how the creator thought about it.

In the early 60's, if you looked at a Warhol, you would have said "That's not art!" But if you listened to the guy, and found out where he was coming from, all of the sudden you realize that it really was [art].

So, I don't want to be the judge on whether Grand Theft Auto is art or not. If it is art, I wouldn't necessarily say it is good art. On our films, I say they absolutely can't be taken out of the art domain, because there is too much heart and soul and messaging in them to do that, and craftsmanship...

Well, as you know, Roger Ebert disagrees with you about whether or not games can even be considered art.

He's just wrong. He just doesn't understand the medium.

You have to understand. I was trained as a photorealist...a realistic the beginning of my career. And people had all different ideas of what was or wasn't art. If you used an airbrush, you were definitely not making art. Today we are all using computers, and that argument is gone. Using an airbrush...who would care? Now our computers are all making art, and there is no question any longer.

There was a time when a guy was drawing on the cave wall with a piece of charcoal, and then another guy came along with a reed and some ink and blew patterns over his hand, and the first guy said "That's not art! You aren't using charcoal!" It is an endless argument, what is or isn't art.

What I think art is... And this is what I define the difference of art that matters. I think art that matters is art that cuts through and shows us ways to be inspired. Cutting through the bullshit of the shell of the impression of the world around us. And that's why I told the stories that I told.

I'm not the guy, and Sherry is not the person who wants to go out and make violent games. But violence is part of life. Our games always had violence, but they weren't about violence. Some of the greatest impactful movies that have more of a peace message than any would also, at the same time, have some of the most violent moments ever.

You've talked about the publishers, and the industry, but what about retailers? Target decided not to sell Manhunt 2, despite the fact that it received an M rating from the ESRB. That's not the government coming in to censor anything, but do you agree with that?

Well, I think it is censorship. And I think that we are all vulnerable to censorship, which is why we should maybe make some better choices in what we do.

A game like Manhunt, if someone has a passion to make that game and they want to make it, great. But if you really want to go over the top in the sensastionalised violence, and really reward the player for doing that, then you have to be willing to take the hits.

A family outlet like Target, when they see this bad press on this game, they don't want to become a part of that. So, when I look at it, I think "Is Take-Two evil?" No, of course not. "Is Take-Two been totally responsible, and tried to do all the things necessary to bring this issue to rest and not add fuel to the fire?" No, I think they've added a lot of fuel to the fire and I don't think it has helped them.

I don't know. Sometimes controversy...good or bad...can help them sell games.

But it's bad for everyone else.

I think the best thing we can have is a well-informed public.

Lorne Lanning is president and creative director of Oddworld Inhabitants. Interview by Mark Androvich.