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Opinion: Bad News shouldn't be Fair Game for entertainment

Creators of entertainment based on recent historical events often walk a fine line when it comes to good taste. Obviously, a product - be it a game, a TV show or a movie - which addresses recent events has a certain topical appeal which can help to give it more impact with its audience, as well as driving sales. However, recent history - conflicts which people have lived through and still hold strong opinions on - is also a potential minefield in terms of taste and tact.

There's no doubt that the passage of time changes things, of course - nobody is likely to take offense at the portrayal of events from hundreds of years ago, unless there's a special religious significance. Thus, very often, the most simple question that can be asked is - "too soon?"

A glance down a list of recent game announcements this week certainly made us wonder if a few developers are failing to ask that question. Already this week games based on the recent war in Afghanistan and the current violent civil unrest in Iraq have caught our attention - both topics which are still raw in the minds of many people, and conflicts in which people are still dying and families are still grieving.

Both of these games are from smaller companies; but even larger publishers occasionally do questionable things in the pursuit of successful game titles. Witness Take Two's renaming of Pivotal's Conflict Desert Storm II for the American market, with the addition of the "Back to Baghdad" subtitle just as the second Gulf war began; or the uncomfortably jingoistic portrayal of a fantasy war between Arab terrorists and American troops in Electronic Arts' Command & Conquer: Generals.

The question which really needs to be asked in these cases isn't "too soon?". It's an even simpler question - namely, whether it is justifiable to take these kind of events and turn them into an entertainment product for an audience made up of teenage boys and young men. Our industry is an entertainment industry, and we mine all manner of different cultural and historic sources for new entertainment concepts - but sometimes perhaps developers and publishers need to stand back from the work they're producing, and consider the implications of turning real current affairs and real-world suffering into shoot 'em up entertainment.

This editorial originally appeared in the News Digest, a free email news bulletin which is distributed to subscribers every week and features a round-up of the key headlines from the previous week, software charts, recruitment information and editorial opinion on key issues. As of next Monday, this weekly digest will be joined by a daily email bulletin keeping you posted on the day's top headlines and share price movements from around the games industry.

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Rob Fahey avatar

Rob Fahey

Contributing Editor

Rob Fahey is a former editor of who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.