Virtual Binge Drinking: Threat Or Menace To The Youth Of Europe?
There is a persistent, and I think true, rumor going around that certain quests within the European version of Blizzard Software's World of Warcraft game have been disabled because they depict the use of alcoholic beverages, specifically, beer. According to a representative of the company:
The Brewfest quests ‘Pink Elekks On Parade’ and ‘Catch the Wild Wolpertinger!’ were removed to ensure that World of Warcraft contains content that complies with regional game rating requirements.
For those who don't play it, World of Warcraft occasionally features holiday events in game reminiscent of certain real world holidays. In this case, the deleted quests (which lucky Americans get to experience) are part of "Brewfest", an event modeled on Germany's Octoberfest, in which orcs and dwarves and trolls and whatnot drink a lot of beer. Just like Germans.
And just like everyone in Europe, and for that matter just like the parents of most European children, who are being protected from this menace. As though binge-drinking isn't a time-honored, almost cultural tradition in many of the largest European countries, such as Britain, Germany, and Poland. As though Americans aren't continually told what a relaxed attitude Europeans have about children and alcohol. "In France, kids drink wine at the dinner table!"
Of course World of Warcraft, even in the barbarian United States, already comes with a parental filter, an "off switch," in which parents may disable violence or blood, or presumably alcohol use, to protect their children. But in this case, Blizzard didn't feel safe relying on parents to shield their kids from the evils of virtual beer. No one in Europe can get drunk in World of Warcraft.
Like the United States, the European Union follows a supposedly "voluntary" rating system for games, which in practice isn't voluntary at all considering that a game maker can't get its product into stores without submitting to a rating board and making sure that certain taboos aren't in the game. Like drinking virtual beer.
In the case of World of Warcraft, the game must maintain a rating of "12+" to be sold in stores. We're told that a game suitable for 12 year olds:
May contain graphic violence towards fantasy characters, non-graphic violence towards humans or animals, explicit sexual descriptions or images (nude people in a sexual context, although not necessarily explicit in content), and mild swearing.
Meaning in WoW that a child of 12 may summon demons which rain virtual fire on the avatars of other children, who then run around screaming, or stab the avatars of other children repeatedly in the back with daggers coated in virtual poison.
Whereas children may not experience:
encouragement of the use of tobacco or alcohol, sexual expletives or blasphemy
Though little Ian in Birmingham probably gets all three when his dad arrives home bloody fookin' pissed from a night with his mates at the pub. I'll leave blasphemy for another day but I'll note again, as an American, that I'm continually told what a relaxed attitude Europeans have toward sex and frank discussion of ideas, because as we all know the public television networks in Europe show pornography during prime time, whereas American tv shows depict only mindless violence. Where games are concerned though, it seems Europe reverses the equation. Setting one's enemies ablaze is just fine for kids, while the depiction of beer and questioning the Pope's authority as the vicar of Christ are right out.
But again the rating system for European games, where we have this odd arrangement in which children (and adults) may experience and inflict violence of the most horrific sort, while virtual alcohol, or say a bit of pipeweed in a Lord of the Rings game, puts it behind the counter, is perfectly voluntary. It's pure coincidence that the Pan European Game Information rating system:
has the enthusiastic support of the European Commission. It is considered to be a model of European harmonisation in the field of the protection of children.
I'm sure that if European retailers and game makers decided to abandon PEGI, which produces the perverse situation in which no one at all can play a game depicting such basic everyday European family activities as drinking lots of beer and blaspheming, the European Commission wouldn't do a thing about it.
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