Off-Balance Sheet: Electronic Arts Kicks the Competition
You have to keep it real.
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To much fanfare, videogame developer Electronic Arts, Inc. (ERTS) released Def Jam: Icon today.
The game revolves around rappers and record company executives beating and maiming each other in no holds-barred fights, with players choosing to utilize styles including tae kwon do, kung fu, kickboxing, and capoeira, in addition to back-to-basics methods like streetfighting and brawling.
Points are earned for:
- Burning others by making gas pumps explode
- Knocking people unconscious with swinging light rigs
- Throwing opponents out of penthouse windows
- Killing rivals with deadly electric shocks
Ludacris delivers a roundhouse kick to Big Boi's abdomen
For obvious reasons, Def Jam: Icon is as exciting to Wall Street as it is to gamers. Hip hop is a $2 billion industry and videogame sales have exceeded Hollywood's annual box office receipts. With stellar graphics, smooth gameplay, and intuitive controls, Def Jam: Icon is expected to be yet another victory for Electronic Arts. With shares hovering around $50 (9 points off their 52-week high, 11 off the low), $2.65 billion in cash, and zero debt, EA wouldn't seem to have a care in the world.
But, Def Jam: Icon is already generating a maelstrom of controversy.
Method Man stuns DMX with a left hook
Dr. Vince Hammond, head of the National Coalition on Television Violence, says that violent videogames can encourage aggressive behavior. Dr. Hammond goes on to suggest that children between the ages of 8 and 10 are 80% more likely to fight with other kids after playing a violent game.
However, rap heavyweight Fat Joe isn't worried about Def Jam: Icon's influence on children's behavior.
"You have to keep it real," he says. "Kids have much worse things going on in their lives than a video game."
No matter what one's opinion of hip hop may be, the facts in this case are crystal-clear-Def Jam: Icon is hardly the first game to feature artists engaging in violent acts. And Electronic Arts is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the first company to face this sort of popular uproar.
I was able to trace the roots of game-based musician-on-musician violence back to the 1960's, when a boardgame called American Folk Masters: Smackdown was released. From the information I gathered, American Folk Masters: Smackdown seems to have been far more violent than Def Jam: Icon could ever hope to be-no disrespect to Tego Calderon, Young Jeezy, or Ghostface Killah intended.
To play, participants drew cards signifying assorted punches, kicks, body blows, and jiu jitsu attacks in fights to the death as one of the following singers:
- Pete Seeger
- Arlo Guthrie
- Joan Baez
- Gordon Lightfoot
- Judy Collins
Yes, gameplay was rudimentary, as the Atari 2600, much less Playstation 3, was not yet even a speck on the horizon. But even without lifelike graphics and realistic depictions of ferocious brutality, the vicious sadism of American Folk Masters: Smackdown inspired a raft of community activists to protest its very existence.
"That game was sick," one recently recalled with a shiver. "I'll never forget seeing my son play as Judy Collins while my daughter, as Pete Seeger, decapitated her and stabbed her multiple times in the chest, before slitting her throat and leaving her for dead. I mean, him. Or, her. Or, whatever. You know what I'm trying to say."
Ultimately, American Folk Masters: Smackdown was pulled from shelves and remanded to the scrap heap of history.
Which, I can say with almost 100% certainty, will not happen with Def Jam: Icon. Electronic Arts is not the bogeyman. Neither are rappers. If people really want to point the finger at a villain here, they need look no further than Hasbro (HAS).
Those sick, sick people are responsible for unleashing Parcheesi on an unsuspecting population.
The vile, repugnant, evil game of Parcheesi
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