GAME ON: Rule of Rose
For my column last Sunday, I opted to take a look at the controversy (such as it is) surrounding the upcoming horror game "Rule of Rose." Enjoy.
As gamers grow older and video game developers attempt to adjust to their audience by offering more "adult" fare, it is likely that a few potholes might be hit along the road to maturity.
What does "mature" mean anyway? Is it simply blowing things up in lurid gory detail? Is it offering lots of nudity and sophomoric sexuality?
More significantly, if a game attempts to deal with some disturbing and rather adult ideas, will it come under fire from those who routinely refuse to see video games as anything but the devil’s handiwork?
The latter question was answered rather affirmatively last year during the "Hot Coffee" scandal, and it might come to the fore again when "Rule of Rose" arrives in stores later this year.
Already the title, which the Web site Gamasutra argues "may be 2006’s most controversial game," has garnered a bit of attention as Sony, having already made the game available in Japan and Europe, chose not to release it here in the United States. The small publisher Atlus, known for its faithful adaptations of Japanese role-playing games, plans to publish the game in America this fall.
"Rule of Rose" is a horror game done very much in the style of the "Silent Hill" series. The story takes place in England during the 1930s and centers on a 19-year-old woman named Jennifer.
After her parents are killed in an accident, Jennifer ends up at a spooky orphanage ruled by a ragtag group of murderous children who call themselves the "Aristocracy of the Red Crayon."
In order to survive the evil machinations of these extremely creepy kids, Jenny, along with her faithful pet dog Brown, must find valuable gifts for them or risk a fatal punishment.
The game relies more on psychological horror than outright gore or cheap scares. Most of the time, according to the press release, you’ll find yourself trying to solve puzzles or using items like rusty knives and lead pipes, instead of chain saws and shotguns, to protect yourself.
"We wanted to show not only how scary adults can be from a child’s perspective, because that’s been touched on many times, but also how scary children can be from an adult’s perspective," developer Yuya Takayama said during this year’s E3 conference. "We want to see that contrast. ... It’s the fear that comes out of children being genuine and without boundaries."
As the above description suggests, the game has a decidedly creepy and dark bent, but it also has a bit of an erotic one. Although it’s by no means explicit, "Rule of Rose" does hint at lesbianism via a friendship that turns into an obsession.
It was this suggestive content that led Sony to decide not to release the title on these shores. Whether the game comes under fire once it’s released remains to be seen, but it’s apparent that Takayama and his cohorts had more in mind than catering to prurient interests.
"It’s rare for a video game to tell its story with subtexts and subtleties, as ‘Rule of Rose’ does, but even the mere implication of romantic love between teenage girls is enough to freak out some people," said Atlus public relations manager Zach Meston.
"Because there’s no real sexual content in ‘Rule of Rose’ — nothing graphic, nothing gratuitous — I don’t expect any sort of organized uproar, as much as it would help us to sell the game," Meston said.
"Then again, I’ve learned never to underestimate the utter cluelessness of American politicians when it comes to video games," he added.
Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006