Friday, September 14, 2007

Fun with MAME

Three or four years ago I was visiting my family in New Orleans. While there, I loaded up MAME on my Mom's PC, and showed it to my stepsister's son. He loved it. His birthday was in a few months, and I told him and his Mom I'd go through the ROMs, weed out those that were age-inappropriate, and send the collection to him for his birthday.

As you've probably guessed, I never got around to this project. Rosh Hashannah inspired me to actually get off my duff and get to work. So yesterday I copied the first batch of ROMs to a hard drive, set up a spreadsheet of the filenames, and began testing each out to see which games included inappropriate sex/violence.

Let me say, this is an extremely tedious task. Just on the first disk (of 5), I think there are about 1500 ROM files. I've only copied the 'A's to the spreadsheet so far, and there are about 130 of those. And, after two days of trying out a ROM, cataloging it, and moving to the next, I've tested out 64 files.

I'm somewhat shocked nobody has yet compiled a list of what games have objectionable content and posted the information. It's rare that I can't find answers to whatever I'm seeking online. So I plan to eventually finish this, and post the spreadsheet online, so other parents may benefit from the information. Certainly there is no way to prevent kids from playing something if they want to play it, but there may be others in my position, that want to provide a MAME collection to a child, but don't know what games to exclude before giving the package. Granted, in my case procrastination is going to cause the 'child' to be well into his teens long before I ever finish this project.

(Note: I believe owning ROM-files of games you don't legitimately own is illegal, as would be selling the files. It's probably unlikely any random person using the files will be prosecuted, and I have a hard time believing anybody or any corporation is actually harmed if somebody happens to have a copy of Space Invaders on his PC, but you should be aware it is illegal. Probably along the lines of taping Monday Night Football, and then giving the tape to your brother-in-law or something...)

While the chore is tedious, there are occasional moments that are truly interesting. In 1986 I attended University of New Orleans. Several of my friends also attended. In the UC there was a small gameroom, and in this gameroom there was a game called 'Super Sprint'. My friends Richard, Eric and I played this game nearly every day. The competition was heated, and I couldn't begin to tally how many quarters we must have pumped into that machine. Tonight I'm going through the various ROMs in MAME, and I land on a game called 'American Speedway'. This game seemed very much like a crude version of Super Sprint, so much so that I had to investigate to see which came out first. I can't see why I'd care, but for whatever irrational reason, I was relieved to learn that Super Sprint came out first, depsite having far better graphics, control, and sound.

Super Sprint (c)1986Super Sprint (c)1986

American Speedway (c)1987

Compiling this list also provoked a question I haven't satisfactorily resolved yet: Just where should I draw the line when deciding whether or not to say a game is 'violent'? Conflict is pretty much necessary in any medium for there to be interest. So naturally nearly every game has violence to some degree, though it may be more or less abstract. Puzzle games like Tetris have no violence, Breakout is not violent, and most sports games aren't violent. Just about every other type of game DOES have some violent component, though.

Should every 'shooter' - Space Invaders, Asteroids, Xevious, 1942, etc... be termed violent? Should the earlier games not be called violent because the graphics weren't lifelike? What about Elevator Action ? What about Karate Champ or Punch Out! ? Should there be any difference between a game with a sci-fi 'shoot the bad aliens' theme and a game with identical play mechanics, but an earth-based, military-theme? (I.e., you fly a spaceship and shoot other spaceships, or you fly a fighter jet and shoot other military aircraft.)

Is this violent?

What about this?

Judgements like these, I think, cannot accurately be made by 'outsiders'. Only the person(s) that is raising a child, and knows him or her better than anybody else, is really qualified to decide whether or not a game will be appropriate for that child. What may be overly violent to one person may be obviously buffoonish and unreal to another. After all, many of us grew up watching Wile E. Coyote plot to violently ambush the Road Runner, yet most of us didn't turn out to be violent TNT-blasting, anvil-dropping hooligans.

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