Consumer warnings: A cautionary tale

Consumer warnings: A cautionary tale

By Develop

February 3rd 2009 at 3:10PM

Iâ??ve dreaded this moment, even though it would obviously come.

I’ve had all this time to conjure up an excuse – favourites being: “I was just joking”, “I was drunk” or “I thought I was on the Internet so kept going with it in spite of irrefutable evidence to the contrary, and anyway who cares if I argue with someone I’ve never met, it’s not as if they’re going to come round my flat above the pub and stab me to death is it?” But at some times in our measly lives we need to stand up and be counted, and admit who we are.

So here goes: One. Wrong.

In a column last year I argued that demos were essentially pointless, and that I’d never been convinced to spend actual money as a result of a trial version. I was always going to buy the game or not, never swayed by the potential of a demo. But last month, up popped Black Rock Studio’s Pure demo. Rather than re-activate my Xbox Live account in order to download what amounts to an advert, I opted for the free PlayStation version – and was so impressed by its blend of four-wheeled stunt-fuelled racing I decided to shell out thirty-five pounds of actual money for the full version.

The demo convinced me the game would be a light-hearted breeze through fantasy race courses on make-believe vehicles, so I was a little unprepared for the sombre warning which occupies the screen upon every single load. It reads: “WARNING – The trick-racing experience in this game is pure fantasy; do not try these moves in real life.”

Now, I know the industry is still debating ways in which our games should carry consumer warnings, but this is clearly taking things too far. It’s a fantasy race game. Unless the average PlayStation 3 owner has access to military quad-bike technology and the ability to bend the laws of physics at will, the closest they’re likely to get to emulating the feats in Pure is attempting a bunny-hop off a kerb, or pulling off an “endo” – two things even I’ve not been brave enough to try in real life anyway.

There are idiots out there, of course, but “don’t kill each other with claw hammers” would apply to more people playing videogames than this.
I think we can blame ‘Legal’ – the division of every major games publisher whose job is solely to stop people having fun. Imagine a world where Pure sets a precedent. We can expect to see more of these warnings propagating games which should be fun, like the squares at school who’d hang off your shoulder saying “I don’t think you should do that”. (That said, they were right – the school gym did burn down.)

PES 09: WARNING – those expecting the Pro Evolution series to have moved with the times, or learnt from criticisms of previous versions will be incredibly disappointed; yes, you should have bought FIFA this year.

Rock Band: WARNING – instruments will break on use.

Saints Row 2: WARNING – did you mean to buy GTA?

Gears of War: WARNING –  you will be able to walk past walls in real life without sticking to them, and homoeroticism isn’t usually this homoerotic.

Mercenaries 2: WARNING – bears no actual resemblance to the TV ad, so if you bought it because of that you’re likely to be sorely disappointed.

Of course, where we lead, others follow – but I’m hopeful this sudden display of publisher honesty won’t extend to other media. I’m looking forward to the new James Bond film, but I doubt that’ll kick-off with a reminder that none of the things you’ll see should be attempted because you lot watching aren’t James Bond. I can’t see the fiction section of Waterstones racked under a sign saying “Warning: Fiction”. Nor Katie Perry’s debut single ever displaying a sticker saying: “She just pretended to be a lesbian so people would write about her.”

Games are about escapism. In this golden age of high-definition, we bang on about our realistic visuals. So let’s embark on the journeys that only games permit, and forget such worthless reminders at the point of departure.