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The Torture Game 2: Torment to players

June 29, 2008

Chad Sapieha
The Globe and Mail (Canada)
JUne 26, 2008

Video games have become a platform for activism. Games for Change, an
organization set up to help promote games designed to bring attention
to global conflicts, the environment, poverty, and other political
issues, provides links to plenty of these so-called "serious games."

Like Darfur is Dying, winner of a contest that tasked conscientious
programmers to create a game about the Darfur genocide. It gives
players a glimpse of what it's like to be a Darfurian refugee
foraging for water, facing such dangers as being kidnapped and either
recruited or raped by Janjaweed militias.

And Climate Challenge, from BBC Science & Nature. If this
infuriatingly difficult exercise in managing the policies, resources,
and diplomatic relations of the European Nations as they relate to
reducing carbon emissions doesn't convince players of the
difficulties involved in creating a greener world, nothing will.

What you won't find at Games for Change is The Torture Game 2. This
free game, available at a variety of game portals, including
Newgrounds and Play Flash Arcade, has as its objective the torment of
a hanging man. Players are provided with a small assortment of tools
with which to hurt him, including guns, ropes, and spikes.

I'd been vaguely aware of the game for a while, and, without playing
it, had idly wondered what its intent might be. Surely, its designer
was trying to say something. Was it meant to call attention to the
Abu Ghraib scandal? Alleged tortures in Tibet? Purported mistreatment
of Chechen detainees by the Russian government?

According to a recent MSNBC article, the game's developer, a
19-year-old South African named Carl Havemann, had no such noble
ambition. The story quotes Mr. Havemann as saying the game is
"something simple and pointless meant only for entertainment."

I have no qualms playing games designed solely to entertain. And I
understand the role violence can play in making video games
fun—PlayStation 3's audacious and comical downloadable game Pain, in
which players catapult a hapless idiot into buildings and billboards,
has consumed more hours of my time than I care to admit.

But, after trying The Torture Game 2 for myself, I'm of the opinion
that it lacks anything resembling entertainment. Over the course of a
couple of minutes I drove spears through the dangling man's body,
fired a shotgun at his wrists, and combed his legs with a razor. The
game is cheap, humourless, buggy, and utterly purposeless. At best,
it's a little distressing. At worst, it's depressing, considering
that the game has been played nearly a quarter of a million times on
Newgrounds alone, and has a user rating of 4.29 out of 5.

The Torture Game 2 may have no intended meaning, but the message
derived by this game reporter is that, sadly, we live in a world in
which this sort of software has an eager audience. Perhaps it's time
someone made a serious game about that.
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