E3: Sega’s Japanese developers see a Mad World

By Mathew Kumar, Special to CBCnews.ca

LOS ANGELES - As the video game market has expanded, Japanese game developers have been under increasing pressure to reach Western audiences with their titles. It’s exactly that which has led to some of this E3’s biggest announcements (such as Final Fantasy XIII coming to Xbox 360), but certain Japanese developers, such as the newly created Platinum Games, have a delightfully irreverent take on things.

Here in the West we certainly worry about the stigma games have attached to them by some – that they’re reviled as “murder simulators” – and as a result of recent controversies, such as Manhunt 2’s banning, few developers are willing to have fun with, or explore, the ideas and themes possible in violent media.

Mad World's "hero" prepares one of his ultraviolent weapons - an arm-mounted chainsaw.

The smaller independent Japanese companies don’t seem to have that problem. Despite (or perhaps because of!) the strict ratings system in Japan, when companies such as Platinum games decide to make a game for the west they go all out.

Mad World, shown by Sega this E3, is probably the most violent game I’ve ever seen. Though the quantity of kills is low compared to other recent violent titles such as No More Heroes (which appeared on Wii, as will Mad World), it’s the quality that makes the difference. Within seconds of his demonstration for CBC, producer Atsushi Inaba (best known for the Viewtiful Joe series) had managed to impale an opponent with a stop sign – only to drag him over to another and impale him on that too!

Now, if that kind of violence sounds horrifying, well, it sort of is. But it’s one bold move in a series of bold moves, with Mad World also featuring an entirely black-and-white game world (apart from the jets of red blood).

It’s the satirical setting of a violent game show (think the Running Man turned up to eleven) that makes it all meaningful. While at first glance Mad World appears to be violence for the sake of violence, it’s really a commentary (through its gameplay narrative and a literal commentator who cheers on each murder you perform) on our culture’s unspoken lust for violent content.

It isn’t preachy, but it makes you think as much as laugh (and wince). With luck, Mad World will find a home on Wii and inspire our own developers to try and say more, even subtly, with their games than they do now.

(The author is a Canadian freelance writer blogging for CBCnews.ca from the Electronics and Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles.)