THE HOT SPOT - October 1995
|Following the recent disclosures in the press about
the puzzle game Endorfun, The Sunday Times comes in for a bit of a bruising...
If you're a keen studier of the national press, you might have noticed a bit of a furore recently surrounding Time Warner's new puzzle game Endorfun. Actually, you'd have found it pretty difficult not to notice - it was the top story on the front page of The Sunday Times, under a banner headline screaming "Children 'drugged' by computer game hidden messages." Rather than, for example, the problems with the peace processes in Northern Ireland and Bosnia, the defection of a Conservative MP to Labour or the result of the OJ Simpson trial. The story was the discovery by a number of people (alerted, curiously, by press releases sent out by Time Warner) that Endorfun contains subliminal' audio messages giving out 'positive' phrases like "I am free of dependency," "I can do anything" and "I forgive myself completely." The Sunday Times assembled a crowd of psychologists, education experts and (natch) Tory MPs to roundly denounce Time Warner in public. To their, we have no doubt, colossal dismay (sarcasm). We rang Randeep Ramesh, 25, the author of the piece, and put him on (roll of drums) The Hot Spot.
PCG: Hello Randeep, it's PC Gamer here. We're calling about the story in The Sunday Times.
RR: Suitably lurid, yeah. Sorry about that.
PCG: Mm. Don't you feel you've rather fallen into Time Warner's trap here?
RR: Well, I don't know. Are there no messages in the game?
PCG: Well, we believe there are, but Time Warner have been going to some trouble to stir up exactly this kind of hype.
RR: It did cross our minds, I must admit. But I don't take responsibility for writing the headline which, you know, is not my job, to be honest.
PCG: We would have hoped something like The Sunday Times would have been a bit more culture-literate than that.
RR: Well, that's kind of not my policy either, so I can't really defend or justify those actions~ but that's news for you.
PCG: But you wrote it.
RR: Well, indeed, yeah. But you guys are more literate in these matters, you speak to these people in a language they probably understand.
PCG: Yes. You do seem a bit confused over, for example, the use of the word 'addictive 'in a computer games context.
RR: I think the people to really take to task here are Time Warner. They knew what they were doing with that game, they designed it like that and then sent out a press release describing it as "relaxing, therapeutic and drug-like".
PCG: That's not really the point. We're more concerned with the way you have fallen for exactly what Time Warner wanted, which was to provoke...
RR: ...a media response, yes.
PCG: Exactly. They've got themselves the front page of The Sunday Times with what's essentially a bit of a dull puzzle game.
RR: I quite enjoyed playing it, to be honest. I like Tetris and things, but I'm not a very good Mortal Kombat player. Although with enough practice I probably would be. I've owned a Commodore PET, a C64, ZX Spectrum, wrote games for the BBC Micro - I'm not computer illiterate. Have you ever programmed in FORTRAN? But you've got to understand that the news agenda is different. I think it was a story that most people would be interested in. People sit up and listen when you say "Hey, subliminal imaging" - it's got that 21st Century feel to it.
PCG: What we did find slightly alarming was that you were saying "Yes, this is bad, it's drug-like and addictive" and then you get halfway through and it's "The Sunday Times tested the game on nine children to see how quickly they became hooked." I mean, would you have taken these kids and fed them Es or speed to see what happened then?
RR: We were just trying to elicit their response. To run a consumer test is I don't think.., there's nothing bad in doing that.
PCG: But you've got all these people saying "I think it's deplorable" and "These messages could override your normal perception," and then you say "Yes, and we did it to some kids just to see if it worked." Bit reckless, wasn't it?
RR: Well, if you're saying that was reckless, that's up to you, and whether you actually believe those messages will cause kids to become mini Fred Wests or something.
PCG: Did they know about the subliminal messages before you started?
RR: We didn't say that until the end.
PCG: So, "The Sunday Times pushes evil drug-like game onto unsuspecting kiddies" then? It does seem a bit odd that it's come out in such a traditional newspaper way. Nobody's going to become any more computer literate by reading these kind of, oh, knee jerk scare stories.
RR: Well, I mean, knee-jerk scare stories, I call it news. I'm not going to apologise for writing that piece. You can take us to task over the news agenda, but I don't set it. If you were a journalist working here, you'd know what news is about and how to present it. I'm sure you do anyway, you're presumably a journalist yourself
PCG: After a fashion. Anyway, it's been enlightening talking to you.
RR: All right. I wouldn't mind, you know, don't make me the focus of your bloody piece, you know, I don't want sort of "Randeep Ramesh of The Sunday Times defended his decision to... etc." It's like, I'm the messenger Blame the message.
PCG: We shall be sure to quote you on that, anyway. Thanks for talking to us. Bye-bye.