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Psychonauts for Kids?

Filed under: PC | PS2 | Xbox
Posted by Allison on July 29, 2005 11:24 AM

I have nothing against Game Dork columnist Doug Elfman. I'm sure he's a nice guy. I've read some of his music columns, and they are fantastic. Clearly music is where his passion lies, as his video gaming columns, as syndicated by my home town paper, The Oregonian, are among the worst I've read. I've written the editors of the paper, with polite, but blunt criticisms, only to be brushed off with a, "Your suggestions and opinions will be given the appropriate consideration. Good day." Good day? Isn't that the e-mail equivalent of someone "politely" hanging up on you? Anyway, I let it go. Jer and I continued to shake our heads every Friday as the A&E section continued to publish the writings of a "gamer" who, clearly, doesn't spend an appropriate amount of time playing the games he reviews. However, today's Game Dork column has broken me. I can deal with people criticizing games I love. That doesn't bother me in the least. However, when someone criticizes a game I love while getting the most basic of all details wrong, it kills me. This was the case when Elfman decided today to review Psychonauts as "a typical American children's game".

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Where does one even start with that? "A typical American children's game?" Funny, the game is rated "T" for "Teen", which, according to the ESRB, means the game is "suitable for ages 13 and older". Not so typical of an American children's game now, is it? What's more, had Elfman actually played this game, he would have soon discovered the game is not suitable for children. One would think that during this time of ESRB sensitivity brought on by the GTA: San Andreas "Hot Coffee" scandal, game columnists, and those who publish game columnists, would be aware of game ratings before suggesting to parents that "T" rated games are suitable for the kiddies. As a side note, Psychonauts was reviewed against Madagascar, a game based on the DreamWorks film, which truly is for the kiddies...but back to Psychonauts.

When I first began playing Psychonauts, I, too, assumed it was an "E" rated game, with a bit of dark humor mixed in. However, once I actually got into the game, I realized the vaults within the minds of the game's characters, where the darkest of all memories are safely held, were truly creepy. It was when one vault revealed the suicide of a character's parents that I began to wonder about the rating. After another revealed the fiery death of another character's children, as the children begged for help, that I actually checked the rating. There it was, planted on the cover as it should be, "T" for "Teen".

Psychonauts also includes a few swear words, a character who often smokes, and a molotov cocktail, or two. Now, while I believe most kids will get through this game unscarred (although they'll miss much of the humor meant for teens and adults), I find it incredibly irresponsible to suggest to readers it's a game made for kids, just as I find it incredibly irresponsible to continue reviewing games without playing them.

Sure, Elfman turned the game on. He describes the characters as "boogerlike" and disgusting (which, honestly, peaks my curiosity concerning the aesthetics of Elfman's own boogers), and the camp grounds as, "a summer camp, like 'Harry Potter' but greener and American." Check and check. He watched the introduction. Nice work.

Elfman shuns the game because it's full of stereotypes. "Bullies. Nerds. A peeping Tom." OK. He made it through the first five minutes of the game, as you do meet a bully, a nerd and a peeping Tom (although you never deal with the peeping Tom again). His description of the gameplay, though, is where I truly broke: "Our heroes use mind powers to transport into people's brains, where they fight through war-like obstacle courses and blow up bad booger people living in these minds." "War-like obstacle courses"? Congratulations, Elfman. You played through the tutorial. Had you have made it inside another person's head, you would have found "war-like" to be a descriptor not at all fitting of the game.

The environments of Psychonauts are dependant upon what is going on within the brain of the person you are invading. The drill sergeant tutorial is, indeed, war-like. However, the next head you invade is that of Milla, the head counsellor who looks as though she belongs in an Ausin Powers movie. Inside Milla's head you'll have to make your way through a dance party, which is anything but "war-like". There's also the inside of the huge Lungfish, where you star as the "Godzilla" of the town while freeing anarchist fish from prison. And, of course, there's the brain of the conspiracy theorist Milkman, where you trot through a neighborhood chock full of lawn flamingos that you'll occasionally catch taking your picture. Point being, Elfman didn't play this game, and that's a shame. For, had he actually given it an hour, he would have come to a conclusion other than, "What hurts the game is its manufactured cuteness; it just feels fake", therefore grading the game "B-". Madagascar, by the way, got a "B+".

As an end note, I notice that Elfman's previous paper, The Las Vegas Review-Journal has dropped his gaming column now that Elfman has a new job as a television writer for the Chicago Sun-Times. Since the Sun-Times is quite the promotion, I assume Elfman's television writing is similar to his more than impressive music writing. I just beg that he focuses on that and drops his game writing, unless he can dedicate an acceptable amount of time into the research that needs to be done to write a gaming column. After all, recent studies show that television viewership has fallen dramatically as video gaming has managed to wiggle its way into the mainstream.

The column that upset me so

Psychonauts reviews by people who played the game

Our quick Psychonauts review

Lunabean's Psychonauts Walkthrough and Strategy Guide.

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