- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 15, 2002

Apparently, tricks aren't for kids. And neither are video games.
Or so Acclaim has propositioned this Christmas season with BMX XXX, the latest game to leave the masses aghast with its atrocities. Seeking a new audience the drooling, hormonally-charged male for its extreme sports games, Acclaim hired dancers from the Manhattan gentlemen's club Scores to appear in various states of dress in the game. It also added a bunch of swearing and pretty much annoyed every parental watch group in the country.
The result? BMX XXX isn't being sold in a number of the country's biggest retail chains, and the biggest producer of home consoles forced Acclaim to censor the game for its hardware. Still, the game received as much buzz as any other title at May's Electronics Entertainment Exposition (E3), the yearly convention at which companies reveal their upcoming game lineups.
"Through research, we realized that there wasn't much differentiation. Consumers were bored of a guy on a board on a ramp," said Ben Fischbach, senior brand manager for Acclaim. "The demographics are older, and we looked at who we are now making games for. Our intuition said there's an audience here. So the concept was, 'Let's make entertainment we want to play. Let's make entertainment a 20-year-old wants to play.'"
The numbers back up Acclaim's assumptions. The average age of a gamer these days is 28, and more than 60 percent of those who play video games are men over the age of 18, according to an August study by NPD, a global market information company that tracks a broad range of industries, including video games. In other words, children who grew up in the late '70s and '80s playing Atari and Nintendo didn't stop playing video games once they reached adulthood. And when Acclaim's biggest extreme sports titles, Dave Mirra BMX and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, did not reach expected sales figures in 2001, the company knew a different demographic would have to be targeted.
So Acclaim looked to the movies for direction, realizing it wanted to make a game that was part "Airplane!" and part "American Pie." The company hired a script writer, who turned out 400 pages of comedic material chock full of 50 crazy characters that range from homeless men to prostitutes and, shall we say, their employers. And yes, Acclaim stuck in the Scores girls, who jiggle and giggle on stage as rewards for completing various tasks in the game, and the ability to ride around on bikes as women who range from fully dressed to less than fully dressed. Of course, a bit of success in the game means those women can be topless, too.
"When we started work, we knew the product would start a debate of where video games were going as an art form," Fischbach says. "The biggest misconception we're dealing with is what the audience is. It's misconstrued that it's a child's toy, and that's just not the case anymore. [The critics] have sensationalized what's in the game. It's not full nudity; it's not sexual situations. There's a ratings system in place, and not all entertainment is meant for all audiences. Parents need to play an involved role and look at the labels."
Video games work the same way as movies. The Electronic Software Ratings Board (ESRB) labels each game with a rating, then explains on the back why it received that rating. BMX XXX carries an M, or mature, rating, meaning it is meant only for consumers 17 years old and up, because of comic mischief, nudity, strong language and strong sexual content. Other categories include EC (early childhood), E (everyone), T (teen) and AO (adults only), though no console game has garnered the last rating.
Sony Computer Entertainment America, the producer of PlayStation 2 in the United States, apparently felt the M rating wasn't enough and demanded the topless images be removed. (The Xbox and GameCube which skews much younger than the other two consoles are not censored.) According to the Web site IGN, the decision was made because the nudity didn't mesh with SCEA's business platform and because SCEA didn't find the nudity intrinsic to the game. A logo obstructs upper torso of the topless created riders and topless dancers.
A worse hit came from a number of major retail chains, including several that sell R-rated movies with similar amounts of nudity and four-letter words. The game can't be found at Best Buy, Circuit City, Toys R Us, KayBee Toys, K-Mart and Wal-Mart, among others. Those chains do, however, carry other mature titles like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Hitman 2, both of which have been cited as ultraviolent and bloody. There had been some talk of those stores carrying the censored version, but that never came to fruition.
"We knew certain retailers were not going to carry the game," said Alan Lewis, public relations director for Acclaim. "[Still, it is in] 15,000 storefronts nationwide, possibly more. And we're comfortable with the edited version on PlayStation 2."
However, Fischbach, with disappointment clear in his voice, added, "Our intent from the get-go was to release the same version on all three platforms."
Acclaim doesn't make its sales figures public. But even with the game available only in stores like Game Spot and EB Games, "sales have been meeting our expectations," Lewis said.
It's not hard to see why. While the game doesn't play that much different from any of the other extreme bike games tricks, grinds, stalls and plants are still done through various combinations of buttons to score points there are other, uh, perks. The create-a-rider feature, while not extensive, allows gamers to clothe their riders, and many of the shirts for the females are sheer. Eventually, of course, shirts become optional.
The main game mode appropriately is called Hardcore Tour and takes bikers through eight or so different areas, and there are several multiplayer modes, including a variation of strip poker. And the movies aren't too hard to unlock. On the first board, collecting five coins allows your biker entrance to Scores and starts the first non-nude movie. Collecting 40 more coins on that board opens up another short video.
"It is all based on humor," Fischbach said. "What can we do that would push the line? Scores is popular in New York, so we got the license and utilized it. [Nudity] has been done in some PC games. Surely with this kind of mass market it is a first for platforms."
In case anybody cares, the movies can be locked with a simple code found on any Internet site. For curiosity purposes only. And, of course, not for kids.

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