NEW YORK Electronic-entertainment giant Take-Two Interactive, parent company of Grand Theft Auto series creator Rockstar Games, released Stacker Tuesday, a first-person vertical-crate-arranger guaranteed not to influence young people's behavior in any way.
"With Stacker, the player interacts with an environment full of boxeslightweight, uniformly brown boxes with rounded cornersand uses diligence and repetitive hard work to complete his mission," said Doug Benzies, Stacker's chief developer. "We're confident that the new 'reluctantly interactive' content engine we designed will prevent any excitement or emotional involvement, inappropriate or otherwise, on the part of the player."
To avoid any appearance of suggestive or adult situations, the graphics consist entirely of rectangular polygons rendered in shades of brown against a simulated gray cinderblock wall. The game is free-roaming inside the warehouse environment, meaning that no goals are set for stacking a certain number of boxes, nor is there a time limit for the stacking. The health-level bar remains at a constant peak, and the first-person perspective avoids the problem of players identifying too closely with the main character, whose name is never specified and to whom nothing actually happens.
While the game, like most other newer entries, has a three-dimensional platform, it features little else that could make an impression on the player.
"We tried to narrow in on anything that could imply suggestive content, and eliminate it," Benzies said. "Sound effects are limited to the barely audible sounds of scraping cardboard, the dull thuds of boxes against cement, and the white noise of a cavernous workplace setting."
A demo version of Stacker was unveiled at the Tokyo Game Show in September and garnered praise from parents' groups who lauded its unstimulating visuals, utter lack of storyline, and non-immersive game play.
"After playing Stacker, there is absolutely no reason for anyone to want to take boxes, crates, or any other polygonal object, and place them atop one another, as seen in this gem of a game," said Laura Keitel of the D.C.-based Center For Entertainment And The Family. "No kid in the world could possibly get anything out of it. There's no reason why the video-game industry shouldn't be making a lot more games like this."
Take-Two executives said they were inspired by "real critics."
"We're just giving kids what their parents say they need," said Take-Two vice president of marketing Allyson Spicer. "In today's economic environment, it's foolish not to listen to the people who dislike everything about our products."
Though some have compared Stacker to Tetris, those within the industry have been quick to draw distinctions between the two games.
"Tetris' suggestively twisting and turning blocks, violent falling motions, and increasingly frenzied suspense are a potential influence on children," said video-game ethicist Steve Contreras. "By contrast, after playing Stacker, with its eternally unchanging shapes and gentle lowering actions, I doubt a child would ever want to arrange any sort of virtual block again. This is exactly what this controversial industry needed to rescue its reputation."
Added Contreras: "We could really use a good first-person stander game."
Yet several parents of teenagers who work in warehouses and box factories are already threatening Take-Two with civil lawsuits, claiming that Stacker may adversely affect children of low-income workers.
"My kid certainly doesn't want to stack cases of instant coffee in a hot warehouse all day, like his old man did," said Loretto, PA father Reginald Hauser. "Now they're saying there's a video game that might glamorize the activity. Those video-game honchos are up to the same old tricks."