It's Just a Game

You know you can make a good living and stay wreck-free driving a truck out there in the real world. But can you do it in a virtual world?

18 Wheels of Steel: Across America, the latest addition to a series of trucking video games, lets you create and run your own trucking company while you sit behind the wheel of one of your tractors, find loads, drive them across America and deliver them.

But there are other games out there that aren’t so dedicated to reality. They ask the trucker/game player to do some fast, furious, reckless, illegal driving and commit some downright scary, bloody mayhem on the roads.

In 18 Wheels of Steel, a game played on computers, players are the head honcho of their own trucking business, bidding on jobs to build a successful operation. They start with a little cash on hand and can choose between 15 big rigs (they’ll do 80 mph) to deliver more than 30 different kinds of cargo including livestock, chemicals, lumber, automobiles, clothing, cotton, computers and mobile homes. You also get to back up to docks, manage your fuel and maintain your trucks in peak condition.

The trucker in this game gets to bid on cargoes, trying to select the most profitable. It might be a shorter run with a higher paying cargo, or it might take him across America. The right cargo hauled from San Francisco to Miami, for example, might earn the player $20,000 – less all his expenses, such as fuel, and maintenance and ancillary costs. But don’t overload them or damage them – those mistakes can cost you money and future jobs.

The trucker drives the lower 48 and runs into the same problems drivers do on the road – monster city traffic jams, accidents, speed limits, unpredictable weather and of course law enforcement. And in another reflection of real life, a single big mistake can be extremely costly in both time and money.

But if you make the delivery, you get paid, and with that money you can upgrade your rig or add to your fleet.

“We’ve combined the intensity of driving a fully-loaded 18-wheeler with the real-life strategy of running a trucking business for an experience that no other game can rival,” says Scott Zerby, vice president of the game’s maker ValuSoft.

Brian Ewalt, the producer who put 18 Wheels together, says the game was deliberately designed for the casual player. “We try to do things that appeal more to the part-time player, a guy who may have a computer and likes to play, rather than games for the people who play night and day.”

The game was originally given to designers in Russia to come up with the early ideas, but then it was sent to an Indianapolis company for finishing. The producer at that company, says Ewalt, has a father who is a truck driver and provided some key input.

The game tries to stay close to reality, says Ewalt, but producers had to cut some corners and bend some rules. “You can make a two-day drive, say Minneapolis to Los Angeles, in about 45 minutes of playing time.”

Why trucks and trucking as video games? “People recognize big trucks,” says Ewalt. “They’re icons. A lot of people grew up wanting to drive one; there’s a sense of freedom and adventure about them. This game is relief, relaxation for players, it doesn’t require a big learning curve and it fulfills some fantasies about life on the open road.”

Other trucker video games are less realistic, filled with much more action, crashes, chases, wrecks (many intentional), hijackings, crooked deals and crude stereotypical truckers charging across the country.

What do the more aggressive games tell people who play them – and know nothing about trucking – about truckers and their industry?

Professor Nina Huntemann, a researcher into the effects of violence and aggression in video games and assistant professor of communication and journalism at Suffolk University in Boston, says an argument could be made that some of the video games could have a negative impact on the industry.

Some research says violent video games and media create fear. “For example, people see a lot of violence in urban areas in those media, they see people getting killed and mugged, and they become scared to go into those areas,” says Huntemann. “And in many cases this flies in the face of reality; they are frightened to go to some places that are safe.”

The negative trucking games could reinforce the stereotypes already present about the industry. “The trucking industry does have some negative images in the public eye, even if it they are unfair, and some of these games could add a fear factor,” Huntemann says. “They could confirm that negative image to some players. It’s also possible that people who really have no impression of the trucking industry could form an impression based on the aggressive games and get the idea that the people in the trucks are not good and safe people on the roads. And remember, it is young people who play most of these games, and they are still forming their opinions.”

The manufacturers of such games are competing in a tight market full of violent games. “Grand Theft Auto is a runaway success, and they have to compete with that game with all its violence,” Huntemann says. “So if they don’t have crashes and some wild dangerous driving, they probably won’t sell.”

But the demand for violence is no excuse, says Congressman Joe Baca (D-Calif).
“The science is clear: viewing entertainment violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes and behaviors, particularly in children,” Baca says. “The gratuitous violence against women, law enforcement officers, the elderly, and others is only part of the problem. Games like Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City create and add to harmful stereotypes. It is irresponsible for games to portray characters, such as truckers, minorities and others, in such a negative light.

“Do we want children growing up believing that all truckers do is commit senseless acts of violence? That is wrong. The industry must act responsibly when it creates, markets and sells these games.”

Baca is the author of a bill (H.R. 669, the Protect Children from Video Game Sex and Violence Act of 2003) that he says will “create consequences for those who profit from selling video games with graphic sexual and violent content to children.” The bill would fine people who sell or rent to minors video games that depict nudity, sexual conduct or content that is harmful to minors and contain graphic violence, sexual violence or strong sexual content. (To see more about the bill visit www.house.gov/baca.)


Rebel Trucker: Cajun Blood Money
The game, which is also a computer game, is rated M for blood, mature sexual themes and violence. Its packaging describes the game like this:

“Haul guns, stolen vehicles and other contraband through New Orleans and the surrounding Louisiana countryside in this action-packed truck driving game. One botched job could land you in jail or, even worse, wearing a pair of concrete shoes at the bottom of the Mississippi River.

“You are Keri Thiborbeaux, a backwoods Cajun with no one to answer to and nothing to lose but your driver’s license. You’ve mixed up with the wrong folks, and now you’re caught in a dangerous feud between a pair of hard-nosed federal agents who want you as their informant and the ruthless godfather of the New Orleans underworld who wants it done right the first time

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