'Postal 2': Equal Opportunity Offender

Silly or sick? An exclusive interview with the makers of the world's most violent videogame.

By Jim Goldman
Tech Live
February 19, 2003

Inside a tiny office in the sleepy desert town of Tucson, Arizona, game developers at Running With Scissors perch precariously atop the sharpened blade of free speech as they prepare to release one of the most controversial game titles of the year.

On tonight's "Tech Live," we'll bring you along on an exclusive tour of the company and give you an unprecedented sneak peek into one of the most anticipated adult-theme videogames ready for market.

These game developers are the twisted minds behind one of the most obscene, cruel, violent videogames around. Company CEO Vince Desi makes no apologies as he shows off the game's "cat silencer," a way players can use a cat to muffle the noise from an automatic rifle. In another of the game's scenes, Desi moves his character through a gay bar, where players can use shock devices to torment the patrons. In another, he confronts an overweight character he's about to blow away, calling him "another fat slob."

Sick or silly?

"You have to understand, the violence in 'Postal 2' is so over the top, it is so absurd, so ridiculous, that anyone who takes it seriously belongs in an institution," Desi says.

The company and the game are at the center of raging issues facing the videogame industry. And Desi has found his way to the forefront. The self-proclaimed libertarian says he honestly doesn't understand what all the ruckus is about.

The game is about the Postal Dude, a character who has a strong penchant for violence as he goes through the week accomplishing the most mundane chores, such as cashing a paycheck or picking up milk. Along the way he comes into contact with a variety of characters he can either ignore or kill with weapons such as grenades, stun guns, gas cans, and matches -- or even a shovel.

That's not much of a plot, but the story line, which is admittedly humorous at times, plays a secondary role to the death and destruction Postal Dude can cause.

First title caused outrage

"Postal 2" follows the surprisingly successful "Postal," which Running With Scissors also released. The game caused a stir and is banned in at least seven countries, including Germany, Brazil, and Australia.

The latest incarnation is so violent, so racist and homophobic, that four countries are already considering banning it because players can gruesomely kill African-Americans and gays. Set to be released within the next few weeks, Running With Scissors says the game will be widely available. It will also be sold through the company's website.

But Desi, who says his live-in stepson is gay, dismisses the controversy. He says the game's 150 unique characters cut across every group. And in much the same way "All in the Family" star Archie Bunker was an equal opportunity racist, "Postal 2" offers equal opportunity murder and mayhem without targeting any one group, and despite advance publicity to the contrary.

In other words, players can kill cops, women, blacks, whites, gays, or Arabs without earning more points for doing so. And every group is capable of fighting back.

"A cross-section of Americana, if you will," Desi says.

Concern for kids

In fact, Vince Desi will tell anybody who will listen that he's not a racist and he's not a homophobe. He says he doesn't hate anybody. And he makes no excuses for the violence. But some psychologists say this isn't about Vince Desi. It's about the half-million people around the world who are expected to buy this game.

"It's not something that I'd want a lot of kids to have or see," says Dr. Dennis Embry, a noted expert on children and violence at the Paxis Institute.

He says that while violent movies and TV shows serve as passive entertainment, game playing is active and far more dangerous, especially for children.

"Young children tend to copy the games. They see it, they do it when they go out on the playground," he says.

For adults only

Desi counters that there's a fundamental problem with Embry's opinion. Desi says that just as movies and DVDs are specifically targeted to adults, his company has a message. Get over it. "Postal" isn't for kids. However, Desi says, because the videogame industry has evolved into an entertainment medium mostly for children, that is a tough message to convey to kids, he says.

"Parents need to take responsibility," he says. "Guess what? You should really know what's going on in your kids' bedroom."

With the scandalous success of the first incarnation of "Postal," and "Grand Theft Auto 2: Vice City" selling more copies than any other videogames last year, you can bet both game developers and opponents will be have plenty of opportunity to revisit the issue of gaming violence in 2003.