I was simply going to post a link on Twitter with a pithy, sarcastic remark about this FoxNews story, but then I started to actually read the article. Dire predictions and ominous warnings about violent video games are nothing new, but this article about Bulletstorm rises (sinks?) to a whole new level, and if only to preserve my own sanity, I wanted to give it a thorough critique.
One of my profs once said, “Satire is dead,” and reading this article, I’m forced to agree. Towards the end it reads like a parody piece from The Onion, and I’m still not entirely convinced that this isn’t a plant directly from Epic Games or EA.
Anyway, let’s begin the deconstruction. First up, the image that graces the top of the article; it’s a still shot from a parody ad for Bulletstorm. (This article at Geek Native compares it and the ad it’s parodying, Halo’s Believe ad.) We’re told that this is “an artist’s recreation,” which baffles me.
Technically, the shot is an artist’s recreation, but when I article making use of an artist’s rendering, I imagine the news organization going out and hiring an artist to create something specifically for the article. As such, before I figured out the origin of the picture, I thought FoxNews went to a local high school and said, “Make us a crappy diorama of a dude getting his arm shot off.”
Also baffling, there are far more fitting screenshots that one could use to illustrate your point about Bulletstorm’s graphic violence and vulgarity, all without being any more directly insulting to readers’ delicate sensibilities than the image chosen. Half of those have less simulated blood than the screenshot shown!
Skipping past the opening, obligatory parental warning klaxons, we get to “the worst part of the game.”
The in-game awards system, called Skill Shots, ties the ugly, graphic violence into explicit sex acts: “topless” means cutting a player in half, while a “gang bang” means killing multiple enemies.
Some ironic and witty (or, depending on your taste, crass and immature) naming of the violence is the worst part. Not the actual violence, or the vulgarity, or the points the player receives for pulling off the Skill Shots — no, the worst part of the game is the words that hover in the air for a second over the carnage.
We’re then told that (Shock! Horror!) “kids as young as 9″ will be playing Bulletstorm. Much like FoxNews, I’m going to ignore Bulletstorm’s ESRB rating for a moment (M, 17+) in favor of what struck me as a much more pertinent question: how does FoxNews know that eight-year olds won’t be playing Bulletstorm? I would imagine that, if a nine-year old can get hold of a copy of the game, so might an eight-year old. And let’s not forget about the rash of two-year olds who can play Plants vs. Zombies! They’re fair game for a go at Bulletstorm, too.
Still in the third paragraph, “the experts FoxNews.com spoke with were nearly universally worried that video game violence may be reaching a fever pitch.” Nearly universally? Three experts were quoted. I honestly wonder who disagreed.
Moving on, there’s the standard set of claims from psychologists warning about impressions made on young kids playing M-rated games. Then there’s a not-so-standard claim. Carol Lieberman, a psychologist and book author (what book isn’t mentioned) is quoted, “The increase in rapes can be attributed in large part to the playing out of [sexual] scenes in video games.”
An increase in rapes? Playing out sex scenes in video games? According to the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), incidents of rape have fallen by over 60% since 1993. According to the U.N., the United States saw over a thousand fewer incidents of rape in 2009 than in 2008 (90,427 to 89,000).
And what violent sex scenes are being played out in video games? The sex scene in Mass Effect was the culmination of a determined effort on the part of the player to have an intimate, caring relationship with a fellow crew member. Sex in Dragon Age might not have required as much work, but it certainly couldn’t be classified as rape, nor as even being “played.” Even the closest a mainstream game has come to including a sex mini-game, the Hot Coffee mod, was consensual sex between the main character and his girlfriend. Perhaps God of War fits?
I’m not saying that Ms. Lieberman is necessarily wrong, and I’m certainly not trying to diminish the horror that is rape and the work of groups like RAINN, but I would think that misinformation and fearmongering are the last things RAINN wants. Some statistics to back up the story’s claims would be nice. Of course, considering what’s come before, that might be too much to ask.
I’m going to skip a big chunk here, because it’s all fairly boilerplate. Ratings don’t work; raitings do work; legislate; fine; Supreme Court; we’ve seen all this before. There is one line towards the end, however, that makes me wonder just what’s really going on in this article. I’ve quoted the whole paragraph for context.
Video game publishers traditionally stay glib about the issue of violence. Microsoft, maker of the Xbox 360 console, declined to comment. Epic Games did not respond to requests, and the developer did not respond. Remi Sklar, the vice president of Public Relations at Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment, which makes numerous video games (though is unconnected to Bulletstorm), offered the following statement: “We don’t have a comment for that story.”
“Microsoft won’t comment. Epic won’t comment. People Can Fly won’t comment. EA’s told us what they tell everybody. I need to flesh out this paragraph some more. I’ll just call a random video game company PR guy!”
It’s that line that throws my whole mojo off. How can that be serious? Does FoxNews pay by the word? I imagine an article written about the BP oil spill wherein the writer gets a sound bit from his local plumber. Or better: “Charlie Sheen’s been hospitalized after a coke and porn binge? Call The Royal Shakespeare Company for comment!”
I don’t get it, but then I’m guessing FoxNews didn’t expect anyone to read that far.