Fox News on Bulletstorm: Who Needs Facts When We Have Opinions

Posted on Thursday, February 10th 2011 at 8:31 p.m.

Have you been jonesing for another one of Fox News’ blatantly over the top articles that baselessly accuses something of being a major factor in the deterioration of the human condition?  Well, John Brandon of Fox News has got a treat for you.  In his recent article, “Is Bulletstorm the Worst Video Game in the World?”, Mr. Brandon does not hold back from pretty much making EA’s upcoming Bulletstorm the poster child for the decline of morality and increase of sexual violence in our culture.  He uses sensationalism, questionable sources and false statements to get his point across while subtly revealing that he has little understanding of the topic he is covering.  You many want to read the article first because I am going to break down my “favorite” parts.  Go ahead, I will wait.

Ready? Okay, here we go…

In the new video game Bulletstorm due February 22, players are rewarded for shooting enemies in the private parts (such as the buttocks). There’s an excess of profanity, of course, including frequent use of F-words. And Bulletstorm is particularly gruesome, with body parts that explode all over the screen.

Oh no! Not the private parts! Seriously, body parts that “explode all over the screen” is nothing new.  Anyone who has been playing shooters for a good while will remember the ever popular “instagib” mode in Unreal Tournament and similar games (I am thinking fondly of UT2003 ).  Wait.  When did the first UT come out?  Oh yeah, just over ten years ago.  And don’t even get me started about profanity.  Get long enough of a killing streak in UT2003 and the announcer rewarded you with a rather surprising exclamation about pious excrement.  And let’s not forget our good old friend, Duke Nukem (and yes, he is coming back to us  ).

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.

Explicit sex acts…hmm.  I can understand “Gang Bang”, but “Topless”? Are you kidding me?  Being topless is not a sex act.  It is generally a form of expression or even the middle phase of changing one’s shirt. Heck, it can even allude to sexual intentions, but it is not a sex act.  And in my opinion, we tend to be way too Puritan in our culture. We generally tolerate all types of games, TV and movies with forms of violence in them, but when a tame (and non-revealing) sex scene shows up in a Rated-M game (i.e. Mass Effect ), we freak out .  And here is a surprise, one of the main contributors to the ME controversy was none other than Fox News (and once again, their facts were completely off ).  It is interesting that our responses to the natural act of sex tend to far stronger than that of violence.  Not just in video games, but in TV and movies as well.  But that is another post for another time.

And with kids as young as 9 playing such games, the experts FoxNews.com spoke with were nearly universally worried that video game violence may be reaching a fever pitch.

This is essentially a useless statement.  What type of “experts” and how many?  “Experts” could mean anything.  It is just a general statement with no references.  It does have a vague assumption though.  “…may be reaching a fever pitch”.  Based on what information?  Who knows?  Well, clearly the “experts” do.

If a younger kid experiences Bulletstorm’s explicit language and violence, the damage could be significant,” Dr. Jerry Weichman, a clinical psychologist at the Hoag Neurosciences Institute in Southern California, told FoxNews.com.

How is this even news? The ratings are in place because of this very possibility.  In fact, the same could be stated about a child seeing Kill Bill or CSI .  Like Kill Bill and CSI, Bulletstorm is meant and rated for a mature audience.  Any game with a rating of “Teen” or higher will also include the disclaimer “May contain content inappropriate for children” on its cover.  And it is not an easily missed warning.  See for yourselves .  The ESRB information tends to be very clear when it comes to game ratings.

Carol Lieberman, a psychologist and book author, told FoxNews.com that sexual situations and acts in video games — highlighted so well in Bulletstorm — have led to real-world sexual violence.

The increase in rapes can be attributed in large part to the playing out of [sexual] scenes in video games,” she said.

Let’s take a look at this claim.  Carol Lieberman is a “media psychiatrist”, which as I understand it, means that she likes being on TV and in print. Her own website describes her as “the psychiatrist the world trusts for help coping with today’s times.”  Based on the information in her site, she has been on several shows and in many publications.  She is best known for her book Bad Girls and tends to focus on relationship issues.  Sounds like a perfectly qualified expert to discuss the complex societal effects video games have on individuals today. I always find myself wary of input from “experts” like this.  In my opinion, they tend to be more focused on their image and media presence than the core of their professed expertise.  And when Fox uses them, I am even more skeptical of the value of their input.  This article further solidifies my skepticism.  First of all, EA states that there are no sexual interactions in Bulletstorm.  It is strictly a “shoot’em up” game.  So when the author states that “sexual situations and acts” are “highlighted so well in Bulletstorm”, he is making it clear that he is just ranting and does not have a very good understanding of his topic.  Secondly, I am not aware of any reputable study (and there are no references in the article) that cites video games as a significant factor in the cause of rape cases.  Finally (and this point pretty much negates the previous point), the insinuation that there has been an increase in rapes is contrary to actual statistics .  In fact, rape rates have been steadily decreasing since 1991 which coincides with the rise of more advanced video games such as RPGs and FPSs .  So, using the numbers and nothing else, it could be argued that the maturity of the gaming world has actually contributed to the decline of sexual violence.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), rates all video games as a guide for parents; each game carries a letter-label at retail (T for Teen, M for Mature) and an online-only summary. Lieberman and others say it’s useless, because it isn’t enforced at retail.

Useless, because it isn’t enforced at retail”? Once again…based on what?  I have no doubt that there are issues with retail employees holding to policies of verifying age prior to selling the games, but that issue is at movie theaters and liquor stores as well.  I frequent a local GameStop (for years actually) and have seen them check age and deny the sale of a game to an underage kids multiple times. I have also been to convenience stores and seen them sell alcohol to a questionably young individual without carding them.  If the system was useless, then why did the kid in GameStop go home empty handed?

Melanie Killen, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Maryland who has pushed for laws that govern the sale of video games, disagrees that the ESRB rating system is working. She says 9-year-olds are playing games like Bulletstorm and that there is no real enforcement. The FCC monitors all TV broadcasts and stiffly fines broadcasters for violating decency rules, yet there are no penalties in place for retailers who sell violent games to kids.”

I am all for the pushing of laws meant to reinforce the ESRB rating system, but why are we not mentioning the responsibility of the parents here as well?  Why are we acting like it is the government’s and business’ responsibility to monitor our children?  While, as a parent I welcome safeguards out there to protect my daughter, I also understand that it is first and foremost my own responsibility to know what my child is doing and be involved enough to address such issues.

And finally my favorite pointless comment…

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.”

Wow. Now that is exceptionally relevant information.

The rant seems to lose steam in the end and is, overall, poorly written.  But it was enough to raise the ire of this gamer.  And the irony of Fox posting this article is that, of the major networks, theirs tends to be best known for the questionable content of their news and general programming.  If they took the same intolerant stance against their own properties, they would have no end of material.  Oh well, one can dream. Viva la Video Games!

UPDATE: After I wrote this post, I saw this .  It seems that I am not alone in my viewpoints.

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