Fox Puts Video Games on Trial

Fox Puts Video Games on Trial

Fox News exercised its subtle vocabulary on February 8 by asking the question: “Is Bulletstorm the Worst Video Game in the World?”

The body of the story describes how players are “rewarded” for the violent acts they commit in the first-person shooter, which is due out on February 22 and is being published by EA. Fox even brought in an author and a psychiatrist, Carole Lieberman, who condemned Bulletstorm for glorifying sexually violent acts and contributing to an “increase in rapes”–though the in-game characters commit no sexual acts to speak of.

The games community is irate over Fox’s story for numerous reasons. Once again, games and the people who play them are being backed into a corner by a frantic scare piece by the mainstream media that neglects to cite legitimate studies about the effects of game violence, doesn’t fully explain the function and responsibility of the ESRB (or parents’ responsibility to enforce ESRB ratings with their children), and doesn’t acknowledge that Bulletstorm‘s violent acts are supposed to be over-the-top to the point of parody. Also, calling Bulletstorm the “Worst Video Game in the World” robs that mantle from far more deserving “champions” like the N64’s Superman 64, and Deadly Towers for the NES, or more overtly sexual and disturbing titles like Custer’s Revenge.

Various game-related publications have understandably penned a piece or two over the controversy.

“The truth is that the ESRB can impose fines of up to $1 million on publishers who jerk their ratings process around,” writes Escapist’s Andy Chalk, “but it’s probably not reasonable to expect Fox to let facts get in the way of a good story. Like, say, the fact that FBI statistics show that the rate of forcible rape has actually declined over the past two decades, or that FTC studies have repeatedly shown that videogame ratings have a significantly higher rate of compliance than any other entertainment medium on the market. None of these facts are in question, yet Fox continues to ignore them. Is it just making this stuff up as it goes?

“In other news, Bill O’Reilly still isn’t sure where the moon came from.”

Wired put together a particularly thorough piece that asked Lieberman for some clarification on her sources, which she was largely not able to supply.

According to Wired writer Jason Schreier, “In a phone interview with Wired.com, Lieberman claimed ‘countless studies’ show a connection between videogames and violence. Yet she would not name any of those studies and could not name a single relevant videogame, though she did reference ‘that game where … it took place in an academy.’ (Possibly Rockstar’s Bully, another satirically violent game.)”

“‘There are thousands of studies,’ Lieberman said. ‘I’d have to look through them or recent ones as far as finding one that specifically speaks about rape, and I don’t have the time to do that right now.’ Lieberman later cited a 2010 study titled ‘Violent Video Game Effects on Aggression, Empathy and Prosocial Behavior in Eastern and Western Countries’ (.pdf) in an e-mail to Wired.com. The study, which was headed by professor Craig A. Anderson (…) does not mention sexual aggression or rape.”

Not a surprising pack of revelations from Wired, given Fox News’ reputation for “selling the news” rather than reporting it. Moreover, according to a story breakdown by Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Fox selectively quoted certain “experts” out of context, and set up questions so that they’d receive the answer Fox wanted. John Walker elaborates on Rock, Paper, Shotgun:

“More insight about how FoxNews.com put the story together can be found in the questions that they asked contributors. So when TV Doctor X, or Motivational Speaker Y gets sent the email asking for their thoughts about a game they’ve never heard of nor played, knowing the question they were asked puts their comments into a different light. What they received was:

‘ Bulletstorm glorifies violence for fun and extra points. You can shoot the bad guys in the private parts for points, get drunk and shoot for more points, throw a chain with spikes and hook enemies. But some of the worst parts are actually related to the names for the skill shots and the in-game dialogue, which is definitely profane. What should be done about these games?’

“Classy. Is it any wonder that some rent-a-quote TV shrink fires off a headline-grabbing condemnation in response? WHAT SHOULD BE DONE?!”

EA has since responded to Fox’s accusations with an official statement. It read, in part:

“Bulletstorm is rated M for Mature for blood and gore, intense violence, partial nudity, sexual themes, strong language and use of alcohol. The game and its marketing adhere to all guidelines set forth by the ESRB; both are designed for people 17+. Never is the game marketed to children.”

In other words, “Parents, please remember that ESRB Ratings are not simply printed on the front of game boxes so that kids can learn the alphabet.”

This whole event–the accusations, the outrage, the response–is best summed up with, “Well once again, here we are.” This isn’t the first time the media has gone after games, and it won’t be the last. In a perfect world, we could ignore the problem and it would go away. But it’s not a perfect world, so we have to take the time to counter misinformation about games and the industry behind them.

“Clearly no one is surprised that an outlet like Fox News would be writing reactionary, ill-informed rhetoric about their invented controversies du jour,” wrote John Walker. “But that isn’t a reason not to unpick these stories, and to highlight the inaccuracies and hypocrisy within. It’s behooves us to care, and to give fair voice to those who are so grossly misrepresented by an agenda.”

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

3 Comments

  1. But will my mother hate it?

    If it were any company other than EA touting the M rating and the ESRB, I wouldn’t even ask.

    It would be entertaining if Fox inadvertently went after itself, creating a sort of ouroboros effect. But they aren’t in the business of making games any more, are they?

  2. I wont be buying this game because of its content, but I do agree Fox is hardly a “news” station anymore and more of a propaganda machine. It is too bad computer games have become so vulgar. I stay away from Rockstar games as well. I am an 80’s child and liked the days of games that were fun rather than full of gore, terrible language and sexual themes.

  3. MAN I DO NOT GET PEOPLE ANYMORE, what do games have to do with violence this is ridiculous, i have bulletstorm and have beaten it and their is nothing in it that i havent seen in games, RAPE what??? the main character gray is a total gentleman to the woman character trishka, i have played M rated games since i was able to pick up a controller, and their is nothing wrong with me, i graduated highschool, going to college, a perfect permanent record, i dont drink, i dont smoke, and i go to church, i am the targeted audience and i dont want to kill someone or rape someone, this is dumb, games arent as violent as movies and tv, i loved the game, and came out with all my moral compass still pointing north, people are weak and crybabys, their can be no competion anymore for it singles people out, thats bull, look at obama he sucks yet people love him, he canceled national prayer day, a day presidents have done since the 50’s, but in 2007 obama said we are not a christian nation, BUT… on September 25, 2009 from 4 AM until 7 PM,a National Day of Prayer FOR THE MUSLIM RELIGION was Held on Capitol Hill, Beside the White House
    i found that extremely hurtful, but people are so caught up in what doesnt matter, they are paying attention to what, harmless videogames that are solely meant as entertainment, but big things like our naiton in trouble, our lying president, and the impending end of america as the superpower of the world, is just blindly looked by, get youre priorities right people, and stop saying one thing and then not having the info to back it up, like that clearly incompetent reporter in fox. read the paper not the tabloids about tom cruises new car.

Leave a Reply