Carole Lieberman vs. Bulletstorm

Carole Lieberman vs. Bulletstorm

Everybody who plays video games on a regular basis has been informed at least once–usually by the media–that they indulge in a pastime that glorifies violence and automatically makes them more aggressive than the average non-gamer. This revelation usually confuses said gamers, most of whom have never fought in a war, never hope to see a war, and don’t even like needles.

So when Fox News published an editorial about Bulletstorm that was seeded with quotes from a psychologist and author named Dr Carole Lieberman, game-savvy readers took offense to her claims that Epic’s shooter can inspire violent behavior. Specifically, acts of sexual violence, a conclusion Dr Lieberman drew based on the innuendo-laden names of some of the attacks players can perform. “The increase in rapes can be attributed in large part to the playing out of [sexual] scenes in video games,” was one much-quoted “fact” from the editorial.

But now Lieberman is saying that her words were taken out of context. “My FoxNews.com statements were taken out of context and made to sound more inflammatory than they were meant.” Lieberman told GamePolitics on February 10. Game Theory‘s own Scott Steinberg was asked for his opinion, and his answer–that Bulletstorm is a a purposefully over-the-top parody of media violence–didn’t make it into Brandon’s published article.

With all that in mind, Dr Lieberman deserves the benefit of the doubt. However, it wasn’t just the inflammatory nature of her arguments that got the gaming community riled up: It was also her lack of citations, evidence, or studies. And she’s still not offering any of those up.

Instead, she stands by her views that “media violence, and particularly videogame violence is harmful” (not much gentler than her original claims), and she cites “thousands of studies” and her own credentials.

“I have been a researcher in media violence for over twenty years and, as such, have testified before Congress several times, been the head of the National Coalition on TV Violence, and have stopped the ‘Schwarzenegger rocket’,” she says. “I was also invited to contribute an essay to Larry King’s book, Beyond A Reasonable Doubt, about video game violence.”

The “Schwarzenegger rocket” was a NASA rocket that was supposed to harbor a movie poster advertising Last Action Hero, Schwarzenegger’s own little piece of regret from 1993. So while Dr Lieberman deserves our thanks for stopping a bad idea before it gave aliens a good reason to fire a superweapon into Earth’s core, her quick reference to “thousands of studies” doesn’t cut it as evidence for a link between video games and violent behavior. While such studies do exist (though maybe not in the “thousands”), Dr Lieberman’s ability to collect and study the data objectively is in question. That’s not to say an individual who has studied media violence for two decades is incapable of seeing both sides of the issue, but Dr Lieberman has twice refrained from listing any legitimate sources or research materials for her statistics.

What’s more, she used her follow-up interview with GamePolitics as an opportunity to condemn gamers for sending her harassing emails and Amazon-bombing her “unrelated” book–and then she turned to the audience and hocked said unrelated book:

“I wrote Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them & How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets in an effort to help men and women find the love they deserve. The so-called reviews have served to prove that video games do make people more aggressive, indeed.”

Harassing another person, whether in person, through email, IM, product reviews, or otherwise, is never cool. But neither is generalizing everyone from the Halo fan to the FarmVille player as the cause for society’s violent tendencies and your own personal woes.

It’s possible that Fox News might have toyed with Dr Lieberman’s quotes to give its Bulletstorm article a shot of adrenaline, but otherwise it seems as if the dubious news source and the psychiatrist make good company for one another.

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.

2 Comments

  1. First i just want to say good job on the article, second Dr. Lieberman completely missed the point of the amazon review score bombing, the reviews were supposed to portray the same ignorance in lambasting something they have no knowledge of, creating an undeserved negative image based on conjecture.

  2. Great article! I think it’s too bad that Dr. Lieberman chose to use logical fallacies in backing her arguments about video game violence.

    Because a lot of the stuff she said might seem to make sense to a person outside of the video game culture (like concerned parents). The notion that she’s overgeneralizing and jumping to conclusions through a slippery slope might elude a lot of people.

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