Does Controversy Help the Games Industry?

Does Controversy Help the Games Industry?

There’s an old saying about how there’s no such thing as bad publicity. That largely depends on the person who’s being dragged into the spotlight: Nobody wants their face plastered on the 6 o’clock news because they were caught on camera being mean to a puppy. Regardless, the surface message is clear: If people are chattering about your goods and services in any capacity, that is preferable to them turning away and busying themselves with something else.

Epic Games is familiar with the saying, and the studio is currently nodding in sage agreement–but with that agreement comes a tinge of sadness for the ways in which bad publicity can poison the games industry over the long-term.

Epic’s latest project, a first-person shooter for the PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 called Bulletstorm, was crowned “the worst game of all time” by Fox News. A psychiatrist named Carole Lieberman got involved, and accused the game of rewarding players for committing violently sexual acts. Gamers fired back, especially when it became apparent Fox News had selectively edited quotes to support its point. Dogs married cats, and mass hysteria ensued.

Bulletstorm sold nearly one million copies in a mere two weeks. When IndustryGaers asked Epic Games’ President Mike Capps if the coverage from Fox News might’ve helped boost those numbers a bit, Capps said it was possible. “[Y]es, there were people who were very excited about any attention at all,” he said. “For a game that’s over-the-top, they probably helped sell more units than they convinced people to pick at us.”

However, Capps stressed that this isn’t a mere instance of young people rebelling against their parents and nibbling at the forbidden fruit. The Bulletstorm controversy also rallied game journalists and the community. “What was most exciting about it for me [was the reaction from the media in the industry defending us],” he said. “Every journalist said this Fox report is junk… It’s wonderful to see a media that’s defending free speech.”

Heartening! Alas:

“As for what it does for the industry as a whole I think it’s terrible. There are people who really respect Fox News’ opinions and look at that and are [convinced that video games are bad].”

Fox News commands a large, dedicated viewer base across America, much to the dismay of any company, individual, or pastime that has been targeted by the corporation’s sensationalist reporting. If Fox News tells its viewers that Bulletstorm rewards nine-year-olds for raping in-game characters, it’s not a good bet that said viewers will be compelled to check out the truth for themselves.

All we can do as a community is keep disassembling these flimsy attacks for the sake of those who do want to know the truth. Over time, it’s going to become more difficult for news outlets to attack video games in order to fill in a few minutes on a slow news day: The generation that grew up with the likes of Mortal Kombat is beginning to have children of its own. These new mothers and fathers remember the screaming headlines and the ashen faces of their parents over a fighting game that was so over-the-top, it bordered on parody. To be fair, not every modern parent wants their kid to be rewarded with buckets of blood if their on-screen character so much as pokes their opponent with a finger, but the Mortal Kombat generation also grew up with the implementation of the ESRB. It knows, ultimately, that a game like Bulletstorm was never developed with nine-year-olds in mind.

Capps’ concern for the long-term health of the games industry in the face of attacks like the one fired off by Fox is very valid. However, gaming’s reputation will endure and continue to improve as its player base expands and it passes through the generations. There will never be a time when a news outlet doesn’t try to leech some cheap heat from games, but we’ll just debunk what we can to those who’ll listen, and keep on playing. And when things look especially grim, it pays to remember the wisdom of Shigeru Miyamoto: “Video games are bad for you? That’s what they said about Rock n Roll.”

Not to mention comic books, and Dungeons & Dragons, science fiction, cinema…

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.

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