Let’s Ask the Studio Audience
Gaming is hitting new strides every day, not just in the types of technology available for game developers and the kinds of experiences being passed on to us gamers, but in the growing acceptance by the rest of society. Acceptance as a pastime; acceptance as an art form; acceptance as a means for educating and communicating. This is a fact that many of us gamers celebrate often, if not daily. Gaming is more popular today than it has ever been, with more gaming experiences readily available and more people than ever who consider themselves “gamers”.
But this socialization has come at a price. Whereas arguments can be made about young players’ immaturity ruining online gaming, or that the casual market is taking away from the hardcore gamer, for the purposes of this article I want to focus on the shift in the media’s attention that has come with the increased public exposure of gaming. With gaming being more in the public eye, the media is reporting outrageous stories, citing gaming as the culprit at every turn. Somehow, gaming is being turned into a buzzword at some sort of giant Kaffeeklatsch where gossip is gospel.
Call it ratings, call it sweeps, call it bad journalism, call it extreme left-wing politics or political correctness run amok; the sensationalist perspective is making a convenient scapegoat out of gaming, like it did with film, television, music, and literature before. The debate of “Do violent games produce violent gamers?” has obviously been around for a long, long time. But lately we’re seeing gaming being called into play as the perpetrator in victimless crimes (actually, even the word “crimes” is misleading in these instances, more like “unfortunate occurrences”), and events that wouldn’t normally receive any notice whatsoever – that haven’t caused any harm or peril to anyone – are now connected to gaming in dubious ways and publicized with supposed public outcries of great dismay. The fact that, with the internet and the right forum, everyone is a pundit nowadays doesn’t help our cause as gamers any. Plenty of amateurs love to fuel a controversy, and having journalists that aren’t impartial and haven’t checked their facts speak out against gaming is throwing additional gasoline on the proverbial fire. But enough of the background exposition and metaphors; let’s get down to brass tacks (couldn’t help myself):
- Recent high-profile release, Dead Island, received a fair amount of positive feedback upon its reception. It also received much negative attention from the media after it was leaked that a user found the original name of a skill of one of the female characters from the game. Spotted in the game’s original source code, and removed from proper retail versions of the game, the skill had at one point been referred to as “Feminist Whore” by a programmer at the studio.
- A young man suffered a sudden and unexpected death caused by a blood clot forming (known as a deep-vein thrombosis) in his leg due to large amounts of time spent sitting down, immobile. The reason? The man was a habitual Xbox Live player, spending large amounts of time playing Halo in front of his console. The diagnosis? He was “addicted” to videogames. The headline? “Xbox Tragedy“!
- Surely there’s nothing objectionable about Portal 2, which is rated “E” for “Everyone” here in the States?! Wrong. The crime in question was an in-game series of jokes made at the protagonist’s expense; jokes about being adopted. As luck would have it, Neil Staples happened to be watching as his 10-year old adopted daughter was playing this game. Luckily, the tragedy was in large part averted (excuse me, but I can’t help a certain level of derision here) when he rushed to her aid and turned off the offensive game. The real crime here? The reporter’s rather uninformed stance, not to mention her faux outraged tone. The daughter’s reaction? Nothing!
- Certainly no stranger to content that pushes the envelope, Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series made headlines due to its Hot Coffee Mod – a simulated sex scene hidden in the game’s code (once again!), which couldn’t even be viewed by the game-playing public. But sure enough, if politicians had their say, all copies of San Andreas would have been burnt in the public square at high noon.
Another one of Rockstar’s games, Bully, actually created a lot of controversy before it was ever released. In an effort to get the game bannedfrom the state of Florida, Jack Thompson demanded in court to receive an advance copy of the game, which the court ruled he should receive. Thompson had previously claimed (without any knowledge of the game’s content whatsoever) that the game was a “Columbine simulator” (referring to the infamous Columbine Massacre). After advance copies were played, the court ruled that the game posed no threat to society, and was allowed to ship. As a sad ending to this story, Thompson subsequently turned his attention towards the judge ruling against him, and began a campaign that ended in Judge Friedman’s disbarment.
The list could go on and on, but I think my point has been made. The media, who are supposed to be impartial and fair, are quick to jump on any story that holds the potential of selling a predisposed point-of-view, and this is currently at the expense of gaming as a whole. Why offer a rational, well thought-out argument when a false headline screaming outrage sells? And yes, I realize the consumer is once again to blame for this. But there’s a reason why there was no national outrage during the late ’80s/early ’90s, when two caricatured plumbers with fake New York-Italian accents and handlebar pornstaches had their own children’s TV show, quipping things like “Traveling tomato sauce!”, “Cracked Calzones!”, and other ethnically-charged alliterations – it’s because it was for entertainment, and nobody gave a damn!
Everything is “People are outraged” and “The public is offended”. Just once, I’d like to meet someone who was actually an official part of the “offended group” over a particular gaming controversy, or was affected in some way by the things the media keeps telling us we should be upset about. Anybody? Anybody??
Now, I’m not saying that the people in the above examples don’t have a right to express their opinions. The parents of Chris Staniforth who died of DVT certainly are right to grieve. Neil Staples has every right (obligation, even!) in the world to protect his daughter from harm. But what remains is the question of how to proceed, and what we as gamers should take from these cases. As citizens, we have the duty to act in an ethical and responsible manner. We must not blame the troubles that befall us as part of everyday life on the easiest target simply for the sake of placing blame. We must not yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. And we must not make gaming into the scapegoat for our poor health or lack of parenting. In other words, we need to take responsibility for our own actions and decisions.