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Churnalism: Fox News' Selective Quoting

Featured post May they never meet again.

While digging into the remarkable story on FoxNews.com, in which it was claimed that games like Bulletstorm cause rape, I got in touch with each of the contributors quoted in the article. Neither of the two doctors have yet got back in touch, but Billy Pidgeon of M2 Research responded with a detailed explanation of what he’d really said to the news outlet. And would you believe it – it has little in common with how their selective quoting made him appear. Quite how little is striking.

After quoting two experts, neither of whom appear to have any expertise regarding the effects of videogames, both of whom were apparently very quick to condemn the game, they then announce that the game’s unlikely to sell well anyway, citing Pidgeon from M2 Research. Tellingly they refer to him as a “defender”, before quoting him appearing to do anything but. In the original article it appears like this:

More important, defenders argue that games with excessive violence and sexual content simply don’t sell well.

“Games without sufficient quality of gameplay — games that include highly objectionable violent or sexual content — often pump up the level of this kind of content to gain media attention. This tactic typically fails, as can be seen in the poor sales performance of titles such as BMX XXX and Postal,” said Billy Pidgeon, a video game analyst with M2 Research.

But what Pidgeon actually said is quite astonishingly different. The paragraph from which the chosen quote was plucked originally read,

“The market will favor games with quality gameplay and content, so if Bulletstorm is a good game, gamers seventeen and older will likely buy it. Games without sufficient quality of gameplay — games that include highly objectionable violent or sexual content — often pump up the level of this kind of content to gain media attention…

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,

“1. 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?!

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

Keep it in your pants, gentlemen.

I think the rest of Pidgeon’s responses to FoxNews.com’s questions deserve to be heard, since he makes the informed arguments eloquently. So here they are in full, the used quote in italics.

Fox News: 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?

Billy Pidgeon: The ESRB ratings and the market have all the control necessary to limit the availability of games with objectionable content for sale to minors. The current rating system determines who can buy a game based on content, and retailers typically strongly support these ratings. Games with violent or objectionable content will be rated T for Teen (13+), M (17+) or AO (18+). Bulletstorm is rated M and retailers will not be likely to sell the game to purchasers without ID certifying age.

The market will favor games with quality gameplay and content, so if Bulletstorm is a good game, gamers seventeen and older will likely buy it. Games without sufficient quality of gameplay that include highly objectionable violent or sexual content often pump up the level of this kind of content to gain media attention. This tactic typically fails, as can be seen in the poor sales performance of titles such as BMX XXX and Postal.

Fox: Those who are against violent games say there should be more restrictions on games like Bulletstorm. How is that argument valid or not valid?

Pidgeon: I believe games should have the same protections and legislation due other forms of media, including films and books. The courts have historically struck down legislative attempts to control the sales of games in a more restrictive manner than other media, and the current Supreme Court hearing of Schwarzenegger vs. EMA is likely to conclude that games are due the same First Amendment protections as other media.

When younger gamers have access to games meant for older players, it is typically due to parents and adult family members purchasing the games for the minors and letting them play. The industry and organizations or individuals concerned about the issue should work to better educate consumers on the importance of following ESRB ratings and controlling children’s access to objectionable content. I’d like to see better enforcement, and possibly more restrictions on games marketing. Games rated T and M should not be advertised in channels targeting children under 17.

Fox: One issue is that it is easy to download the demo on Xbox and PS3, there are few if any warnings and no blocks. Should there be?

Pidgeon: Like most videogame consoles, Xbox 360 and PS3 have parental controls built in, and players under 18 will not be able to download M rated content. Console gamers have to certify their age before downloading content. There are ways to get around these, but if parents have enabled parental controls, it will be very difficult for underage gamers to circumvent these controls.

Fox: Many parents are also gamers — if they see no problem with these types of games, what should they do to voice an opinion?

Pidgeon: Parents who play games are more knowledgeable about game content and ESRB ratings and often impose more restrictions on their children’s gaming. Any adult gamers, including parents, who would like to support the industry’s right to self-regulate should join the Entertainment Consumers Association (theeca.com) and the Video Game Voters Network (videogamevoters.org).

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John Walker

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One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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