With Bulletstorm: Full Clip coming out today, I thought it might be interesting to take a trip down memory lane to the time Fox News suggested to the world that the game could cause rape. Yeah.
This began with a story appearing on Fox News's website with the completely astonishing title, "Is Bulletstorm the Worst Video Game in the World?" Um, no. No, it was a fairly decent if uninspiring FPS. Is it the video game containing the "worst" content? Not even vaguely - it was a bit sweary and violent.
Of course, what Fox were doing was trying drum up a shitstorm based on the absolutely berserk words of a psychiatrist called Carole Lieberman, who said some spectacular rubbish about games containing "sexual situations" having caused "real-world sexual violence". In fact she said,
"The increase in rapes can be attributed in large part to the playing out of [sexual] scenes in video games."
This outraged us. The horror of rape is not a weapon to wield when you want to cause some internet fuss about a video game. Rape is a damned serious topic that only becomes more awful, more terrible for victims, when trivialised by idiocy like this. We got cross.
There was so much work to do here, and in my first article I broke down a number of rather key matters, not least that the game featured no "sexual situations" whatsoever, but in fact had a few "skill shots" given childish names based on sexual innuendo. Like "Topless". The naughtiest in there, for killing multiple enemies at once, is "Gang bang". Not exactly tasteful, but not even close to a game "containing sexual situations". Let alone that the numbers of recorded rapes in the US at that time had been trending downward for thirty years, by a factor of 85%.
The article went on to cite a number of other experts, each making spurious or wholly irrelevant claims, which when looked into all started to fall apart. Even just by finding the quote they'd lifted from, and putting it back in its proper context. Fox's article then went even more insane, throwing a hissyfit because both Microsoft and Warner - two companies utterly uninvolved in Bulletstorm - refused to comment.
Much seemed up with those quoted experts, so I decided I would dig in a little deeper. I followed up on every person quoted in the article, and the results were spectacular. One example, Billy Pidgeon from M2 Research, replied pointing out what he'd actually said versus what Fox had printed. This is from Fox's article:
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.
This is what Pidgeon actually said:
“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..."
Incredible, right? And it was just the start. I got hold of the questions Fox had sent out, deliberately sent to rent-a-quote TV pyschs who had no experience with video games, and crucially were being asked about a game that had not yet been released. A game they unequivocally hadn't played. This was from Fox's questions:
“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?”
Pidgeon was smarter than the questions, so Fox edited his responses out of context to make it appear he'd said something completely other than he'd clearly meant. He sent me his full responses, which you can read here.
Scott Steinberg was also approached by Fox for the article, but seemingly they couldn't find ways to misquote him to their advantage so they just ignored his answers entirely in favour of people without his stunning resume. He got in touch and sent me his full replies, which make for a wonderful read.
What was key about this, of course, was that Fox's correspondent, one John Brandon, had to have read them. Which removed any notion of his having been simply misinformed by the less competent responders. He'd read these words, and wrote his outrageous story anyway. Here's a portion of one of his wonderful replies:
"It’s an unapologetically and straightforwardly satirical game meant for discerning adults that’s written in the vernacular of the times and speaks in a cultural context that’s the same as that its target audience has long been indoctrinated in by mainstream media and pop culture. From Saw to South Park, look at what passes for modern entertainment at the movies or on basic cable, let alone on the Internet – this isn’t the first blockbuster (or big-budget game, for that matter) to aim below the belt or slather on the salty language. Yes, it’s shameless, but also knowingly so, because it actively aims to parody much of both the gaming field and larger cultural zeitgeist’s more asinine elements."
And then we get to the inestimable Dr Carole Lieberman. The "expert" responsible for the darkly inaccurate claims that Bulletstorm's featuring the word "topless" would cause people to go out and commit rape. After our articles some other members of the media paid attention, and Lieberman found herself in the situation of needing to release a statement. A statement in which she simultaneously claimed that Fox had quoted her out of context (they hadn't), and then went on to repeat all the same nonsensical arguments at greater length, providing a list of 'evidence' that quite incredibly had nothing to do with the topic whatsoever.
So yes, I went through that evidence. When people make claims about sexual violence, and the possibility that gaming could directly cause it, that's a matter to take extremely seriously. She began with the most outrageously spurious defence of having claimed that rape is caused by (unspecified) sexual content in games, by saying that "thousands of studies have shown that the more violent media a person consumes, the more desensitised to violence and the more aggressive they become." And what has that to do with rape? "And rape is a violent crime." Seriously. Such a vile dismissal of the specifics of rape. That was her defence of saying something that was demonstrably untrue - to say a lot more things that are demonstrably untrue.
No peer reviewed study in all of history has ever shown a conclusive causal link between media violence and real world violence (some have shown elevated aggression levels, but not close to the degree that they would cause violent acts, and far more studies have claimed the opposite). I know this, because I read so many of those that set out to. Not one. Let alone not "thousands". "Copycat violence" (a term she of course goes on to use) has never been demonstrated to have happened, and all the most famous incidents that people think of (the so-called GTA-related stabbing, the high school shooting dishonestly linked to DOOM, the Norwegian massacre and the ludicrous links to CoD and WoW) have been proven to be utterly unrelated every single time, and entirely the invention of individuals within the media.
A remarkably passive aggressive response went on to express her disbelief that so many would have forgotten all the studies published at the time of the Columbine massacre (no such studies were published, and the FBI declared media violence to not have been a factor), and cited public opinion polls that she remembered reading as her proof. Then again, this is the same person who campaigned against the sale of toy dinosaurs from Jurassic Park.
The eight documents she then went on to provide as her proof for her claims were a clusterfuck of nonsense. Studies that concluded the opposite of her claims, studies that had nothing to do with the topic, studies that
didn't exist she forgot to link to, unpublished papers (!), and of course the utter drivel pumped out by the American Psychological Association, an organisation that has proven itself utterly without credibility on the subject again and again. (Let alone an organisation that secretly collaborated with the American government to justify torturing prisoners.) I analysed each piece of evidence in detail here.
After all this, it seemed we'd rather rankled Fox correspondent John Brandon. He decided he would follow up by writing another article of pure, unwashed bullshit. In an attempt to claim that the standard censoring of bloody content in Germany was somehow unique to Bullstorm and proof of its inappropriate nature, he couldn't help but take a swipe at us personally. He began with a very strange claim:
"The experts FoxNews.com spoke with were nearly universally worried that video game violence may be reaching a fever pitch."
As we prove at the time, and indeed afterward, the majority of the experts they'd spoken to said no such thing. We spoke to them to check. But he reported the opposite anyway, as a lead in to this:
"The gaming press reacted violently."
Pun, no doubt, entirely id-written.
"The site RockPaperShotgun.com contacted FoxNews.com sources and posted transcripts of interviews, exposing "the full story," they claimed. Some sources, including Scott Steinberg, the CEO of consultancy TechSavvy Global, shared private e-mail interviews with other websites."
Six years later I still just adore that he wrote this. He claims they all told him about a violence fever pitch, then can't seem to stop himself telling the truth by attributing it to us, and phrasing it as if we'd done something unethical in reporting it! Poor sweetie.
Anyway, obviously we went on to break down his daft article, and it seems that was enough for him to give up and move on.
But with Bulletstorm coming out again on Friday, can we look forward to a return from our favourite reporter? Fingers crossed!