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The Fox News Debacle: TechSavvy Update

Here's an update to my investigating the story Fox News printed in which they astonishingly suggested that Bulletstorm would cause rape. Scott Steinberg, CEO of TechSavvy Global, and all-round industry guru, got in touch with me to show me the answers he submitted to Fox when they approached him for comment. The full answers are reproduced below, because what results is a fantastic interview on the subject of adult game content and regulation.

Fox chose to use none of Steinberg's comments in their final piece, opting instead for the more sensational claims of those with no expertise in the subject (neither of whom have found time to reply to our emails). But seeing these answers also provides further insight into how the mainstream media coverage of gaming stories works. Far from being a reporter ignorant of the subject and twisted by naive contributors, Fox correspondent John Brandon was equipped with a wealth of factual information and informed opinion before composing his frantic article. The below, combined with our previously reported unedited response from M2 Research's Billy Pidgeon, show quite how determined the final story was to ignore the facts in favour of scaring its readers.

I am continuing to post on this matter not because I think Fox's story is unusual for either mainstream gaming coverage (although this is a particularly egregious example), nor indeed for the Fox News house style. And not because I believe Bulletstorm needs defending. (Although I'm proud that we've provided a place to restore the reputation of contributors who were completely misrepresented by the selective quoting.) It is because I believe this is an interesting case study of the nature of sensationalist coverage of gaming in the mainstream press. By going deeper on this occasion, it provides a useful reference point. And, as I say above, these answers are superb and well worth a read independently of the Fox nonsense. So here are Steinberg's (ignored) responses, along with the questions Fox News sent him, in full.

A Tea Party rally, yesterday.

Fox News: Is there a line on what is inappropriate in a video game? Should there be?

Scott Steinberg: Appropriateness is in the eye of the beholder, but anything that violates the tenets of basic social mores or common decency is doubtless to come under intense scrutiny. Should there be limits on appropriateness in video games? Undoubtedly, but as to what extent, that’s for greater minds to say, given that the true challenge is how to define the boundaries, let alone who’s qualified to delineate them. Many would suggest that anything which promotes an agenda of hate, discrimination, injustice, moral corruption or intolerance would meet the criteria for inappropriate content. But however you slice it, it’s a slippery slope, given what passes for acceptable today at the box office, record store, bookstore and on television – a problem compounded by games’ unique trait of interactivity, which serves to further blur the barriers which keep observers in other mediums one step removed from the action portrayed.

Fox: In Bulletstorm, you can shoot people in the privates, wrap them with a spiked chain and pull them in and kill them, and shoot people when drunk -- all for extra points. There are also a lot of F-words. Do you think the game goes too far, why or why not?

Steinberg: No – because 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. The designers make no secret of their intentions, or to whom the title caters – The Oregon Trail, this isn’t. The giant M for Mature rating on the
front of the box says it all: Only discerning adults need apply.

Fox: Is the only answer found in better parenting (telling your own kids they can't play the game) and ratings boards? Or is there something else that should be done?

Steinberg: The answer, as ever, lies in education: Being acutely aware of what and how your children play, and the manner in which they do so, which requires maintaining an open-minded perspective and taking the time to spend time with your kids, their games and the systems which play these titles. A multitude of resources exist from the ESRB to WhatTheyPlay, and Common Sense Media, as well as leading review websites such as IGN, GameSpot and 1up, which can help provide more info on today’s top titles, trends and topics. Not only can all help provide insight into children’s interests, motivations and the manner in which they consume game content, but the context needed to help steer them towards other, more appropriate titles which might better fit their age range or pique their interest. As with movies, albums and books featuring explicit content, you can help steer kids towards more viable substitutes that are equally compelling for healthier or more constructive reasons.

Fox: Is Bulletstorm one of the more egregious examples are are there a lot of other more violent games?

Steinberg: Like comic books, rock-and-roll and film, video games have long been subject to vilification for their subject matter due to popular misconceptions that they’re meant for children, when in fact the average player is actually a mature, discerning adult in their mid-30s. Accordingly, there’s been a long and storied range of titles featuring graphic and violent content (among other, more mundane subjects and fanciful topics) that speaks to this audience, just as there have been a long and storied range of films and TV shows (see: The Godfather, The Sopranos, every horror movie stocking movie store rental shelves since the ‘70s, etc.) that speak to moviegoers with more adult tastes. From Postal to Grand Theft Auto III to Scarface: The World is Yours, you could cite a grand history of supposedly “egregious” games dating back to the halcyon days of early arcade and computing hits such as Death Race and Leisure Suit Larry. But the reality is that the vast majority of all games produced are perfectly suitable for children and adolescents. BulletStorm just happens to be one of many examples that fall into the category of games for mature audiences, but it’s hardly among the more head-turning ones, as those who’ve played previous outings such as human prey simulator Manhunt 2 can attest.

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