Yesterday Fox News asked the headline question, "Is Bulletstorm the Worst Video Game in the World?" Which is spectacular. It's a quite remarkable piece of writing, worthy of our own Daily Mail. And why is it the WORST GAME IN THE WORRRRLD? Because they've named some of the Skill Shots with sexual innuendos. Which, they absolutely astonishingly claim, causes rape.
If it weren't scaremongering bullshit that will misinform those who do not understand that their news source makes up any old rubbish, it'd be hilarious. And some lines really are. For instance,
"players are rewarded for shooting enemies in the private parts (such as the buttocks)."
First of all, is a parenthetic explanation really necessary for "private parts"? Were they concerned that readers may think they're talking about a secluded beach house or farm driveway? And secondly, of all the private parts to single out, the bottom is by far the funniest. They wanted to shock their audience, but they don't want to cause them to faint!
However, while the article is all outlandish nonsense, it very quickly descends into something more appalling. After observing that the game has Skill Shots with names like "gang bang" and "topless", and literally nothing else, they conclude that it is promoting rape.
It's an excellent example of letting a loose fact mutate as the story goes on. It begins by saying that the game "ties" violence to sex acts by the use of sex-themed words. Then they quote various medical professionals, the first explaining that,
"If a younger kid experiences Bulletstorm's explicit language and violence, the damage could be significant."
Now it has become "explicit language". That's cited words like "topless", in case you'd forgotten. Then the next quote moves things on a stage further.
"Carol Lieberman, a psychologist and book author, told FoxNews.com that sexual situations and acts in video games -- highlighted so well in Bulletstorm -- have led to real-world sexual violence."
We've gone from a word appearing on-screen that puns something naughty, to highlighting sexual situations. Like a man being topless? Apparently so. And then they hit their mother lode. Lieberman adds,
"The increase in rapes can be attributed in large part to the playing out of [sexual] scenes in video games."
And there they have their story: Bulletstorm, and games like it, cause rape. Now they are "sexual scenes". The mutation is complete. Based on the game's featuring the words "topless" and "gangbang". The quote comes from Carol Lieberman - "psychologist and book author" - whose claim that there's an increase in rapes in the US is peculiar. While we in no way trivialise the severity of sexual crimes, this is purely about investigating the claims made and the related numbers, and they don't hold up.
The number of rape convictions, and indeed reported rapes, has enormously fallen in the US since the 70s (when gaming made its commercial début). This Washington Post article from 2006 discusses how the 85% drop over the last three decades has been a consistent fall, a clear trend in the numbers going down. UN statistics show that there were fewer rapes in the US in 2009 than there were in 2008. Not significantly fewer, certainly, but no indication of the quoted increase. Let alone an increase that can be attributed to the apparent sexual scenes in video games.
So who is Dr. Carol Lieberman? She's a TV shrink, her name spelt correctly is Carole Lieberman, and she has no stated expertise or insight into videogames. In the 90s she wrote books with titles like, "Bad Boys: Why We Love Them, How to Live with Them, and When to Leave Them" and "Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them & How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets". Then after the events of 2001 turned to tomes such as, "Coping with Terrorism: Dreams Interrupted". (Her website promises that in 2009 she'll be releasing "American Dreams Interrupted: How to Stay Safe and Sane in a Time of Terror", but that doesn't seem to have happened.) We have contacted her to ask for evidence for her claims.
The previous two quotes came from Dr. Jerry Weichman, a clinical psychologist at the Hoag Neurosciences Institute in California. He's a motivational speaker for teens, and his site also bears no suggestion of time spent researching the effects of gaming. We've also contacted him to ask him on what his claims are based.
Things return to the amusingly daft as we continue on, with the claim that the game won't sell well because of this content. The wonderfully named Billy Pidgeon at M2 Research explains to them that games with excessive violence and sexual content "simply don't sell well." Well, that's Fox's summary of what he said (and one that someone should probably tell Activision). But it seems that Pidgeon may not have been talking about Bulletstorm at all. In fact, I wonder if he knew specifically what he was being asked about, since his quote appears to be completely out of context. Edit: Pidgeon has confirmed for us that his quotes were taken wildly out of context - you can see the full version of his statement to Fox News here.
"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."
It should probably be pointed out that another explanation of the poor sales of those games is that they were bloody awful. We've contacted M2 Research to find out if their quote was in context, and whether they believe the same is true of Bulletstorm as of games like BMX XXX and Postal.
The story then twists off into the ongoing tussle regarding the attempts to make game ratings become legally enforceable in the US. A Ph.D. informs us that "9 year olds are playing games like Bulletstorm", which is bloody unfair, as we've not even got review code yet. And then they explain that the ESRB's description of the game is "too graphic" for them to print, before printing by far the juiciest bits. The only line they appear too blush-faced to include is the description of the swear words included, despite the delicate flowers at the ESRB having censored them themselves: "Language such as "f**k," "sh*t," "p*ssy," and "c*ck" can be heard in dialogue."
They throw up their hands in frustration at their being ignored by Epic, People Can Fly, and, er, Microsoft when they approached them for comment. And then, amazingly, they get specifically huffy because Warner Bros., who the story states have nothing to do with the game at all, told them they didn't have a comment. Marvellous! Perhaps they should also have become indignant when McDonald's and Exxon didn't get back to them.
At the very end of the article there's a quote from Hal Levy of the National Youth Rights Association defending the game, who gets the final word saying, "Plenty of emotionally unstable adults will play the game and they’ll be fine." But that's a blip at the end, preceded by the snooty statement, "those who don’t see a problem with Bulletstorm praise the game."
So there you go. Bulletstorm causes rape. That's your take-home message. Of course it was always a game that was going to engender some degree of outrage. It's clearly trying to, in its gleefully naughty way, from its ultra-cartoon-violence to its provocative advertising campaign. But perhaps they weren't expecting something quite as remarkable and outlandish as the Fox News response.
We will update you if any of the experts get in touch.