Shocking Publicity – Games in the Media

An interesting few things were raised in one of my recent Ludology classes on the subject of games in the media. The big one being two recent ‘negative press’ stories, one regarding Dungeons & Dragons and the other on upcoming FPS Bulletstorm. I had spotted brief notes on these over on the Twitterverse, but I’ve only recently looked up the full stories.

Games have been the scapegoat for many years, and these two stories are just two in a sea of hundreds.

‘A threat to prison security’
According to a judge on the seventh circuit of the United States Court of Appeals, prison officials in an American jail were justified in confiscating D&D materials (handbooks and notes) from prisoners in order to stop the game ‘encouraging gang activity’.

According to the ruling, the Dungeon Master can represent a gang leader in the way he sets up situations for the players to deal with and ‘issues direction’ to them. And one risk that was noted was of: “D&D players looking to Dungeon Masters, rather than to the prison’s own carefully constructed hierarchy of authority, for guidance and dispute resolution.”

Do the words ‘just a game’ not apply? Surely by engaging themselves in a group activity such as this, the prisoners are doing something OTHER than forming a gang? Games like Risk and chess are still allowed; in Risk you are effectively trying to rule the world and defeating every other player. In chess you are stealing or defeating a player’s pieces in order to stop them from being able to make a legal move. Faux-world domination is fine, but throwing Magic Missiles at hobgoblins is apparently an issue.

I wasn’t surprised to hear that Fox News was one of the first to pick up on this. Interestingly, this ruling was made over a year ago but has only recently been picked up by the media.

‘Worst Video Game in the World?’
Once again, Fox News causes an uproar in the gaming world. This time about Epic’s new FPS Bulletstorm, due to be released on the 22nd in the US and 25th in the UK.

I have read the article many times and can understand why so many people have torn it to pieces in rage.

The first thing I noted: “And with kids as young as 9 playing such games”
First off, well done Fox for creating a tiny get-out clause for yourself by using ‘such games’ rather than specifically naming Bulletstorm. The whole underage children buying/being bought age rated games is a story for another blog post (the latter half of the Fox article deals with the problems of ratings not being strictly enforced at retail), but my own thoughts immediately went to “if a child of 9 is playing an 18/M rated game, would they really expect anything less than profanity and gory violence?”

(Little side fact: Bulletstorm’s *lowest* rating is the Australian MA15+ (Mature Accompanied, 15 and older), the same as was given to Dead Rising and The Witcher.)

What annoyed me as a psychology geek was the responses from the psychology professionals they approached on the subject.
“If a younger kid experiences Bulletstorm’s explicit language and violence, the damage could be significant.” Children are highly impressionable, fact. And yes, a child experiencing this could decide to mimic it. But surely then they could be re-educated NOT to use such language and violence through the age-old parenting trick of negative reinforcement. Like most unruly or disruptive behaviour, children can be educated not to behave that way by their guardians and teachers etc. While I am aware there will always be children who decide to do it anyway (behind the backs of their guardians, more than likely), I detest the use of ‘damage could be significant’. It’s too wishy washy, and got me shot down in flames for being ‘too vague’ during research projects.

Next up:
“Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist 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.
“The increase in rapes can be attributed in large part to the playing out of [sexual] scenes in video games,” she said.”

‘Highlighted so well in Bulletstorm’. As the game has not been released, I think it is fair to say that they are only able to make this statement based on demos and trailers and short excerpts of gameplay that they have seen or tried. It’s a pretty big thing to state that Bulletstorm highlights sexual situations and acts well without taking the game in its entirety. Maybe there are big sections of the game without such allusions- until it is released and has been played to its conclusion, we can’t know.

I would also love to know what studies and evidence Lieberman was referring to when she made her second statement; “can be attributed in large part” is a VERY bold statement from a psychology standpoint, and is like a red rag to a bull for other psychologists out to disprove her theories. There are sexual scenes in films and TV shows; admittedly games have the addition of allowing player interaction which may make them feel more involved in what is going on, but I can think of far more films and TV shows with ‘scenes of a sexual nature’ than I can video games (or indeed that Google can provide me search results for).

As a classmate of mine pointed out, is there such a thing as bad publicity for a game? By catapulting Bulletstorm into the media attention they have simply added to its advertising; and with such strong accusations made against it, surely there will be people wanting to buy the game just to see what all the fuss is about? I had a certain level of interest in the game anyway, but after reports such as Fox’s I’m even more keen to give it a go.

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~ by Tegan on February 12, 2011.

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