Much like seasonal allergies and taxes, the gaming populace is periodically subjected to mainstream news coverage of its favorite entertainment medium. And while said coverage is often laced with inaccurate statements and fear-laden non sequiturs, it doesn't usually ask questions in the headline like Fox News' latest treatment: "Is Bulletstorm the Worst Video Game in the World?"
Our brief time with the game's demo -- not to mention the time we spent playing Superman 64 so many years ago -- certainly gives us the impression that Bulletstorm isn't "the worst video game in the world," but we get the feeling that Fox's John Brandon is asking something else.
Brandon leads his piece with a warning that, "There's a Bulletstorm on the horizon," before launching into two paragraphs describing the game in a ... less than objective tone.
"In the new video game Bulletstorm due February 22, players are rewarded for shooting enemies in the private parts (such as the buttocks). There's an excess of profanity, of course, including frequent use of F-words. And Bulletstorm is particularly gruesome, with body parts that explode all over the screen.
But that's not the worst part.
The in-game awards system, called Skill Shots, ties the ugly, graphic violence into explicit sex acts: 'topless' means cutting a player in half, while a 'gang bang' means killing multiple enemies. And with kids as young as 9 playing such games, the experts [that] FoxNews.com spoke with were nearly universally worried that video game violence may be reaching a fever pitch."
Thankfully, Fox's "experts" were on-hand to give reactions, though Rock, Paper, Shotgun points out that at least one expert's opinion was heavily edited before making an appearance in the piece. The site contacted M2 Research's Billy Pidgeon -- one of three "experts" quoted in Fox's piece, and the only one named a "defender" of Bulletstorm -- who revealed Fox's original, agenda-heavy questions, as well as his own original responses in full. The following is the first question Fox's reporter put to his "experts."
"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?"
Perhaps unsurprisingly, both Dr. Jerry Weichman (clinical psychologist at the Hoag Neurosciences Institute in Southern California) and Carole Lieberman (psychologist and book author) condemn violent games for their alleged affect on children. "Violent video games like Bulletstorm have the potential to send the message that violence and insults with sexual innuendos are the way to handle disputes and problems," Weichman leveled. It's possible, of course, that Weichman was just heavily edited.
When Billy Pidgeon answered the initial question, he gave this response:
"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."
What ended up in Fox's story, however, is something very different. "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," Pidgeon is quoted as saying.
Lieberman, however, goes right for the factually inaccurate jugular, saying, "The increase in rapes can be attributed in large part to the playing out of [sexual] scenes in video games." We contacted Ms. Lieberman for comment and evidence backing up her statement, but have yet to hear back. Gamers, it seems, have already reacted to Lieberman's comments, attacking one of her books with one-star Amazon customer reviews and scathing words -- the same reaction gamers had to Cooper Lawrence's attack on Mass Effect.
Additionally, the game's publisher, Electronic Arts, is only cursorily quoted in Fox's story, saying only, "Bulletstorm has been given an 'M' rating by the ESRB, and we have adhered to all their guidelines in regards to the marketing and promotion of Bulletstorm." Game Informer spoke with EA's VP of public relations, Tammy Schachter, who defended her company's creative freedom.
"As you know, Bulletstorm is a work of entertainment fiction that takes place in the 26th century on the abandoned fictitious paradise planet Stygia, where our heroes fight mutants, monsters, flesh-eating plants and gigantic dinosaurs.
Epic, People Can Fly and EA are avid supporters of the ESA and believe in the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) rating system. We believe in and abide by the policies put in place by the ESRB.
Bulletstorm is rated M for Mature for blood and gore, intense violence, partial nudity, sexual themes, strong language and use of alcohol. The game and its marketing adhere to all guidelines set forth by the ESRB; both are designed for people 17+. Never is the game marketed to children.
Epic, People Can Fly and EA support the right of artists to create works of entertainment fiction for consumers of all ages, including adults who enjoy action adventures like Bulletstorm. Much like Tarantino's Kill Bill or Rodriguez's Sin City, this game is an expression of creative entertainment for adults."
And we tend to agree with Schachter's assessment. Bulletstorm's over-the-top delivery of crude, puerile humor and gore may be offensive to some, but it's also intended for folks over the age of 18. Thankfully, though, mainstream news now has its one violent game story for the year quotient filled. We're really hoping John Brandon's never heard of Duke Nukem Forever.