Video games.  The very medium which all of us here at Slimgamer as well as all of you sexy people who are reading this love, seem to have a bit of a bad reputation at times. This is perhaps no surprise when you consider how realistic video games have become. This is no more apparent then when it comes to depicting violence in games – who could forget the uproar with the supposed “rape” scene in Square Enix’s upcoming Tomb Raider reboot? – and it’s easy, at times, to blame video games for violent crimes as they are hugely popular and for those reasons have become an easy scapegoat.

Although there has never been any evidence to suggest that video games made anybody kill anyone or perform any other violent and despicable act. Sometimes video games border on taking the violent aspect too far. Take the 2004 game by Rockstar – Manhunt, as an example. The game saw you – the player – playing as a death row inmate encouraged to conduct a series of brutal murders for the sick pleasure of a snuff movie director. In fact, not only were you “encouraged” to perform these brutal and violent killings, the game actively encouraged you to hold down the attack button for longer so you would perform an even more brutal murder and get the high score and in an attempt to really hammer (excuse the pun) the point home, each time you performed an execution the camera would shift to an up close CCTV type camera view so you could see the killing in all it’s visceral brutality.

 

Manhunt. The game which started it all....

 

When a game is that violent, it’s going to produce controversy that’s just a fact. In fact it’s the same with any form of media, be it video games, movies or even books/comics (lets not forget the toddler James Bulger who was sadly killed after his killers supposedly watched Childs Play.) And produce controversy is just what Manhunt did. And it came from almost every media outlet, including TV, newspapers and radio and hardly a day went by without someone saying the game should be banned. Although controversy was something Rockstar were well used to by then – thanks in large to 2003’s Grand Theft Auto 3 – Even some of the Rockstar employees who helped develop and make Manhunt thought they were crossing a line at the time, most famously Rockstar employee Jeff Williams wrote on his blog in 2007 that the game was never unanimously revered among developers saying that “there was almost a mutiny at the company over the game” and that it “just made us all feel icky. It was all about the violence, and it was realistic violence. We all knew there was no way we could explain away that game. There was no way to rationalize it. We were crossing a line”.

This controversy wasn’t something which was going to go away easily either. In fact the game and it’s violence was solidified in the public’s mind after the killing of Stefan Pakeerah in July 2004 by his friend Warren LeBlanc. Stefan Pakeerah’s mother, Giselle Pakeerah, claimed that her sons killer had been “obsessed” with the game after he pleaded guilty to the killing in court. During the subsequent wall to wall exposure of the game major retailers took the game off their shelves and refused to stock it. Including international branches of GAME and Dixons. This of course led to a huge increase in demand for the game both from retailers and internet auction sites such as ebay. The police denied any link between the game and the murder citing drug related robbery as the motive and in court, the presiding judge also agreed with the police and placed sole responsibility with Warren LeBlanc, sentencing him to life imprisonment.

Of course it’s not just games by Rockstar like GTA and Manhunt which are violent. Any game developer who puts a disclaimer the first time you load up the game warning you that one level is particularly gruesome, must be slightly worried about the level of brutality in the game, and the effect it may have on some people. Setting themselves up for the controversy it may bring.

Indeed even the powerhouse which is Call of Duty has had it’s fair share of controversy due to the violent nature and particularly gruesome scenes. Although now, it seems to me that they put in these scenes so that they cause as much controversy as they can to be used as some sort of publicity for the game which is actually quite given that a game as popular and well loved as COD has to resort to that level. For instance, you can’t forget the airport scene in Modern Warfare 2 where you were playing the part of a terrorist and gunning down everyone (including children) who stood in your way whether they were shooting back at you or not.

 

 

The scene which seemed to cause the most controversy with the newspapers and other forms of media though was the level where you are playing as the SAS, chasing terrorists through the underground on their specially prepared train whilst you follow through the tunnel in a couple of Range Rovers. The tabloids decided that this was a carbon copy of the July 7th London bombings which happened in 2005, which suggested that the papers were desperate and were looking for something. Anything, to be offended by. Presumably then they had no idea what happened in the July 7th bombings. Needless to say, it didn’t involve the SAS chasing a group of terrorists down the Piccadilly line.

Or indeed the scene in Modern Warfare 3 where you see a child being gruesomely blown up in a terrorist attack. Which was a powerful scene, not least because for the first time it made you think about the human loss of war and the loss of innocent civilians and, unlike the airport level in MW2, it wasn’t you who killed her, it was the terrorists. Making the entire sequence of events you’ve just played seem instantly more justifiable as a result. Although I don’t suppose Jeremy Kyle would see it like that.

EA were also guilty of using violence to cause controversy and as a consequence, publicity.

In Battlefield 3 there’s a particular level where you are forced to shoot police officers who are innocent bystanders in the situation. Yet EA seem to justify this by saying that because there’s a nuke in the middle of Paris and there’s millions of lives at stake it makes it okay to shoot innocent people. And in what could be seen as an even bigger way to create controversy/publicity Battlefield producer Patrick Bach said in an interview with Digital Spy “If you put the player in front of a choice where they can do good things or bad things, they will do bad things, go to the dark side – because people think it’s cool to be naughty, they won’t be caught” Which leads the cynical person in me thinking that he said these things just to produce lots of publicity. Which is strange because the one thing BF3 wasn’t missing was publicity.

Epic Games 2011 first person shooter is also a fine example of games and developers using the violence as an excuse to drum up publicity. Bulletstorm actively encourages you to rip enemies limb from limb, kick them into spikes and drag them through barbed wire using the leash. With the violence only being broken up by use of humour and a very clechéd story. But not only does the game encourage you to kill enemies in more and more brutal ways, it rewards you for finding new and more interesting/brutal ways of ripping your enemies head off by giving you points to spend on weapons etc.

Of course it’s easy to assume that controversy and violence in video games is fairly recent phenomenon, given the graphic and technical capabilities of newer games consoles and more powerful PC’s. But it isn’t. In fact controversy and violence has always been in video games, even video games from my childhood.

When I was a child growing up in the 80’s, most parents assumed that video games were made for children so there couldn’t possibly be any violence and controversy in them (unsurprising really if you consider that the first every video game – Pong, was released less than a decade before), unlike today where a lot of games are made solely for adults hence the introduction of the PEGI rating system and why a lot of games have 18 certificates or are rated “M” for mature.

An early example of video games causing controversy is 1982’s Custer’s Revenge. Developed and published for the Atari 2600 by Mystique, the game saw you playing as a character based heavily on George Armstrong Custer – an American Civil War General who was reportedly responsible for a failed mission, as he and all of his men were killed at the Battle of Little Bighorn – more popularly known as Custer’s Last Stand. In the game though, you played as General Custer who was depicted in the game as a naked man wearing nothing but a cowboy hat and boots, and sporting an obvious erection. Custer has to overcome arrow attacks to reach the other side of the screen. His goal being to have sex with a naked Native American woman tied to a pole. The game caused huge uproar in the United States when it released not only for it’s depiction of a naked man with an erection but also for the depiction of rape.

The developers of Custer’s Revenge knew the game would cause an uproar as the game was sold in sealed plain packaging with a label which said “NOT FOR SALE TO MINORS” and even came with instructions of what to say if your kids saw you playing it. The literature stated “If the kids catch you and should ask, tell them Custer and the maiden are just dancing” even the back of the packaging states “She’s not about to take it lying down, by George help! Help is on the way. By God! He’s coming” so they were obviously trying to cause controversy, presumably so they could sell more copies. And it worked, the game sold and the uproar was huge, particularly from women’s rights groups who stated that the game was a simulation of rape. Native American spokespersons and critics of the video game industry in general protested the game. Most famous was Andrea Dworkin, a radical feminist best known for her criticism of pornography, linking it to rape and violence against women. She claimed that the game “generated many gang rapes of native American women” and pressured legislators to ban the game completely. Which eventually it was but not before selling approximately 80,000 copies, twice as many as Mystiques other adult only games.

Custer's Revenge, a game not short of controversy.

 

 

Carmegeddon. A game which was released in 1997 produced by Stainless Games and published by Interplay and SCI was a game based on the movie Death Race 2000 (this of course wasn’t the first game to be based on that movie. 1976’s Death Race was the first and the aim of that game was just run as many people over as possible). Carmegeddon saw you racing computer controlled opponents in various settings including city, mine and industrial areas. Players had a set amount of time in which to complete races but more time could be gained by “wasting” other drivers and running over pedestrians. And it was that which caused the most controversy and in fact the developers were forced to change the humans which obviously had red blood to zombies who had green blood and robots who bled oil. The running over of non-human figures was considered more acceptable by the ratings boards at the time, although personally, I don’t really see the difference. Running people over is running people over no matter what colour they bleed.

Of course the media can be blamed for promoting the violence in some video games, as lets face it, any publicity is good publicity. And if it gets people talking about the game; from a business point of view – that’s free advertising! However the media usually are just looking for a scapegoat and an angle to make a good story. But is there any truth in what they say?

After the Columbine shootings in 1999 the media were quick to try and point fingers anywhere they could, frequently blaming cultural elements like violent video games and aggressive music. Although it was well publicized that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were huge fans of the games Doom and Wolfenstein 3D. A US psychologist Jerald Block said of the killers “Klebold and Harris were immersed in video games like Doom, and their lives were most gratifying while playing in a virtual world” It was also rumoured that Harris had created levels for Doom which recreated their school – although these particular rumours were never proven. There was also never any solid evidence proving that the killers played violent video game which caused them to carry out the shootings.

Were these games responsible for Columbine?

 

But it seems we may be going down the route of blaming video games again. We all remember of course the tragic events and shooting that took place in Aurora Colorado a few months ago. “The Batman Shootings” as it became popularly known. It was a tragic event and of course our thought’s here at Slimgamer are with the victims familys.

But it didn’t take long for the media to delve into the private life of the killer. And perhaps unsurprisingly, it was found that he was a fan of video games. Criminal profiler Pat Brown went on TV shortly after the killing and theorized that that night, “James Holmes had the best night of his life and one that he had extensively planned for” also guessing that this planning may have involved playing violent video games. Brown stated “This has been something he has really been into. And now we’re going to find, probably on facebook or anybody who knows him will say, ‘Yeah, he did have a lot of interest in that. He was always playing the video games. And I’m not saying video games make you a killer. But if you’re a psychopath, video games help you get in the mode to do the killing. So it is a problem in our society with teenage psychopaths, that they do get inspired by this and want to make it real.”

This problem with the media pointing fingers and blaming video games for seemingly everything that’s wrong in the world isn’t just limited to the right wing media either. Members of the Association and Teachers union in the UK have expressed concern over violent games. Claiming that children have been mimicking violent games in the playground. Indeed the junior vice-president of the ATL said that children have been “Throwing themselves out of the window of the play car in slow motion and acting out blood spurting from their bodies” she then went on to say that this is a result of children playing video games.

Naturally the UK press were drawn to this story like flies to excrement, desperate to find any link they could between violence and video games. Unfortunately they couldn’t find any link so they were forced to massively sensationalise the story and use pictures of overweight kids joyfully smiling with an Xbox controller in their hand. Failing to show the kid was actually playing Viva Pinatá and not killing prostitutes.

However it’s no surprise that video games are violent, after all, entertainment generally gets inspiration from real life and we do live in a world full of violence. Quite honestly I find it incomprehensible that people can even suggest that violent video games can make anybody do anything they don’t already have the desire to go and do. When I was a child, my friends and I would simulate car crashes and fly out the window in slow motion and I can categorically say that I have never once slept with a prostitute and killed her afterwards or set fire to a hamster.

Although video games may be responsible for a lot of things, the one thing video games don’t do, is cause desire. I believe that all humans are capable of killing another person if it came to it – be it for self preservation or protecting your child. However they simply cannot make someone suddenly have the desire to go out and kill for no reason, but whenever there is a mass killing somewhere, the first thing you hear from the media is the killer was a huge fan of Call of Duty or Bulletstorm or any other violent game and that therefore MUST be the cause of it. But we need to differentiate between cause and desire.

Video games have a nasty and all too easy habit of being used as a scapegoat to show what’s wrong in the world today. People are sometimes too quick to say that it is simply that we (as a race) are allowing children to spend too much time playing video games. But is that really the case? I’ll leave you with this and let you decide…If a child spends 20-30 hours a week reading The Hobbit or The Lord of The Rings trilogy, it’s generally accepted as a healthy intellectual hobby. But if a child spends 20-30 hours a week playing Skyrim, that child is seen as being addicted to “fantasy worlds that separate you from reality” This seems like a rather outdated stereotype and one, which in my opinion needs to change.