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Sex, violence and video games

Reconciling the irreconcilable
By MITCH KRPATA  |  April 23, 2008


Not-so-great moments in video game controversy history. By Mitch Krpata
The crime rate is about to skyrocket in Liberty City. Car-jackings, muggings, even thrill killings will sweep the streets, and in the process turn a generation of young people into glassy-eyed, violence-for-pleasure-seeking zombies. At least, that’s what critics of Grand Theft Auto IV would have you believe.

Popular culture has always had a bogeyman. In the 1950s, it was comic books. In the 1980s, the graphic lyrics of gangsta rap and the satanic imagery of heavy metal were separately blamed for inciting violence. These days, it’s most often video games being accused of leading the nation’s youth astray. Whether it’s pundits blaming Doom for the Columbine massacre, or Wal-Mart refusing to sell Manhunt 2 with its gruesome execution scenes intact, games have become the new front in the cross-cultural battle about the limits of expression.

The release of Grand Theft Auto IV on April 29 will, inevitably, be another flash point. And the latest installment of the controversial franchise ups the ante: its Liberty City is an almost exact recreation of New York, including four boroughs and part of New Jersey. Previews have shown landmarks bearing resemblances to such famous places as the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. Far from swaddling itself in the cloak of fantasy, Grand Theft Auto IV seems to be daring critics to attack its nakedly authentic setting.

It’s worked. Florida attorney Jack Thompson, one of the most strident anti-games voices around, described the newest GTA installment as “a murder simulator for violence against women, cops, and innocent bystanders” and promised to bring legal action against the game’s publisher, Rockstar Games, and its parent company, Take-Two Interactive, if any copies of the game were sold to minors.

And it’s not just graphic violence. Game-industry critics object to any overt or implied elements of sex or racism that crop up in the course of play. Often, the gaming community’s knee-jerk defense against these critics is to contend that they don’t know what they’re talking about. In many cases, this is true. But in their haste to polish their pet medium’s reputation, gamers ignore the other side of the coin — namely that, in some instances, the bluenoses have a point.

The truth is that some games are irresponsible in regard to the fantasies they effectively promote. But instead of arguing for the validity of games on their merits, gamers may blindly lash out at their critics. Passionate advocacy means engaging our antagonists, not attacking them. It means not taking the bait. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done.

Fatal flaw
This isn’t the first time Thompson has spoken out against the GTA series. He was also among the first to condemn the “Hot Coffee” modification for the PC version of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas — the user-created download that unlocked a mini-game in which the protagonist was shown having sex with his girlfriend. Surprisingly, this sparked a greater uproar than the series’ violence ever had. (A recent survey by, a gaming-advocacy Web site, found that more parents were worried about their children encountering a sex scene in a game than a severed head.)

As a result of his vigorous crusading, Thompson may just be the most hated man in games. He’s traded barbs publicly with journalists, developers, and, most famously, the former head of the Entertainment Software Association, Doug Lowenstein. In 2005, Thompson wrote an open letter to Lowenstein titled “A Modest Video Game Proposal.” He offered to donate $10,000 to charity if a publisher would create and sell a game in which an angry father beats the employees of a video-game company to death with a baseball bat. Although the satire was muddled, at best, several amateur game-makers took him up on the offer.

The results, while justified in the minds of their miffed creators, illustrated a fatal flaw within the gaming community. Thompson’s hysterics should have been greeted with the attention they deserved — that is, none at all. He’d given himself enough rope. To actually make such a game — or to modify existing games to include Thompson's visage — merely proved his point about video-game violence for violence’s sake.

UNIDENTIFIED FLYING ORGASM? If you played things right in BioWare’s Mass Effect, you could have sex with a comely alien.
As a matter of fact
This past winter, a Fox News program called The Live Desk with Martha MacCallum devoted a segment to the Xbox 360 game Mass Effect — specifically, to a scene in the game in which the playable character has sex with a comely alien.

It’s important to note that certain fairly specific conditions have to be met for this allegedly lurid cinematic to appear. Every action the player takes over the course of the game, including what responses he chooses in conversations, can open up differing dramatic paths. It’s possible to play the game and not encounter the sex scene at all. If you do chance upon it, it’s because you’ve taken the time to establish a relationship between your character and the alien. Bared purple flesh notwithstanding, it’s one of the more responsible depictions of carnal relations ever found in a game.

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Sex, violence and video games
When we say 'its just a game' we mean that we aren't really having sex with blue aliens. Games can be art without being confused with reality.
By Craig McGillivary on 04/25/2008 at 12:29:20
Sex, violence and video games
Ok, I get that perhaps the content can get a bit risque and violent. But racist? (Res. Evil 5) C'mon! The game takes place in Africa! Was RE4 anti-European or anti-causcasian cause it took place there? What about all the different races (of zombies) in all the other games. Am I a specieist cause I jumped on a Koopa? Or anti-vampire cause i've slayed tons of them? I totally agree that there should be more and non-stereotypical African American roles in video games but just cause an African village is overrun with zombies and you have to kill them doesn't mean you're racist! Once, just once, i'd love to see an anti-video game demagogue actually play the game they're railing against! And AGAIN with the kids! It's a Mature rated game. It's NOT FOR KIDS! Kids aren't supposed to be playing it! It shouldn't be teaching the kids anything because they should be playing Mario Kart or Zelda! Talk to the parents that will buy the game for their kids without any hesitation. It's these lazy-ass parents that are ruining the industry for the rest of us. The rest of us, who just happen to be the game designer's target audience and core demographic (the average age of video game players is in the mid-20's now). Ridiculous!
By Dangerboi on 04/25/2008 at 2:38:23
Sex, violence and video games
I'm a Sociology major, who has studied psychology and looking to switching into to that field. I'm also a proud gamer since the age of 2, but enough about me I want to talk about this article. With the evidiance you have provided I can agree that some video games are what I like to call "outlandish" by offeniding the adverage parent, or anyother non-gamer. While some games can be questioned about their tactics, as you proved that RE (Resident Evil) 5 does look like a video game that targets racism. As you said in the article, one can argue that in order to not be offended by this obviously offencesive concept, one has to know the whole story. Then again, that can be said about any game on the market. The point I'm trying to make here though that even if some evidance shows that video games do have some responiablity of encouraging violence in teens, so don't parents own reering. It's not just the games the gamers play, but about how their parents raise these teens to look pass the racism and violance in games and to tell them that it is just a game. Even if this seems too harsh, but the truth is that is what sells sometimes. I'm not racist promise you, I'm Asian; but if you look at news media, they're always covering nothing but murders and robberies. Just the other day I saw a story about a guy who gets shot by some cops in his own wedding! Yet, no one seems to complain that could also encourage violence. You state in the article that there were no acts that were being pushed towards prohibiting minors from R-rated movies, as there was towards games. Is that honestly fair to point fingers at just gaming? What about those R-rated movies too? Don't they, to a certain degree, encourage violence? Is car bombings in a movie more acceptable under the First Amendment, and that same car bombing isn't acceptable if it's in a video game just because it's you invisioning yourself in that character? Also if you did outlaw video games, you do realize that is a somewhat huge dent in both the world economy, and the US economy. In conclusion, what I'm trying to say it's all about how one's life is socialized. What I mean is course, is child rearing and how these teens encode messages not only through gaming, but through their peers, and other things exposed to them in the media. As long as parents, raise their teens right they should know the difference between right and wrong. As long as they think the game as just a story or concept in a game, and don't take the game's story or concept outside of the game world. As long as they have a good distingtion of the real world and game world, and lastly have their morals straight then they, like me, can be "normal" gamers and just enjoy it for what it suppose to do, which would be to act as a imagination enhancer. With parents reering their childeren the right way, we can assure safe gamers.
By The Elite Spear on 04/27/2008 at 7:57:00
Sex, violence and video games
In the past games have asked us to kill asians (Red Steel, Deus Ex), hispanics (Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter), and middle easterners (Call of Duty 4). I believe games should be able to choose their setting. I think I speak for most gamers over 20 when I say that we are sick of space stations, sewers, and warehouses. It's true that these settings offend no one and that is why they are so widely used, but you can only wade through so many sewers. So yeah. I want to play a game set in Africa. If we attack RE5 (and COD4, GRAW, Deus Ex, etc) for taking the chance with setting, we would only set the clock back on the industry. I believe we're at a turning point--games will either ascend to a legitimate place in the artistic pantheon or remain forever the domain of the 18-30 male demo. In Mass Effect and GTA IV, we're seeing games that are driven by character, story, and setting every bit as much as they are gameplay. All of these things have the possibility to be offensive. Characters can be unlikable (even racist), stories can be dark, and settings can be controversial. Part of the transformation of games into something that isn't 'just a game' is incorporating these elements. Look. The protagonist of RE5 is not a white hooded fascist. I would be very surprised if the game shipped without some heavy handed "Assassin's Creed" style disclaimer. I would be equally surprised if the dialogue wasn't loaded with mea culpas. As the seriousness of the charge increases, the weight of the evidence required to convict does as well. This is something that professional activists fail to understand when they refer to something as racist and subsequently offer little evidence of actual racism. All we know is the color of the skins involved. Not enough.
By rateoforange on 04/28/2008 at 12:54:03
Sex, violence and video games
at a recent event at harvard law school, a veteran of the iraq war described how compared to the first gulf war it is much easier to get marines to shoot this time around. whereas in 1991 marines had to be encouraged to engage the enemy, this time he felt his job as a young officer he had to hold them back. asked what he thought made the difference, he said: "i 100% attribute it to video games. . . . to me that's the fundamental difference. i'd see my marines in barracks before we left, and what would they be doing on a weekend? they'd be playing first-person shooter video games where they're running around -- you know, medal of honor and all these things -- they're running around a video screen looking at a gun's-eye perspective, shooting people and watching them die. and being rewarded for it. and i think it was just like this conditioning response that they've been exposed to for their whole lives -- these kids grew up on video games. . . . you can't play grand theft auto for five years and not have that twist you." watch the video at: // (link is at the bottom of the page, comment starts at minute 34 of the video)
By triggerhappy on 05/01/2008 at 6:49:31

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