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Opinion: Video Game Ethics And The Coming Bulletstorm
Opinion: Video Game Ethics And The Coming Bulletstorm
January 25, 2011 | By Richard Clark

January 25, 2011 | By Richard Clark
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    91 comments
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[In this opinion piece, Gamasutra contributor Richard Clark considers whether People Can Fly and Epic's forthcoming Bulletstorm crosses ethical lines never before crossed, and, if so, what that could mean for the games industry going forward.]

We kind of asked for it. After the last couple of years in which many video game enthusiasts did everything they could to drive home the medium's artistic validity, and after lauding blatantly flawed games simply because they did something that spoke to the human condition (and rightfully so), it only makes sense that it would come to this.

After all of the rants about the immaturity of the industry, the calls to higher standards, and the comparisons to other mediums, this sort of thing just seems inevitable.

From its unveiling at E3, we knew Bulletstorm would be something special. Claiming that the glut of military shooters had gotten to be a bit much, they sought to solve this problem by producing a pulp sci-fi shooter with a crucial gameplay conceit: creative killing.

Using incredibly large guns, an electric leash, a giant boot and the surrounding environment, players would use their creativity to come up with unique new ways of destroying their enemies.

A Good Idea Gone Bad


Here's the thing: that could be fun. We've all experienced the joy of the flying rag doll effect in videogames, and it only makes sense to exploit that effect and the environment for a gameplay style that feels fresh and unique. But they didn't stop there.

They produced an aesthetic that revels in "skillshots" not only by rewarding them, but by giving them names that do little more than cheer on a sort of sociopathic obsession with causing the enemies the most pain and humiliation possible.

I'm positive that there are a number of things - both good and bad - about the game that we have yet to see, but here's what we know: the game features the stereotypical meathead protagonists (in addition to one female, who is seen brutally emasculating them with her words in the trailer), these protagonists seem to enjoy killing, maiming, and humiliating others.

They are provided ample reason to do so by a conveniently scripted plot that guarantees that the enemies we are faced with are beyond empathy. Their scripted dialogue is meant to be insane, but also dabbles in being incredibly off-color, including lines like "You scared the dick off me!" and "Pull up your skirt and strap that dildo on!"

A Unique Kind of Excessiveness

We've seen these features before. Games have always been violent, and they've often reveled in brotastic protagonists who serve as ciphers for our own power fantasies. Games have always featured lame and offensive dialogue. The difference between those games and Bulletstorm, though, is the intentional nature of all of these things.

Bulletstorm is meant to shock and offend, but ultimately, to titillate. While games have portrayed violence, and shocked the public sense the beginning, rarely has a such a mainstream AAA title been so blatantly unabashed about the nature of the game. In the 70s, the arcade game Death Race, arguably the reason for the first video game violence related controversy, was conceived with an obvious naivete.

In Tristan Donovan's book, Replay, developer Howell Ivy said, "We had no idea that it would cause any controversy. The game was fun and challenging. There was no underlying motivation or thoughts in creating the first controversial video game."

Compare that with the recent marketing videos for Bulletstorm. The game developers, producers and writers describe the game in the most provocative way possible. The protagonists are described as the "premiere basasses of motherfucktown."

Both the hero and the villain are referred to as dicks, though when it comes to the protagonist, "you love him at the same time." It's not clear in the trailer why, though one can presume it's because he acts as our avatar in a supremely self-indulgent and inhumane fantasy.

The marketing low-point? The infamous Cliff Bleszinsky sarcastically brags, "I made a video game where you can blow out another man's ass-hole."

And yeah, it's possible. That commercial ends with a quick cut to a man's anus being shot with burning bullets, and overflowing as he screams bloody murder and falls face first to the ground. In fact, it's the sexual subtext of much of the dialogue, marketing and in-game text and actions that is most disturbing.

By encouraging players to pull off such skillshots as "Facial", "Gang Bang" and "Bad Touch", Bulletstorm becomes far more than just another violent videogame. Mortal Kombat's spine-removal and explosive blown kisses seem perfectly reasonable (and very well may be) in the face of Bulletstorm's seemingly complete lack of any social responsibility.

Coming To Terms

To be clear, I have no problem with this game being legal. I stand with the majority of the gaming industry against the pointless law that would legislate against the sale of this type of game to any demographic. It's up to adults to make rational decisions about these types of games based on research and the rating system.

In a sense, we should expect and accept these types of things. They represent the same thing that certain types of films, books and albums represent: a wide net, capable of encompassing every possible expression of the human condition, even if that expression is, by most outside accounts, undesirable and troubling. In a way, I'm glad we've finally arrived at this point.

This game very well could provide the impetus for game reviewers and critics to begin reviewing games with values in mind. After all, it would be a shame if this was considered one of our "critically acclaimed" offerings. The ones making this game are doing everything they can to let us know that this is like no other game we've ever seen. Can we please keep it that way?

[Richard Clark is the editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture, where he often writes about video games. He and his wife live in Louisville, KY. He can be reached at deadyetliving at gmail dot com or followed on twitter (@deadyetliving).]


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Comments


Jacek Wesolowski
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I wonder if sites that don't put "Christ" in their names are going to share your opinion. I hope they do, but that's because Bulletstorm is not in my taste, so maybe I'm being bitter. In game's defence, I think it's meant to be a kind of interactive equivalent of 4chan, rather than an interactive snuff movie. 4chan can be somewhat disgusting at times, but it's mostly harmless.



I do find it interesting that a game's design and "message" can be dominated to such extent by a single personality (not Cliff's). I don't believe in the kind of strict hierarchy People Can Fly had back when I worked there, but I don't think there's much future for design-by-committee, either.

Richard Clark
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@Jacek - I did think long and hard about that question, whether others that didn't share my own religious convictions might feel the same way. I think the things I bring up in this article are pretty universal ideas, not limited to a specific religion, so I do think there are some thoughtful people who may sympathize with my arguments here. If not, that's fine. I just thought it was important that someone, somewhere voice some kind of concern.

Aaron Karp
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@Richard - I have really enjoyed your contributions to Gamasutra, and I've never found your religious convictions to be an integral part of your articles here (beyond the obvious way in which they form the underpinnings of your moral convictions). Keep up the great work.

Eli Friedberg
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I second Mr. Karp's statement. I don't consider myself a particularly religious person, but that doesn't mean I don't care deeply about morality and the way it is approached in mass media. Someone should be looking at ethics and good taste in games, because most players and critics don't seem to care.

Richard Clark
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Thanks so much, Aaron and Eli. You guys spoke to my deepest concerns about writing this column and its' nice to know that not everyone thinks I'm merely reading my personal convictions into this issue.

Jacek Wesolowski
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Well, for the record, we seem to have similar concerns on the topic, and I'm a left-liberal agnostic. What I was trying to say was that this kind of discourse often becomes dominated by moral panickers, who often wave their religious convictions like a banner. A knee jerk reaction along the lines of "I'll do as I please you medieval zealots, nyah nyah nyah" tends to follow.

Leonardo Ferreira
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You know what? I'm tired of seeing you guys trying to defend these irresponsible, attention-baiting games; these call of duties and duke nukems and the likes. I would like to believe that there is some sort of ironic subtext or commentary in that piece of trash, but I guess it just isn't there; is just mindless lowest-common-denominator entertainment, with the one and only objetive of making as much money as possible of its taget adudiences (pre-teen boys of all ages), at the cost of the credibility of the entire medium.



My point is, these No Russians of the world get an undeserved attention from serious media outlets like this. Let them crash and burn, let them be torn apart by the Thompsons and televangelists, and let's focus on the games that matter.

Jacek Wesolowski
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I would love to live in a world where we could do just that, and that's the main reason why I don't work at People Can Fly anymore.

Adrian Chmielarz
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Sure, Jacek, that's exactly why you don't work at PCF anymore... But let's not go that route.



Leonardo: I partially agree with you. I am the lead designer of Bulletstorm, btw. You have all the right in the world to hate/despite Bulletstorm, and be vocal about it as much as you want - that's a given. If your idea of fighting games like this is to call a "silent boycott", sure, go ahead. It's a free country.



The part where I don't agree is the "pre-teen boys" fragment. No, this game was not designed this way. It's a game for some of those people who love the blood ballet and the language of Kill Bill and other Tarantino movies, who find some of 4chan amusing (in that sense Jacek's parallel works very well), etc. I have co-designed this game for people with similar sensibilities to mine, and I am certainly not pre-teen anymore. And so is the creator of the dialogue, Rick Remender. Feel free to call us immature adults, but that's different to accusing us to trying to cater to "pre-teen boys".



It's probably worth noting at this moment - although I am still scratching my head why are we dicussing a game none of you have played yet - that you can turn off both the foul language and the gore in the game.



Anyway... I do believe this industry will only be considered mature only once it stops being ashamed of itself. There's a place here for everyone and every kind of game, stupid or smart, thought-proviking or bubble-gum. What is "immature" in your eyes certainly haven't hurt cinema or books ...and honestly, I can't say any better than Jim Sterling of Destructoid already did in http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GqJv68pE_cY

Leonardo Ferreira
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Yeah man, I think I got carried away and ended up disrespecting your work; as you said, I am in no position of criticizing its qualities since I haven´t played it yet.I am deeply sorry for being so needlessly harsh...



But my point is, the market of big, mainstream games is already saturated with ultraviolence and profanity-filled titles; it is the norm, not the exception. Bulletstorm seems to stand apart by embracing the immature nature of these elements; that is appealing to a wide audience, and as the start of the text says, it was bound to happen, as audiences search for a new, more extreme emotions with time.The thing is, as a passing glance, ithis is what looks like the only thing the industry is capable of producing; big loud expletive-laden games.



I admit I liked the direction that game was going when the first trailers were launched, the shooters-should-be-fun feel; that is why I watched all the following tralers, because the forced self-seriousness of modern shooters make me cringe. But by the Story trailer, I started to feel bothered by the overall tone of violence, sexual undertones and all (the cursing doesn't really get me, because english is not my native language - and besides that, 15 minutes of Xbox Live can give House of The Dead:Overkill a run for its money).Videogames usually get away with violent content more than other media because of the player immersion, but sometimes it bother me why violence ends up being so banalized in gaming; it´s way different than a movie, because in most games someone dies every few seconds, something that does not happen even in Kill Bill (even professional assasins need expository dialogue).



Its naïve to think that games have no cultural or symbolic message, even if the authors say so; the "its just a game" excuse is no more valid, even in the smallest of games (see the Muslim Massacre snafu). Because of the reach and influence they have on modern society, developers could start thinking about their ethical responsabilities too.Of course there is a public that is going to love the immature and profane stuff (4chan users, as you mentioned), but Bullestsorm don't look like a niche title. And what exactly is the gain of making typical forum filth mainstream without any artistic value (even with the modern internet rhetoric of "it's ironic/its self-aware")?



I'm not proposing that all ultraviolent and profane games should be banned foreverand we should be playing Passage knock-offs for the rest of our days because only art is relevant an so on; a scary amount of modern indie art games are filled with clichés and playing-it-safe scenarios.But I like all sorts of violent, sick stuff, like the works of Quentin Tarantino, Takashi Miike, Garth Ennis and so on. They show that something can be bloody and vile and still be meaningful and have cultural value; it does not need to be "arty" to be art. A great example of a game that does that (and that probably is a design influence in Bulletstorm), is Madworld; its gory, its narration is profane as is hilarious, but the story and overral aesthetics make a clever critique of the vulgarization of violence in comtemporary media, and the ethical voidness that goes along with it.



Again, i'm sorry and a little ashamed of myself for deriding your work; i'm a small (like, really small) time developer, and I can't barely conceive the amount of work and technology that goes in a game of this scale. But precisely because of all the resources, and how many people wil be able to reach, does it have to be so devoided of anything but entertainment, when it could be so much more? My whole angry rant two posts up there was motivated because that seems to be the way how a large number of the decision-makers, the creative people in this industry think.



And Jim Sterling is a sensacionalist troll; I quit reading Destructoid because of him.

Trevor Christman
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Adrian,



I just wanted to take a moment to commend you for placing a gore and language switch in the game. I see lots of people call that stupid, asking 'Who would want that?'.



I want it. Thanks for servicing my minor market segment.



(I wrote a similar tool for Left 4 Dead 1 & 2. You probably have to install the Visual Studio 2010 redistributable for it to run right...I didn't polish the project as much as I should have. http://sourceforge.net/projects/l4d-serenity/)

Adrian Chmielarz
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There's many scenarios when that is very useful. For example, you do buy Bulletstorm for "the dicktits", *but* you want to play a little before kids go to sleep. You're in a different room, so they can't see it - but they can hear it. Turn the language off. Play. Kids go to sleep. Turn it back on. Voila. Helpful.

Robert Gill
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Or maybe:



A.) We should stop trying to be extremists. Not all games are "art"(an ambiguous term btw) or are aspiring to be "art", the same as movies. I'm not going to open this can of worms, but seriously. Especially when half of the people on here are going to bash a game when they don't even work in the industry.



B.) Last time I checked, we can produce whatever we want. Here's food for thought: If you don't like it or agree with it, don't play it. That will send a message better than ranting on forums (note to self: not helping my case here :P).



At the end of the day, the gameplay matters.

Paschalis Agnostos
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Adrian:

"I have co-designed this game for people with similar sensibilities to mine, and I am certainly not pre-teen anymore."



That doesn't really preclude you from having similar sensibilities to pre-teens ...I mean it in a theoretical kind of way. I am not calling you immature or anything ;-)



"Feel free to call us immature adults, but that's different to accusing us to trying to cater to "pre-teen boys""



So what I understand after reading this is you don't try to cater to twelve-year-olds on purpose. It's just a byproduct of doing things you would like to see AND being immature yourselves. Does one get a Game-of-the-Year-award for that?



"Anyway... I do believe this industry will only be considered mature only once it stops being ashamed of itself."



I would think the best place to start is by producing less shameful, cringe-worthy dialogue that dominates even the biggest sellers and most critically acclaimed games of the industry. And at least some reviewers could help by marking down games where everything apart from the mechanics is stupid which I think is the whole point of the article. Please, please, please don't tell me that you think anyone over 18 will be impressed by "premiere badasses of motherfucktown."



I am not even bothered by 'immature'. South Park is immature and I love it. It's just that it has much more going for it. It does its thing in a way that doesn't insult my intelligence as a consumer.

Andrea Shubert
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At what point is violence-for-violence-sake worth an AO rating?

Eli Friedberg
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This, I think, is a pertinent question. I think there is something slightly askew with our ratings system when games like Halo and Metal Gear Solid are classified in the same age-appropriateness category as games like God of War and Manhunt.

Adrian Chmielarz
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Paschalis Agnostos: seems like you have completely missed the point. To stop being ashamed of itself means to stop being ashamed even of the most "shameful, cringe-worthy dialogue". In other words, when we arrive at the point when you hate the game, but don't associate it with bringing the industry down. Again, there are hundreds of movies - including the best-sellers - that, I am sure, you personally find atrocious - but have they ended the cinematography art?



But I arrived at the point when we're running in circles, so if you still don't agree, it seems like we'll just have to agree to disagree.



Yes, I do think "motherfucktown" is funny as hell. Me, and from I am seeing on the Twitterverse today (after the demo was released) so do thousands of other people. Including writers, EA, Epic and PCF teams who created the game and had a great fun doing so. And we certainly don't hire people below 18 ;)



Who said we're aiming for GOTY? We're aiming to deliver fun to people who find games like Bulletstorm fun. Nothing else, nothing more. I hope you give these people the right to enjoy what they want, not to enjoy what you think would be best for them.



And, once again, congratulations for a well thought critique of the game you have never played.

Drew Dixon
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I think its pretty clear that this article critiques the ad campaign (trailers etc.) of the game and not the game itself. I am sure that Bulletstorm will be a lot of fun, but I also think its pretty clear that the trailers are presenting a game that will appeal to young boys who use a lot of sexual lingo in common parlance.



Additionally, I do not believe this article says that this game is going to destroy the medium and keep it from having artistic merit--the article is just pointing out that Bulletstorm doesn't help. That is a whole different issue than what most folks here seem to be bringing up.

Dominik Dalek
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So it's not the art of making games that's being questioned here but the art of marketing, right?



The article itself is pretty clear with the critique though, I'm stunned that you've missed that. It is about the game and its message revealed through the marketing campaign. (It is safe to assume that game's and ads' messages are at the very least closely related, right?) It is pointing out the lack of social responsibility, which is basically what the real art is supposed to do: influence people in a meaningful, responsible way. That's what we want to think of an art at least.



But there's one problem. I don't give a rat's ass if game is artsy fartsy or not. There's a demographic for unapologetic, brutal, over the top fun. I want games to entertain me. Richard's points are valid if and only if you believe that games should aspire to become art. I don't share his sentiment. Neither does Adrian and I'm fairly certain that there's a huge market hungry for this kind of entertainment. We've been starving for quite some time, trying to survive on a "meaningful games" diet. End of this.



Bulletstorm or Duke Nukem Forever are here to entertain, not to help your agenda. Bulletstorm doesn't help, sure. Criticizing Bulletstorm doesn't help in recognizing games either. It's shitting in your own nest at its best. Yet nobody freaks out over comments like these. Why? Because we're not ashamed of this industry as a whole. For some reason you are.

David Clair
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The rating system is in place for a reason, and gamers and those in the industry might understand the place for this game...



but my fear is what is going to be said by other non-informed parties about this game... and that it may paint gameing as a whole under the blanket of bulletstorm...



Regardless of what we say or feel here.. there is a large majority of people who do not understand the gaming medium and do not treat it like other forms of entertainment...





I would hate so see something like this explode into a congress hearing... or some other such over blown reaction by the public at large...

Megan Fox
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Even if you strive to avoid violence-for-the-sake-of-violence in your own titles - and personally, I tend to, I greatly prefer any violence to have a real narrative purpose, but that's just me - attacking Bulletstorm is like attacking your average summer blockbuster action movie.



There is a place for this kind of absurd over-the-top violence in the market. People enjoy it. It does not make them bad people, any more than it makes someone a bad person to go enjoy an action movie. It ALSO doesn't erode the respectability of games any more than action movies erode the respectability of the rest of the film industry... unless this style of media dominates the industry.



Last I checked, Bulletstorm is one of the very few games like this to come out in the last few years. The last major one before this was Saint's Row 2, as I recall, unless you count the re-releases of Serious Sam, or maybe Prototype. There's no great deluge here to snuff out other games, it's just a few titles parodying the rest via ridiculous over-the-top nonsensical violence, marketed to people that enjoy that.



You're free to not buy them yourselves, but spinning it into an attack on your preferred video game styles is a bit out of place. I choose not to buy the game, you choose not to buy the game, fans of GoW2 et al choose to buy the game, they enjoy it, we ignore it, yay, everyone's happy.



The nightly news will eventually spin this into an absurd story, which no one will pay any more or less attention to than the rest. This will happen regardless of the presence of games like Bulletstorm - without them, the media would just latch on to Gears of War, or the next Grand Theft Auto, or the next game involving any violence whatsoever. It doesn't matter how well-contextualized the violence is to them, they're aiming the story at consumers with no understanding of video games whatsoever. A subsection of that same media does the same with the latest violent action movie, and is a subsection only because movies have been around longer and gained more acceptance. Games will achieve this as well, over time.



The industry's been pretty good over the last year. Bulletstorm's pretty reasonable, all things considered (the comedic presentation of the violence complete with scoring and tomato juice explosions so as to be no where near realistic helps a great deal), and is far from another "No Russian." Personally, I'm pretty happy if this is really the worst it gets .

Aaron Truehitt
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So is this article saying games like this should not be made because it will hurt the game industries image? There are people who like dirty jokes and dirty comedic violence. We shouldn't be telling people what they shouldn't create because it might hurt our image. If people want to keep picking out that games are just silly immature things because of what one developer did, Then thats fine. I like Duke Nukem, and he needs to stay.



Why? Because we have proof that games can be more than just mindless, senseless killing and degrading of women. Shadow of the Colossus, Beyond Good and Evil, Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Silent Hill, etc.



And just because someone enjoys toilet, sex, violence humor, doesn't make them any less of an individual than you. If you think that, then you have your head way to high in the clouds. We all have different things that make us laugh.

eric engen
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you are taking it hard man, its mindless fun and thats all, i'm 26 and i'm very far away from some teenager/frat boy kind of mentality and i'm just waiting to go home and play the demo, it looks like shit loads of fun.

has anyone here played dead space 2? that game has some seriously effed up death scenes, and still and i dont see a problem with it, its in no way different than any of the SAW movies and i dont like them but i have no problem with other people liking them though i do have a problem if a parent lets there 11 year old boy watch it.

jaime kuroiwa
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What I think is unethical is the message of this article, Mr. Clark. For you to assign shame to a game that you haven't played, entirely based on your personal sensibilities, is simply irresponsible. Could it be possible that there's more depth to this game than shooting avatars in the butt? Play the game first, then rattle off all you want. It doesn't work in reverse order.



Bulletstorm was obviously designed (and marketed) to a specific demographic, like any other entertainment. If it was disguised as a children's title and advertised during Saturday morning cartoons, then I'd say an ethical line was crossed, but that is not the case...as far as I know (Adrian?).

Eli Friedberg
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I dunno, man, I'm certainly not above being offended by tasteless content in a video game, but I can't help but think the only real difference between Bulletstorm and a bunch of other contemporary AAA titles is that Bulletstorm is honest about what it is and doesn't even pretend to be serious. For those reasons, I actually kind of respect it, relentless puerility and all. And it can't possibly be more grotesque, pornographic and offensive than the utterly (and at times hilariously) straight-faced God of War III (which it seems no one complained about!).

Jacek Wesolowski
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The question is: to what extent can criticism for your actions be dispelled by stating that you're commiting these actions *ironically*? I think in the context of games it often boils down to whether you're commiting to acts of violence or cruelty.



There is a difference between the two. Violence is when someone gets killed for whatever reason (in battle, by accident, as a narrative device, etc.). Cruelty is, for example, when someone puts extra effort into killing a harmless person. Violence is a widely recognised costume for struggle, and struggle is life. But cruelty just isn't funny, period.



Cruelty is not the same as gore. When you're stealing some mildly valuable loot drop from a newbie in an MMO, it's not particularly violent, but it is a bit cruel. Conversely, there could be much gore in a surgery simulation, but the game itself would be anything but cruel.



And by the way, we totally should have had this discussion with God of War 3. Funny thing is, I do remember watching it being played by my friends during a party, and literally no one liked it, except for the guy who brought it. So this isn't just an academic discussion. A bunch of actual hardcore gamers did not enjoy a hardcore game, precisely because there was too much cruelty in it.

Aietes Giannis
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Very good point!

Cody Scott
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How about we do the smart thing and let the free market decide the direction of the industry.... it there is a market for extremely violent and gorey games then developers will make games to feel that demand. If that market is not big enough then you probably wont see a bullet storm2.



I mean really no one forces anyone to buy a game. and if you want to talk about ethics in the game industry compared to others how about i point you in the direction of movies like saw, or any of the garbage on TV?

Sean Currie
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Trying hard not to make a joke about the free market and the US economy.



Trying but failing.

Robert Gill
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Lol. Mind if I borrow that line?

John Graham
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@Eli Friedberg,

Would you respect a pedophile who drove around the suburbs in a van labeled "Not Really Selling Ice Cream?" -hey, at least he's not pretentious, right?



@everyoneelse: As one who would love to have a career in this industry, I am sickened at those who have found success in this new media and treat it like thier own personal repository for their "tastes."

Until Interactive Media can transcend the level of self-gratification of vices (under the guise of fantasy) and reach a point where the media is treated with some sort of profundity it will forever be tainted by the worst of its content captured in the "Wide Net."



I wish every game developer would try to innovate and push the media to a more noble state (a push that is prevalent in literature and cinema, far moreso than the shock-cinema). We need another debased gore-fest in gaming as badly as we need another Black-Eyed Peas song full of samples.



If given the chance to create, why would you not want to create something to inspire, challenge, progress, etc? What could possibly motivate someone to spend the time, creative energy, and resources on something low brow? Who would want to sit and animate/model/texture a man's anus being shot? It's like the kids in the bathroom who wipe boogers on the wall, and their defense is "I think its cool, therefore I'm justified."

Dominik Dalek
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Do you force your kids to deliver a masterpiece every time they grab a pencil? And even if they are capable of doing so, should they? Or can they have some fun, experiment and all? Besides - anything "different" is a progress. You may not like the direction, fair enough. But that's what experimenting is about: trying and possibly failing, ultimately hoping to create something worth recognition.

John Graham
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If they spend the time in preconception, drafts, and group work, yeah, I expect their finished product to offer something unique and polished.



This game is about as experimental as me dropping a ten pound weight to see if it still falls. The games gimmicks are as trite as they come.



Heres to this failing in the name of progress.

Andrew Sega
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Eh, out of all the ideas in the world, someone spent millions of dollars on this? We really need yet another juvenile gore-filled FPS? At least South Park and Kill Bill have witty dialogue.



That being said, it certainly should have the right to exist, and at least it doesn't take itself seriously.

Theshigen Navalingam
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I know the devs are in it with the joke. But something about it just feels not quite right. All the Bulletstorm trailers have left me cringing. I think it's mainly the dialogue. It's bad.

Eric Geer
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Good article...and good final point. Though I am taking it out of context:



"The ones making this game are doing everything they can to let us know that this is like no other game we've ever seen. Can we please keep it that way?"



I am super excited for this game particularly because we've never seen anything like it. And I hope the industry keeps doing this. Maybe not in the same genre..but keep surprising us...keep things fresh--2010 was a year of AAA sequal, been there done thats---2011 I hope we start it off with a bang.



I generally do not play FPS--because they offer nothing new--the last FPS I played for an excessive amount of time was Borderlands--the next-Bioshock--from here I will probably move to Bulletstorm--then I will make a mention of Brink that has me super intrigued. But other than that--I haven't played a FPS since maybe Halo 1 when I was in college.



Am I excited to blow someones asshole up---I'm not sure...but maybe because I've never been able to do it. I want to see that taken that thinking to other genres---what else could players do with any of the iconic characters/IPs if devs would just let us do it---how many times have you been road blocked by a quite shabbily designed invincible wall? What else could Mario do with a fireball? Why can't I pick up a book thats on a table to hit someone? or even throw a hot cup of coffee in someones face? How come I can't take of Ezio's hood or disguise myself in commoner garb? These are minor things--but it would be nice to be able to do them--because they make sense or could be done in real life(minus Mario's Fireball). There's so many instances in games where I want to do something--but its just not in the design to do something.



I would love to see more of the never seens..never dones. People Can Fly---Keep it coming! And I offer the challege up to all other devs/publishers. I don't want another year of prequels, sequels, trilogies, etc. Enough is enough. Lets step out of the comfort zone--and...uh...um... Strap on that Dildo?!?

John Graham
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if stepping out of the "comfort zone" is laudable, and progressive, then why don't you hop on one leg for a day, or for that matter, punch a board for four hours straight. There is no benefit in experiencing things just becuase you haven't before.

I've never experience PCP or heroin, and I wanna keep it that way.

Eric Geer
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Troll.

John Graham
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oh, come on, that's too easy. You can do better.

Robert Gill
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I understand it's hard, but please if you're going to troll at least do it in an intellectual manner.

John Graham
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My point made to Mr. Greer is on topic, and if inflammatory, it is only because I disagree with him, and presumably, you.



I love people who label things as non-"intellectual" but can't muster the brain power to support their claim.



My point, again, for you Mr. Faulks, is that experience for the sake of experience is not a logical justification.

Luis Guimaraes
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Opinion: Video Game Opinion Ethics And The Coming Opinion about Bulletstorm!



[In this opinion piece, game developers considers whether Richard Clark's forthcoming opinion about Bulletstorm crosses ethical lines very often before crossed, and, if so, what that could mean for the opinions about games industry going backward.]



"[...] these opinions written targeting the lowest common denominator cliché of appealing to the "Games & Violence" theme as a cheap way to attract traffic and attention [...]"

Aaron Karp
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Are you arguing that this discussion is invalid or useless?

Luis Guimaraes
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Not exactly, I'm saying that if it wasn't Bulletstorm would be anything else, and in the end of this chapter, there will come a new one, over and over again. Forever.

Richard Clark
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I'll address a lot of the other stuff later, hopefully, when I have more time, but I do want to defend myself for addressing a game that's not quite out yet.



The majority of my article was addressing the marketing and known aspects of the game at hand. That is made clear in the article itself, and I think that's a fair focus for the article. The thing is, the industry has been used to glowing praise of pre-release games for years now. Is it somehow unfair to raise some issues with the game beforehand? Obviously, the article was meant to be an opinion piece on the tone, content and marketing message of the game primarily, with an open door to apply those things to the rest of the game that has yet to be unveiled as it becomes available.



Surely there has to be some way for gamers and game writers to know what to expect before we play the game. Usually that's the stated goal of the marketing team, and is also accomplished through interviews and preview packages. I realize that your studio may prefer that the only response to those things be "oh man I need to buy that." But you have to expect some who will simply respond in a myriad of other ways, perhaps not so preferable to you. And I think we have the right, not just to silently boycott your game, but to express our concerns.



I really appreciate the creative director engaging the discussion, and I look forward to responding more in depth later.

Brian Livingston
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Video games reinforce culture but culture shapes video games. The creators of video games are as much a part of the culture that consumes them and are not any more responsible for the "breakdown of society" than Saturday morning cartoons are.



What if the current technology in video games was available in the 50's, would Bulletstorm be possible? Nobody would touch it. Not because the 50's were more pure but because it would have been culturally indigestible whereas today we have a culture that can consume it. Should the video games industry capitalize on the ascent/descent of man? Why not? It’s a media industry, not a religion and not an educational institution.



If your focus in life is to lift humanity out of the mire then teach kids to become responsible adults and give them a world worth investing in and opportunities to realize themselves without filling their heads full of magic solutions.



For the record I agree with Jim Sterling and his rant on YouTube brought tears of redemption to my eyes.

Sean Currie
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Speaking of South Park and Kill Bill, one of the problems I see here is the use of the word satire being thrown around in defence of this, and other, projects of its ilk. I'm not against the content of the game in quite the same way as the article's writer, but satire this game is not. There's no subtext here. Bulletstorm is not filled with political commentary about modern society and politics like South Park. It's not making a statement about the nature of violence, the normalcy of violence and role of family like Kill Bill. It's not alluding to anything. It is what it is. You can disagree with whether that's a positive or negative, but there's certainly nothing as cerebral as satire going on here.



The reason the industry engages in this kind of debate whenever a popcorn action game appears is that, unlike popcorn action films and popcorn books and top forty music, the games industry has relatively few counter examples to debate the worth of the medium with. Don't like gross out comedies and splatter fests? That's okay. Here's Akira Kurosawa and Ingmar Bergman. Don't like popcorn fantasy and romance novels? Here's some Bolano, Vonnegut, Pynchon and Joyce. Don't like bubblegum pop? That's ok. Here's Public Image Ltd, the Decemberists and Charles Mingus. Don't like silly action games that are loaded with over the top violence? Here's... um... well you can try Heavy Rain but the writing's kind of bad.



At a time when the supreme court is debating whether video games should be granted something as simple as first amendment rights, having truckloads of games like Bulletstorm and Dead Space 2 (YOUR MOM WILL HATE IT - really? I haven't lived with my mom since I was 17) appear is distressing. It's not that these games are bad games or even that they're distasteful (I'll be getting both, fyi). But the attitude and context in which they are presented are problematic. I like bugglegum just as much as the next guy, but I love good film and good literature and complex music. I want to be challenged intellectually. But there's nothing (save very few and far between examples) that satisfy that need in the games industry. And, like you said, the fact that these projects get green lit again and again while more experimental projects never get passed the prototype phase is frustrating.



Also, consider this. In film we recently had a blockbuster superhero movie that was enormously successful but dealt with mature themes in a way that was both entertaining and literate. Bet you can name several.



How many games could you apply the same description to?

Bisse Mayrakoira
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Sean:



Incredible. Not only did you call a game consisting of quick-time events as "intellectual", you chose to hold it up as representative of "intellectual" games. I guess



- quick-time events are more intellectual than reading the opponent's strategy and intention based on powerup timings and a single faint noise from across the map, then scoring a blind shot on them in a FPS?

- quick-time events are more intellectual than creating the necessary political conditions and then directing a breakthrough for a panzer army group in a strategy game?

- quick-time events are more intellectual than correctly predicting an opponent's gameplan based on their strengths and the map, disrupting it by faking a tactic, and then performing a timing attack carefully designed to work against their now-reduced options in a RTS?

Luke Skywalker
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And what is missing from this whole conversation is the context of the gameplay and the cross informing of the over the top visuals / dialogue. I especially appreciate the fact that no one has played the game (and don't mostly agree that gameplay is what it's all about?).

Sean Currie
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Hark! I hear the angry footsteps of the narrativists. :)



But to answer your question, no. I disagree that the gameplay, regardless of how well balanced or fun it is, supersedes the discussion that's been raised here.

Doug Poston
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If the movie industry survived the release of "Pink Flamingos", the game industry should be able to survive "Bulletstorm". :)

Joe Shmoe
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Bulletstorm is going to be awesome BECAUSE it has the descriptions you don't like in the game. I just finished playing the demo twice now and all I have to say is the game is awesomely hilarious because of the kill descriptions and VO. I now prefer my multi-kill to be called a GangBang Kill. The game is a cross between Duke Nukem/GoW/Serious Sam, what the hell did you expect the main character to be a?? A soft spoken Jehovah's witness? bahaha gimme a break. Looking forward to blasting enemies in the balls and then curb stomping them for more points.

Richard Clark
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Okay, some clarifying thoughts, I guess? They'll be short because so much ground has already been covered.



On Existence: The game has every right to exist. I believe in the free market, and freedom of speech, and I'm against censorship, and all that jazz. But if games that thrive off of offensiveness are going to exist, then so are those who find those games objectionable. I recognize that like any other medium, there are all kinds of types of games, and that they make up a complex and broad collection of artifacts. All of those products deserve to be accepted into the marketplace and in the public sphere.



On Shame: But once the game is in the public sphere, are we required to sit by silently while people enjoy their particular product? I would say that, because i believe in free speech and am anti-censorship, we have a right and a responsibility to voice an alternate viewpoint, especially when the common viewpoint is expressed primarily by a marketing team and a series of me-too news releases at gaming sites. Did you guys really thing you would be able to make it to launch day without someone, somewhere saying "maybe this isn't a good idea?" I mean, I'm not really a big deal. I'm just a guy with an opinion about your game. And I write for this website sometimes. Isn't that okay?



On Kneejerk Reactions: Here's some annoying ways to avoid the argument.. 1. Point out that I'm a Christian. 2. Assume that I reacted without real thought. The truth is, I took great pains to think long and hard about whether my concerns about Bulletstorm were informed exclusively by my religion, or whether there was something more, well, yeah, universal that was informing my thoughts. I struggled over the column because I knew it could be read people who were working on the game, and I had no intention of purposely frustrating them or slandering them as people. I respect those guys, I think their game looks really amazing in some ways! I just couldn't get around some of my key issues with it, and I thought that because others might share this perspective it made sense to say it out loud.



On Satire: Yeah, I do think satire generally has a purpose besides "be fun" or "be enjoyable." Being fun and enjoyable are fine goals in and of themselves, but when we make games more fun or enjoyable by making them more cruel or sexually grotesque, I think we have to ask ourselves what that says about us.

John Graham
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I'm afraid too many refuse the need to have a line drawn in the sand or consider there exists any kind of restrictions on behavior or consumption.

Eric Ruck
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I equate games like this with the movie "Pretty Woman". I feel really, really bad for liking it, but I like it anyway, at least a little. I also have an easier time of taking a work which is literally a cartoon over something like CoD, a little to close to real. But I wouldn't censor either. Let the public decide what's (anti)social.

Luis Guimaraes
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I got kinda offended with the so much realism in Crysis, by combating what looked to be 15 year old Korean soldiers in that jungle.



I think we should kill more aliens, monsters, or simply play by both sides telling the small scale stories of people that went through war, no stories about war itself. Like those Clint Eastwood two movies, or Cloverfield, which was first a love story, and the monster things was in second plan, that they needed to get through, not go against and save the world.

Tomasz Mazurek
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One of the devs here. I actually feel honoured that you got offended by our game enough to write a lengthy post about it. This means that it strongly influenced you without you even having directly experienced it. And this I think is a marking of a true work of art.



No meaningful artistic creation can please everyone - so if out of all the possible groups that we could have displeased, we have displeased the likes of you, then I guess we can be glad about it, as we are in excellent company.

Sean Currie
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At the risk of sounding too caustic, I would love to hear you argue why Bulletstorm is meaningful instead of simply dismissing his argument.

Jacek Wesolowski
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Tomek is a great guy and an incredibly talented programmer who's just having a kneejerk reaction. Here in Poland, we have a particularly vicious equivalent of the Tea Party. It's difficult not to lose patience.

Dominik Dalek
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And how is politics relevant to what Tomek wrote? Projection, that's what your comment looks like.

Tomasz Mazurek
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It's meaningful because it managed to push forward the core gaming mechanics of FPS games - the act of shooting at the enemies. And this element has not seen much innovation for a really long time - I'd say since the introduction of sniper rifles to FPS.

Robert Gill
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All right. I'm going to respond to some of the comments on here in general:



I don't know why, when, or how you got this thought into your brains that "Developers should be doing this", or "I don't like it when a dev does that". Guess what? Wanna know why we're called developers?



BECAUSE WE DEVELOP GAMES. We, the programmers, the artists, the designers, everyone, develop these games. We make what we want to play. It's not up to you what we make. We don't always want to play steroid-fueled shooters, but sometimes we just want to make games that are fun to play.



Think about this: Maybe, just maybe, someone has a different opinion than you. Possibly, oh man I may be stretching it here, more story focused "artistic" games can co-exist with the more simple, but gameplay focused games.



I understand that there is only maybe a handful of developers (see above section) on this forum. Many of you want to be in the industry. The first thing you're going to learn is this: What you want to make, if you intend on making a great game, has to balance BOTH gameplay and story.



Seriously, stop trying to dictate what we should be making and what players should be playing. The truly good games will show themselves. Bulletstorm is not going to be Heavy Rain, and frankly, I'm glad it isn't.



Class dismissed.

Drew Dixon
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Robert,



I think you need to reevaluate this article because no where did Richard ever indicate that its not ok for people to like this game or to have a "different" opinion than him. He even admitted that it would probably be fun to play.



He also never said that every game needs to be story focused and artistic. Nor did he ever indicate what you or anyone else should or shouldn't be making or playing.



The point of the article if I might go out of my way to summarize it very briefly is this--Bulletstorm has every right to be made and will probably be fun but based on what we know about it from the PR its not going to be great because of its celebration of the juvenile--which Richard gave multiple examples of.



In other words you are arguing against an argument that is not being made by the author of this article. If you take issue with one of his arguments--that is perfectly fine because after all we are all entitled to our opinions, especially in the wonderful world of gaming, but interact with the actual argument he is making. I am not sure I needed to go to class for that.

Robert Gill
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Hey Drew thanks for calmly responding.



I was responding to the many comments that we're basically taking the article away from it's core discussion. Many of the comments on here have really been very inflammatory against the game and the designers (see the first couple of comments).



I realize that my comment above may seem harsh, and most likely bold. I've noticed a trend on this site now for a few months that people will try to turn a simple discussion of a game into a moral or art argument.



Again, I apologize if it seemed I was bashing the article. Thought I made it clear it was directed towards some of the comments being made.

Drew Dixon
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Robert--I did read your comment, but it would appear that I skimmed the opening line where you indicated you were addressing commenters and not the article itself--in that case, I apologize and think you have a valid point because I agree with you that is perfectly fine for some games to just be fun but not as artistic.

Robert Horvat
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To Richard (and him alike):

It's a freaking GAME, chill out. Not every aspect of life needs to follow the dogmatic religious principles.

Next time do yourself (and us) a favor: Look away or do something useful.

Drew Dixon
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Robert,



Thanks for joining the ranks of those who didn't interact with the article at all and instead just read "dogmatic religious principles" into the article that were actually never brought up!



In fact your line, "It's a freaking GAME, chill out" could be applied to anyone who said anything about any game--thanks I am going to use that one.



Additionally, religious folks are not the only ones who could take offense to this game--its pretty demeaning toward women, particularly the titles of the skill shots.

Robert Horvat
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I like to squeeze one thought if and when I can, instead of writing miles of dissertations. How deep I go into article depends proportionally on how I rate the usefulness of it.



"dogmatic religious principles" doesn't need to be broad up word by word in order to be present throughout the whole article.



"It's a freaking GAME, chill out" can be and SHOULD be applied to any game. The only thing that interests me is:

if the game is fun or not,

is compelling or not,

is interesting or not and why it is so(.) Excuse my professional deformation.



"its pretty demeaning toward women"? Now ask you self why do you think so. Wouldn't you say it is pretty demeaning toward men also?

Again: "It's a freaking GAME, chill out".



Additionally there are enough other more important things religious zealots should tackle instead of debating where the limits of games should be.

Drew Dixon
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Why do I think its demeaning toward women?



I will simply quote my earlier comment: "particularly the titles of the skill shots." Do you need me to give you examples? Richard did that in the article.



Again there was no discussion of religious principles, there were ethical discussions, ethics and religion are not the same thing--you know that right?

Robert Gill
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Don't listen to the trolls. I see where you are coming from with your assertion, which is just as valid as the "games are art" argument.



It's ok, he didn't bother to read my comment either ;)

Robert Horvat
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Wow. The titles of the skill shots!!!

Believe me a normal open minded person (either female or men) will not be even offended by them. Well, Tanya Jessen has nothing against the naming convention. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_3OZuDnIlc)



The skill shots naming is witty, is funny, it matches with the effect on screen.

Of course - Facial, Gang Bang, Deep Penetration, Rear Entry (you get 500 points for that one lol), Topless - could have sexual references if a persons mind perceives it in that way. So what if you do, so what if you don't.



Chill out and enjoy the game, or don't and don't.

Evan Combs
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All video games are either entertainment, art, or educational, and in most cases are some kind of mixture of these categories. Bulletstorm is not in the art(at least not what is commonly accepted as art) category. Bulletstorm falls under the entertainment category and is probably one of the most pure. So don't treat it like it is trying to be something that it isn't. When they start advertising it like it is supposed to the next great piece of art video game, I'm looking at you Gears of War 2, when in reality it is just a bloodbath for entertainment purposes then go ahead and complain, but don't complain about a game that knows what it is and isn't trying to be something different.

Nick Green
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It seems like Richard's main problem isn't with violence, but with sex. Every example he cites from the game is sexual in nature. I'm not for combining sex and violence but I have to wonder, given he's self-identified as a Christian, if this isn't just a generic discomfort with sex common to his religion.

Drew Dixon
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That is at least more perceptive than most have been so far Nick, but I don't think its either sex or violence but the combination of the two used to, as the author points out, "titillate." Its not the presence of sexual lingo or the presence of violence but rather the way in which the game seems to encourage people to "get off" on those two things in a rather juvenile manner. And again, if that is your thing--fine with me, just don't expect me to be impressed.

Drew Dixon
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It desperately needs to be said in this meta that religion does not equal ethics! Everyone has ethics, religious and irreligious alike--everyone has a system of moral principles (that is what ethics are). If you take the time to read the article thoughtfully you would see that this is an article on ethics in video games not religion.



Certainly the author's religion probably plays a part in his ethics but this isn't necessarily the case and as MANY have pointed out--it is quite possible to agree with the assertions made in this article and not share the author's faith.



As much as we tout being fair toward games and the ideas presented therein there seems to be a tremendous amount of assumptions being made about this article simply because the author admits upfront that he is a Christian. I only bring that up in order to point out that to assert that this is just religious ranting you actually have to go outside the argument made in the article itself and start making assumptions about the author instead. Rational discourse would discourage this.

Robert Gill
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I think what you fail to realize is that for the majority of people, religion shapes their ethics and what they view to be right or wrong.



No matter how you try to break it down, you can't argue that.

Drew Dixon
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I do realize that Robert--but there are plenty of folks of differing faith who would find this material offensive--many of them have already spoken up in this comment meta.



So yes--religion often shapes people's ethics. That said, its still quite unfair to assume that what the author here is arguing against is driven by pure religious bias--after all many who do not share his faith came to very similar conclusions about this game.



I was just trying to encourage thoughtful reading and discourage those who simply dismiss the arguments being made because the author admits his faith upfront.

John Williams
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Yeah, I think that "You shall not murder" is a pretty universal ethic. Some people are probably struggling with whether or not shooting someone up the butt with a shotgun in a video game violates the principle of that ethic. Is there such a thing as too graphic? Some people will never understand this. They get their kicks "curb stomping" people's balls in fantasy land, and if you take this power fantasy away from them, they might realize that they are nerds playing video games in the dark, and that the closest they come to real life ball-stomping is by flaming someone from behind a keyboard. (Thank goodness!)



The guy who can't figure out that this dialogue is crude and ridiculous is the same sort of socially awkward person who can't figure out why it is uncool to pick out laundry by doing a sniff test to see which shirt stinks worse.



Having said all that, I certainly don't hope for an imposed censorship or something like that. I just hope people don't buy such an uber-violent snuff game, that it fails, and people redesign something of a little more substance.

Don Moar
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I'm trying to decide where I fall on this issue.



On one hand, I have worked on games that have received their share of unwarranted negative press from people who have not played the game and been defended by other members of the games industry. Thanks for that!



On the other hand, as I get older I find myself thinking more and more about the direction the industry as a whole has taken over the dozen or so years that I was a part of it. I think someone else pointed out that part of the appeal of games (and probably any form of enternment) is its ability to deliver exceptional and unique experiences. That sounds like the foundation for an industry that depends upon continually pushing the boundaries of what is socially acceptable. It seems then, that games companies will be forced into this continual escalation of trying to offer the most over-the-top experiences in order to compete for the consumer's limited entertainment dollars. Therefore, is it not appropriate to ask "Where will it end?"



In this case, would Bulletstorm be any less fun without the controversial material? If not, then I ask what purpose is that material serving? If so, then doesn't it follow that the game is therefore less about being fun and more about being controversial and using that material to push boundaries for the sake of pushing boundaries?



Obviously, society continues to evolve around us. What is considered socially acceptable or not has changed even in just the last 20 years, and I think the various forms of popular media, including video games, play a significant role in this evolution. As a result, I think video game developers (and producers of other forms of entertainment) must start acknowledging the impact their products have on society, just as I think consumers need to acknowledge the impact their purchases have on what products get built.

Andreas Ronning
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I don't find Bulletstorm's sensibilities particularly funny. But I'm excited about the combo-driven gameplay. I'm inclined to believe Bulletstorm causes such a fuss because it's not made by a guy in a basement and his college mates. It bothers us because we want to play it, but it keeps throwing asses at us.



If it was a "lesser" production, we wouldn't care. We seem to freak out whenever "our Hollywood" spends effort on anything lowbrow. In a world where movies like Epic Movie or Date Movie are legitimate box office successes, I simply can't wrap my head around a reality where we as game enthusiasts or members of the games press need to take the moral high ground and start talking about "values". I'm actually a little offended by the idea that we are somehow special in this regard.



Regardless, games that are puerile and immature are routinely called out in reviews *already*. What is new?

Philip Minchin
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Bulletstorm is, by the creators' own account, an exercise in hand-eye coordination and low-level twitch tactics (all good so far) that actively and repeatedly awards positive, sexualised reinforcement for directly causing violent, humiliating degradation of the virtual human bodies in the gamespace.



I can promise you from first-hand experience, as a public speaker for human rights groups who has interacted directly with a wide range of audiences: twisted fantasies like these desensitise people to images of such violence, and substantially reduce the impact of descriptions of real torture experienced by real human beings.



When I describe the things that have been done to torture survivors, people who have never polluted their minds with this sort of crap are far more likely to respond to the direct reality, with natural human sympathy for the victims and natural revulsion for the perpetrators.



By contrast, people who have played or watched the latest gore-fest are more likely to relate the experiences of real torture victims to entertainment (often responding with deeply disrespectful jokes). Some may get past that and realise the seriousness of the topic; even so, they often continue to be distracted or confused by the fictional imagery. Others, having said the first thing that came into their mind, respond to attempts to return the discussion to reality with macho glibness like so many on these boards.



And that resistance makes it harder to move the discussion on to the important part - how to support the victims and survivors of real-world abuses, and prevent such abuses from occurring - and makes it less likely that the group as a whole will take the actions that human rights groups have proven over decades make a real difference to those who need it most.



Producing and consuming material like this, that trivialises and exploits human suffering, therefore enables the political systems that rely on suffering, pain and humiliation to intimidate and control their populations, because it muddies the sharp empathies on which solidarity with victims is based. (Games are more obvious than most media in this respect because the active role of the player increases the sense of complicity. Rightly or wrongly, it is harder to feel uncomplicated, pure outrage when in the back of the mind one is conscious of having enjoyed fantasies of inflicting similarly grotesque, humiliating mistreatment.)



Teenage boys have told me that the tortures suffered in Chile or Rwanda weren't that bad, and they shouldn't feel the need to care, because they've seen worse in game X or movie Y. (I think they thought they were being satirical, too. But let's be clear: Swift's Modest Proposal isn't satirical because it's shocking, or disgusting. It's satirical because it caricatured, mocked and shamed those of his time who glibly dismissed the suffering of the people impoverished and oppressed by the same power systems that benefited those same wealthy and dismissive folks Swift was targeting. Honestly now, is Bulletstorm going to shame the makers of violent games, or one-up them and egg them on?) Because I'm not that much older, some have even expected me to share in their amusement, despite my just having told them that I know torture survivors personally.



Some even joked that the torturers should watch - I think it was one of the Saw movies - to get tips. (From what I hear, some torturers are doing exactly that.)



So yes, I call shame on people who make this crap, and the people who encourage them by buying it. The world is less angry about appalling tortures and abuses, because you treat them as the stuff of diversion and frivolity, and torturers are therefore held to account less and getting away with more. This is not hypothetical; I am speaking as one who has direct experience of how people respond to these issues, whether and how much they work to overcome them, and what reasons they give for their decisions. That it is particularly the young - historically one of the chief sources of idealism and reformative energy - responding in these jaded ways is even more problematic.



Worse, there may well be torture victims who might not have suffered so much without this inspiration. The torturers bear primary responsibility, of course. But just as the various inspirations behind geniuses are important in making their work possible, the goremongers have enabled and inspired the work of monsters. Other influences have played their part as well, true, but unlike religious, political, or medical texts there is really no other way to interpret an inventively gruesome fatality into reality, is there? So for that, too, I call shame.



You can distract yourself with about a billion other things. Nobody in a position to play this game can possibly be short of entertainment options. Find (and create) your fun where it doesn't do harms that outweigh any possible good. And come to grips with the world beyond your attention span; you're interactive in it, like it or not, aware of it or not. Or is that one of the things you're trying to distract yourself from?







P.S. Though it is irrelevant to the validity of my arguments, since they are not theological, I am not religious. My assumptions and morality are atheistic and based firmly in the empirical world. I agree with the religious person who wrote this article because he makes a solid, logical case that looks outside the narrow question of "does this amuse some people and incidentally make some other people money" and asks "in a world where we are hardly short of entertainments, what other effects might this game and its marketing have, and are they worth it?" His question is more legitimate and constructive than the game under discussion; even if you don't think that's the case, you can hardly argue that he has no right to comment on something he doesn't agree with, since you just commented on his post to say so.

Bruno Dias
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Video game criticism really suffers sometimes from a lack of contact with other, older fields of criticism. As someone who's had an experience in film and music criticism, it sometimes looks to me like you're replaying arguments that were had in other industries decades ago, and it can be profoundly amusing.



One thing that Duchamp taught us is that 'art' is chiefly a matter of indexing. If a short chapter of Bulletstorm had been released for free on the Internet as a 'shocking, satirical indictment of the misogynistic psychosexual fantasies prevalent in the undercurrent of the modern military-themed shooter,' it would probably have been praised by the same people who are attacking it now, much like the same people who attack the stylised, gleeful violence in Tarantino films then turn around and praise the realistic, shocking violence in Michael Haneke's work



Bulletstorm's real crime, seemingly, isn't that it is violent per se, but that the violent content is being sold as something - shock and horror - fun, rather than thought-provoking.

Andreas Ronning
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I think it's misguided to think new media involving torture will somehow create a better bedding for widespread torture, if that is what you are trying to say, Philip. Historically we have been incredibly successful at figuring out new ways to inflict pain and misery on each other, way before even the advent of the printing press, completely without regard for the current level of "desensitizing" the population has undergone.



To be perfectly honest, stifling media has never and will never better or worsen the consequences of a person choosing to subject another person to torture. No matter who made what game or watched what movie, someone is going to be in terrible pain. Blaming media for such a significant chunk of the problem is, in my humble opinion, not the right fight to commit to.

Philip Minchin
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@ Bruno:

My comment is not criticism, it is factual reportage. I'm not processing cultural artifacts through a lens of theory. I'm reporting on conversations I have had with real consumers of this sort of entertainment, and the effects that it seems to have on the way they engage with real problems. Not all, by any means, but enough that I am able to observe the patterns I'm reporting here.



As for your claim that my response is about indexing - no. Indexing is important, but Bulletstorm is clearly not satire, because it is not having the effect of shaming people into changing, and nor could anyone aware of gamer culture seriously argue that it might have that effect. My argument is very clearly that it is Bulletstorm's violence per se, combined with the gleeful, childish, sexualised mocking that it brings to its grotesquery, IS the problem. ("Crime" is your word, and is fairly blatant straw manning.)



Where indexing is relevant is the fact that, as I describe, a noticeably higher proportion of people who have extensive experience of virtual slaughter and debasement for entertainment have difficulty parsing appropriate responses to real butchery and degradation. It's understandable that they do so; this kind of imagery is associated with entertainment for them. But that produces problems for those of us attempting to shore up the moral and political consensus against such brutality in real life, and to encourage people to act on their outrage against it to make it harder for such violations to occur.



Your assertion about what my opinions would be in some hypothetical alternative marketing scenario are way off base. In point of fact, if it had been released as a satire with the framing you describe, some of the impact would have been mitigated (remember that what's under discussion is the game AND its marketing), but despite agreeing with the point it was supposedly attempting to make, I would have been just as negative about the actual content. Because - say it with me - it's not satire if it's not shaming people into change.





@Andreas:



I'm not stifling media. I'm providing first-hand reportage of some of its effects, and pointing out that this kind of frivolous use of grotesque fictional violence has real consequences for people's ability to parse grotesque violence in general. Since some grotesque violence is real and requires motivation and action to prevent, this has consequences for our ability to prevent real grotesque violence by using moral pressure rather than physical coercion. (Because physical coercion tends to spiral back down into the things we are trying to prevent.)



That is the "fight" I "committed to". And as someone with considerable personal experience in engaging people on these issues, I have made the considered decision that this is a factor important enough to spend a little time calling BS on the idea that these bloody entertainments have no significant consequences for that.



In other words, I'm using media (by commenting) to inform creators of the observed, real-world effects of certain creative choices. Where is the stifling? The fact that I'm attempting to hold people responsible for what they do with their freedom of speech? That's not censorship, it's the only possible alternative. And if it fails, that just plays into the hands of those who are advocating censorship, as several people have already pointed out.



GENERAL CLARIFICATION:



I am well aware that the world is always going to contain oppression and violence. Some things make them more likely, some neither, some less.



A clear moral consensus, accompanied by a willingness to speak out and shame the perpetrators of human rights violations, is proven throughout recent history to make their job substantially more difficult, often enough to the point of protecting their potential victims completely.



Again, my objective is preventing real human rights abuses. I have some experience in that "fight". I am describing that experience factually. People who consume violent, degrading entertainment respond to reports of real violations noticably differently as a group than those who do not, because they (naturally, given the way the brain works) think first about their own entertainment experiences before engaging with the realities of the abuses. In a significant number of cases, that difference results in observably less action against real crimes.



Please recognise that the core of my point is not an expression of opinion, it is a first-hand reportage of fact.



Please also recognise that my posting on this issue is not replacing dealing with real human rights abuses. It is PART of those wider efforts. I've actually done the work of informing and mobilising people to take action against human rights abuses, and the odds are that few if any of the other commenters here have done so; so with respect, I will need some evidence if you're going to claim you know better than me what that entails.



When it comes to those people who do actually go out and violate human rights, I have no direct experience, but I have spoken to survivors of torture about their experience and read extensively on how torturers justify their actions, so I feel confident that I am better informed than the majority of people.



A context in which fantasies of brutality and humiliation are easily available (and treated as trivial enough to be the basis of inconsequential amusement) makes it much easier for their twisted minds to do that justifying. Artists are not responsible for those twisted minds, but they are responsible for the artwork they make in a world they know to contain such twisted minds, and some unknown number of other minds with tendencies to twist in those directions. In a world where media has a global reach, it's all very well to "intend" your work for the safe, protected living rooms of middle-class Western suburbia (though not all such places are in fact safe), but you have no right or ability to control where your work ends up, and corporate interests will actively be spreading it as far and wide as possible.



Probabilistically, it is certain that, along with the numerous sane people playing Bulletstorm, there will be some sociopaths who draw pleasure, comfort, and quite likely inspiration (given how inventive it appears to be) from it. The work's creators are every bit as responsible for positively reinforcing the monsters as they are for whatever enjoyment the sane people derive from it. Surely it's incumbent, in such an environment, to think a little about what you say and how you say it. The benefits for the sane people (entertainment) can be achieved in a great many other ways that don't also give the psychos a buzz.

Bruno Dias
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@Philip: I'm not responding to you specifically but rather to the article and the broader culture in video games criticism. But anyway, the singular of data is not anecdote, and your personal experiences about teenagers and their relationship to violence are not representative; they do not demonstrate any causal relation between playing video games and being more accepting of torture. And, of course, arguments about Bulletstorm's effect on developing young minds are somewhat misaimed, as the game will almost certainly carry a mature or adults only rating and thus is not intended to be played by teenagers (Unless you count immature 17-year-olds). Note also that 1. I never used the word 'satire,' and 2. Satires aren't necessarily, or even usually, intended to shame anyone into anything.

Bjoern Loesing
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I'm shocked to find this discussion here on Gamasutra. Richard's article is a good read even though I disagree with it. However, what I take offense from are people like Phillip who compares people who like Bulletstorm to Psychos without morals, as opposed to people seaking "saner" entertainment.



Now, I'm an industry professional. I've been gaming for more than 25 years. I'm married, I have a stable social life, a pretty good job (even though it is in the gaming industry :)), a nice house and absolutely no bodies buried in our cellar.



I also love heavy metal (even the demonic bits), I played Dungeons & Dragons, I do listen to rock music. And I'm so much looking forward to Bulletstorm, for the sheer amount of fun it promises.



And I for one can differentiate between things being a game (or rock music!) and reality. Impaling a video character tied up with an explosive bola and kicking him on a cactus sounds FUN to me, but that does not automatically mean I go around and promote torture of real people to get a buzz.



By the way, I did not purchase God of War 3, but I loved Bayonetta. The over-the-top-violence with a smirk (which works for both Bayonetta and Bulletstorm) makes me grin the same way I grinned at Pulp Fiction or Kill Bill, or Monty Python's famous line "It's just a Fleshwound". Gruesome? Probably. Enjoyable? Hell yeah. Does that make me a psycho? I really don't think so.



People who feel "influenced" by video games are psychos to begin with.

Philip Minchin
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@ Bruno

I'm not claiming to have a scientifically controlled study. However I am claiming to have extensive experience of a wide range of people, not just teenagers. (Though it's a little odd to then go on and say say that the ratings system solves the problem, since clearly the teenagers under discussion had managed to bypass it.) I have several data collected by a single observer, enough to convince that observer (me) that there is a problem. I'm aware that's not scientific confirmation that can form a basis for public policy; but then I never claimed that, and I'm not advocating state intervention, am I? But I am offering (inconclusive) evidence from a source many in this forum will never have encountered. And given that I'm not advocating censorship, just expressing the view that creators who want to enjoy freedom need to take responsibility for their creations and pointing out some of its consequences, I hardly think I'm being in any way unreasonable.



You may not have used the word "satire" but you did use the word "satirical", hence my response on that topic. Perhaps you're thinking of parody; satire is definitely aimed at advocating change. This is one of the historical reasons satire has special protections vis-a-vis copyright. Parody is mockery by mindless, usually caricaturing imitation; satire is intended to argue against and undermine the credibility of its target. Bulletstorm isn't doing that, so it's not satire.







@ Bjoern

In this forum I kind of assumed that people would understand that cultural influences don't program minds like automata, so didn't feel the need to say it. But it's everywhere in my comments.



I specifically distinguished between (i.e. did NOT compare) psychos without morals and the majority of people who will play Bulletstorm. Nowhere do I say or even imply "OMG people will play this and become serial killers", I just explain that as someone who has actual experience in how people process and react to real human rights violations, I have observed repeatedly that consuming this kind of culture has effects that reduce the likelihood of action against human right violations. That's not the same as "they will hurt other people" - but it does result in other people being hurt.



And I agree that people directly influenced by games/movies/Catcher in the Rye are psychos to begin with. Again, I said as much in the course of making my ACTUAL point, which is that we know those people do exist, and it's irresponsible to pretend that game creators can somehow pick and choose who plays their games. As a creator, if you're taking responsibility for what you create, the enjoyment you give the many sane people who play your game (thank you) can be trivially provided in alternative ways that have less harmful effects on damaged minds.



My further point is that cultural influences are, well, influential on everyone in ways we don't fully recognise. There are studies that show this. Every time a bigoted joke is told and not challenged, the stereotypes it perpetuates are reinforced, and the people hearing it feel licensed to behave in bigoted ways, or use bigotry as a source of power or putdown even if they don't intellectually believe in the bigotry concerned.



In the real world, this has consequences; a racist joke told just before a job interview may well cost a member of an oppressed racial group the job, because racist associations are triggered in the brain. A snide remark about the age of a client can cost them a bureaucrat's sympathy and the assistance they came to seek. A culture where rape is routinely joked about in ways that trivialise the suffering of the women, children and men who are its targets is known to give feelings of endorsement and confidence that they will get away with it to the 1 in 20 or so men who actually commit rape. Non-rapists may think they're just being "ironic" or "off-colour", and that the true joke lies in how awful they're being and that they're not really that person. I get that; I say things I don't mean to tease people all the time. But people who have studied the psychology of rapists report that they don't take those jokes that way; to them the joke lies in the tension between the "official" position that rape is bad and the "truth" that it is funny to them and they enjoy it, and every time they hear a rape joke it offers them positive reinforcement.



And images of brutality and torture told for fun get in the way of mobilising support against real brutality and torture, because instead of thinking about the problem and what to do about it, people think about how funny that time in that game was, or how scary that movie was. Their focus on a real problem is diverted to memories of entertainment. It's an additional obstacle for those of us actually trying to do something about the real-world issues, and it's not like we need another one.



If you're making public statements, you have a responsibility to consider not only your intended audience of sane people who will enjoy the humour and not draw endorsement for antisocial behaviour, but the entire actual audience. Obviously you can't entirely predict a psycho, which is why the Beatles bear no responsibility for Charles Manson because they wrote Helter Skelter. But a society which produces more culture on themes of violence, gore and degradation, will tend to get more psychos latching on to those images and ideas. Show me the fallacy in that statement and I'll retract part of my claim that making yet more extreme examples of these things is a problem.



As for you as the player: I don't begrudge you fun; I don't think you're crazy; and because I don't think you're crazy, I think you could get fun in a billion other ways that wouldn't drag the culture in this direction. You're making a choice, and that choice has consequences, and I'm explaining what I think you're supporting with this choice (based on relevant evidence and experience you probably don't have access to). I'm not saying you're doing it on purpose, or making assertions that you like torture. But our actions have unintended consequences as well as intended ones, and responsibility (which comes with freedom) means trying to understand them and account for them as well.



Disagree with me, fine, but please disagree with my ACTUAL position, don't waste your time arguing a point I'm not making. Neither of us learns that way. The reasons I think this sort of thing is crap are more informed and nuanced than the standard "games caused Columbine" rubbish, against which I have argued extensively to the non-gamers in my acquaintance. My objective is not to shut down the games industry or to justify censorship. It's to argue against a trend which I see having real-world consequences, including an increased pressure TOWARDS censorship from people outside this little pocket of game culture.

Robert Horvat
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Like it was hard to predict this ... but seems like someone else also doesn't like Bulletstorm features:



http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2011/02/08/bulletstorm-worst-game-
kids/



Its hard for me not to LOL.

Robert Horvat
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@ Philip Minchin

You of all people as a speaker for human rights groups should know that human rights are reaching beyond your own limits.

Do you think that developers have no (human) right to produce such a game (or like you put it so colorfully "this crap")?

Do you think that players who want to play the game have no (human) right to play that game?

What I could say is that people who DON’T want to play it have every (human) right not to do so.



On other accounts:

You said:

"Twisted fantasies like these desensitize people to images of such violence, and substantially reduce the impact of descriptions of real torture experienced by real human beings."

That is pure BS.

Were you desensitized by it (by seeing the vids or even playing the demo)?

Were you desensitized by any other game or movie of that type in general?

I don't think you would.

I wasn't.

So who would? I will tell you. The same people who are desensitized NO MATTER if they indulge themselves in this kind of activity or not.

Do you think that type of game or entertainment in general shouldn’t be made just because of this minority of freaks?

Philip Minchin
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@ Robert Horvat

Your first sentence is absolutely right. I should. And I do.



I'd point out that I've never said they have no right to make the game, or that they should be stopped. You're arguing against a point I have never made, which is a waste; I have a strong opinion, but I posted here because I genuinely want to engage with and potentially learn from you and others who disagree with me, which I can't do if you don't actually come to grips with what I'm really saying. I understand why people are so sensitive but neither I nor the original poster has been arguing for something so gross as state supervision of the games industry. Both our responses revolve around how creators use freedom, not how states restrict it.



So we agree that the people making this game have the right to do it. What I'm saying is that it's wrong to do so. "Rights" and "right" are not the same. Rights protect freedoms, but not all free choices are equally good; some are directly harmful, and some (including, I believe, these games) foster a climate in which more harm occurs. I am not arguing that anyone should be stopped. But I am saying that furthering this trend is harmful, and therefore shameful.



To repeat myself for clarity, I am not saying that this game (and this obnoxious marketing) will necessarily *by itself* change things for the worse. But it isn't by itself, there's a lot of other stuff like it, and this latest, more extreme example adds weight and reinforcement to a culture which treats these things as trivial. Many people's primary contact with this kind of brutality is in a context where they are encouraged to laugh and treat it as entertainment. When they encounter the real thing, the natural response (to be upset and want to do something) is modified. It is uncomfortable to hear - it's uncomfortable to say! But in my experience, which isn't definitive but isn't completely irrelevant either, it actually does interfere with people's responses to real human rights abuses. There are some things we don't want people being able to laugh off. Games like this make it easier, and sometimes even reflexive.



Again, I didn't want to believe it either. (I obviously come from a gamer-geek background, though it's worth noting that it was other influences that actually got me active in defending human rights.) But after my experiences as a public speaker, I do. And since this is the most extreme example to date in the AAA mainstream, and appears to be getting a massive marketing budget, I believe it needs to be strongly spoken out against.



So, yes. I have the right not to play the game, and I won't. That doesn't mean it doesn't affect me, or other people who don't play it; I've been explaining how, in fact, it does.



On desensitization: simply by considering the question you are reducing the risk of desensitization. Desensitization is kind of about your willingness to NOT consider things except in their immediate effect on you. But yes, I have been desensitized, and had to work hard to resensitize myself. The whole point is you don't realise how desensitized you've become until you're forced to really investigate it. When I started I was completely oblivious to how much of a blind eye I was turning to racism in my home country (Australia) - because I was surrounded by it, so it seemed "not nice, a bit unfair, but not that big a deal, just how things are". When I first heard a torture survivor speak about their experience, I didn't realise to what extent I was treating it clinically rather than sympathetically (thinking about torture as a procedure to achieve a goal and a contest of wills, rather than as a terrifying ordeal to be survived, though intellectually I knew that was the case) until somebody pointed out to me that I was talking about it in a detached, technical way which was bordering on callousness, and potentially distressing if I had done it to the actual survivor. Despite caring about the issues enough to be there, I could have done real harm to a survivor of torture by treating these things as abstractions divorced from real people's experiences rather than viscerally traumatic realities. I see that same reaction in some of the people I speak to, and like me, it seems to stem from overexposure to brutality and degradation. In some cases that comes from their own lives; in others, very definitely, it's media exposure.



To answer your final question: it depends, but yes, I think not making a particular game (or making a game a particular way) because you are concerned about triggering violent behaviour in disturbed people (or distress in traumatised people who come across this stuff accidentally) is a perfectly valid and responsible thing to do. And I think that's the case here. We know those people exist. We know that some will seek out this sort of entertainment (others might not seek it out, but be triggered on accidental exposure, which is why marketing it so vigorously is part of what I'm objecting to). In many of those, it will validate their fixation on brutality because "other people like this too". And in some of those, it may fuel a desire to act out real violence.



It's a tiny proportion of the whole, but what is lost is massive and what is gained is ultimately trivial. Your and my desire for fun can be satisfied other ways (assuming we're both sane enough not to fixate on brutality as the only thing that makes our life enjoyable) that don't carry those tiny-but-high-stakes risks or have those wider cultural effects. Assuming gore really is a trivial buzz and not something more disturbing, it's a cheap thrill for us that is potentially very pricy for someone else.



There are certain jokes you don't make in public, or around certain people, because you don't want them taken as endorsement of some really nasty views and behaviour. Most people recognise this reality, even though the evidence suggests that the power of social norms and jokes especially is considerably underrated by most people. The jokes in this game - sexualising the delivery of bullets with porn titles, "ironically" celebrating graphic humiliation and degradation - are those kinds of jokes, told to a group we know will include the kinds of people we don't want to endorse. It's being marketed as a naughty, defiant eff-you to the censorship lobby from smacktalking gamer culture. I see it as cheap, easy capitalisation on sensationalist content, invoking geek solidarity to delegitimise honest criticism, and deeply irresponsible in its effects on both that same censorship debate and the wider culture. Or "crap" for short.

John Graham
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It looks like Epic is a bit worried that Bulletstorm won't sell on its on merits. Seems like they are hoping people will buy it for the Gears of War content alone. And then, they'll probably tout the sales numbers when a lot of the buyers just entered the code and then threw the disc away... oh wait, they made sure they couldn't do that either.


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