So I Just Watched "That Part" of Fox & Friends
You probably already know the part I'm talking about. Yes, THAT one. Officially it was headlined "A game that lets you play a terrorist?" but unofficially it's know as "that embarassingly bad defense of video game violence on Fox News." Those who don't want to be MAJORLY EMBARRASSED for our medium should stop reading now. Those who want to know my initial, gut check reactions to one of the saddest defenses of video game violence ever shown on TV, read on.
I know things are gonna be bad when Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy tells his audience that "a popular new video game actually allows you to be a terrorist and kill people." Instead of showing the controversial scene in question, Doocy shows a grainy, web-pulled trailer from the game, then asks,
"Is this fantasy game just a little too real? And is it appropriate. Let's have a fair and balanced debate on this Veteran's day."
First up is Jim Steyer, from CommonSense Media, who Doocy introduces by saying plainly, "You've got some problems with this game." He does, but they have nothing to do with the simulated terrorism, actually. Instead, Steyer goes to CommonSense's usual spiel about violent games not being appropriate for children and the lame assertion that "certain types of game violence can be correlated [to] aggression" (not correlated to "concrete increases in violent crime," but always to nebulous "aggression").
To Steyer's credit he finishes by saying it "really depends on the age of the user." And to Doocy's credit, he points out that the game has a "tag" that says "you gotta be at least 17 years old" to buy it.
Any credit-granting ends, though, when Slash Gamer's Jon Chistensen comes on to defend video games against Doocy's statement that, "you get to essentially be a terrorist and kill people and it's very realistic." (A pretty fair assessment, in my view). Christensen's brilliant defense against this charge?
"You're not actually a terrorist."
Really? The best mitigation you can come up with for a scene where you can take part in shooting an airport full of defenseless people is that the "game specifically says" that you're a "CIA undercover agent"? Is this sort of loophole really at the heart of the controversy here? Is that little bit of hair-splitting going to convince anyone that the scene is artistically and culturally important, despite its graphic nature? Is the medium really served by such an obviously defensive and desperate knee-jerk, nitpicky justification?
When Christensen trails off awkwardly, perhaps realizing the inanity of his argument, Doocy jumps in and asks Steyer whether it's "ever appropriate to assimilate [sic] killing people?" Steyer actually acts as gaming's best advocate in the debate at this point, saying "we live in a world of free speech, so you can create these games," and telling viewers they have to decide for themselves whether it's appropriate or not.
Well I'm glad somebody said it, even if it's a guy I don't generally agree with. Games are creative expression (even if they're "not art") and the first amendment places broad protections on that kind of expression, even if it's distasteful or disturbing, on the theory that adults can decide for themselves what to expose themselves to. Regardless of Steyer's further claptrap about the correlation between "screen violence and aggression in real life," Steyer at least established that he understands this basic defense of the game's right to exist.
Christensen shows no such understanding when Doocy graciously gives him the "final word," arguing instead that he has a "buddy that works at a retail store" that won't sell the game to kids, so children will never, ever play this game ever, or something. When Doocy answers back
that "you bring a game into a house, nothing to stop an eight year kid from becoming a terrorist and shooting people [long pause] on a video game," Christensen jumps back to his tried and true stupidity: "Yeah, but you're not a terrorist. That's ridiculous, you're not a terrorist."
When Christensen quickly pivots to a slightly better point -- "It's pixelated violence" -- Doocy pauses for an incredibly skeptical beat and says matter-of-factly, "It's violence." Christensen shakes his head and closes his eyes at this point, desperately telling viewers (and possibly himself) over and over: "It's not real. It's not real. It's not real."
Then, in perhaps the most awkward segue possible, Doocy moves on: "I'll tell you what real violence is, what went down at Fort Hood." Well, I'll tell you what figurative violence is: What just happened to the debate over the Modern Warfare 2 controversy in that last segment.