Category Archives: death race

C. Everett Koop, former U.S. Surgeon General

What C. Everett Koop Thought About Video Game Violence

Every once in awhile, in the wake of a terrible mass shooting occuring in the United States (aka, a Tuesday), some in the hand-wringing news media trot out the ridiculous and long-debunked trope that video games could have been a reason for such an action. So, every once in awhile, we have to remind people of the fallacy of such an argument, with articles such as this one, originally posted to The Dot Eaters on Feb. 27, 2013.

As the first “superstar” Surgeon General of the United States, C. Everett Koop held a lot of sway over public opinion when it came to health issues in the 1980’s.  With his passing on Monday at the age of 96, one figures he must have had some knowledge on the subject of longevity.

Koop took what was previously a relatively obscure governmental position and used his pulpit (pun intended; Koop was an evangelical Presbyterian), to push some important health issues into the fore, including critical education on the subject of the then burgeoning AIDS epidemic, as well as the lethality of smoking.  It’s hard to criticize a man who fought so tirelessly in his surgical career to correct infant birth defects, who then went on to evangelize against stigmatizing AIDS victims and the promotion of inherently dangerous products by the tobacco industry, but when it came to the topic of the effect of video games on children, Koop was dead wrong.

Flyer for Death Race, cause of violence controversy, an arcade video game by Exidy 1976

Flyer for Death Race, the 1976 arcade game by Exidy that started the fear of videogame violence

 

He addressed a conference of public-health workers at the University of Pittsburgh in 1982 on the topic of family violence, and afterwards during a press conference he directly implicated video games as a main contributing factor of intrafamily violence, along with television and the poor economic conditions the country was facing at the time.  For video games, he said:

[children] are into the games body and soul – everything is zapping the enemy.  Children get to the point where when they see another child being molested by a third child, they just sit back.

It was the ever-popular “desensitized to violence” argument, and it flew in the face of reputable studies that refused to reinforce the idea that consumption of media can be said to be a main cause of real-life violence, either in adults or children.  Koop himself, of course, did not cite any evidence to back up his claim, and it seems wildly irresponsible for such a notable public figure, who relished the ability to effect dramatic changes on U.S. health issues, to so baldy present the public with a red-herring as to the causes of family violence.  Koop knew he could address any of the real factors: exposure to abuse as a child, alcohol abuse, an indifferent education system, personality disorders.  There’s a shopping list of societal ills that could have accompanied poor economic conditions as reasons for family violence.  Instead Koop decided to demonize video games as a causative factor.

Sure, Koop later stepped back from his initial comments, stating that there has been no causal link shown with video games and youth violence. But his initial comments helped take America’s eye off the ball as to solving the real causes of societal violence in the country, and for that it should be considered a grave misdiagnosis in Koop’s career as “America’s Doctor”.

For more information on the history of video game violence, consult your local Dot Eaters article.

Marquee for Death Race, an arcade video game by Exidy 1976

Driving Controversy: Death Race

Death Race was an arcade game released by Exidy in 1976, amid a pack of other such driving games as Atari’s Grand Trak 10 (1974) and Le Mans (1976), as well as Indy 800 (1975), published under Atari’s secret Kee label. Racing games were pretty hot at the time, but Death Race threw in a little something special to the mix: instead of racing around a track, you drove your vehicle around an arena trying to run over little stick figures, who when hit would shriek and turn into a cross for you to avoid. It would become the first game to generate widespread concerns about video game violence.

Screen of Death Race, a violent arcade video game by Exidy 1976

Death Race, scourge of the arcades!

The blocky and abstract graphical representation of its obvious inspiration, Roger Corman’s low-budget exploitation flick Death Race 2000, seems positively quaint by today’s standards. Death Race, however, drove a storm of controversy as word got out about the game.  It was decried as “morbid” by trade publications of the time, and the National Safety Council branded it as “sick”. Newspapers ran stories gleefully outlining the premise of the game, and no reassurances from Exidy’s marketing man Paul Jacobs that players were actually dispatching “gremlins”, as noted in a label on the game’s dashboard, could quite quell the outrage.

Instructions for killing 'gremlins"

Instructions for killing ‘gremlins”

Despite (or perhaps because of) the controversy, Death Race was a hit for Exidy and helped establish them as a long-time player in the video game market.  The game also paved the way for more realistic video game violence, in the vein of the Mortal Kombat and the Grand Theft Auto games. All of which, of course, helped to turn kids into hardened killers, in the same way that video baseball games turned them into professional ball players.

For more information on Death Race, consult your local Dot Eaters article.

Screenshot of Death Race, an arcade video game by Exidy, 1976

Violent Video Game Controversy!

With all the summits and task forces currently considering stronger new gun control legislation in the U.S. and the possible reasons for the rash of mass shootings plaguing the country, how about a look back at directly where all this violence began? With video games, of course! Duh.

It dates back to 1976 and the release of Exidy’s Death Race, an arcade video game loosely inspired by Roger Corman’s ultra-violent B-movie Death Race 2000.  In Exidy’s game, one or two players drove a vehicle around a playfield chasing running stick figures.  When a figure was hit, it would let out an electronic shriek and turn into a cross, creating a permanent obstacle for drivers to avoid.

Directions for Death Race, an arcade video game by Exity 1976

Wait, they’re gremlins. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

 

Considered quaint by today’s standards, Death Race caused a national debate on the cultural ramifications of the burgeoning video game market, was labelled “sick” and “depraved” by various groups, and of course enjoyed a healthy run in the arcades.

For more information on Death Race and its fallout, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.