Category Archives: videogame violence

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.

Is this the real life?

More Real-Life Violence Ascribed to Video Games

Headlines are trumpeting a tragic shooting that happened in Louisiana last Thursday, August 22. An 8-year-old boy shot his grandmother in the head with a .38 caliber handgun that belonged to her, while she was watching television.

A tragic story, for sure, where a lot of questions as to why it happened have to be answered. Where did he get the gun? Why was he unsupervised with it? Did he have even a modicum of gun safety knowledge?

The news media, of course, barely if at all touches on these questions. Instead, they stampede towards the easiest, most sensational assumption that video games are the culprit. Since the police have taken the trouble to mention in their statement that the young child was playing Grand Theft Auto IV “just before” the shooting, most of the headlines read something to the effect of “8-Year-Old kills caregiver after playing video game”. Causality is baked right into the headline.

Why not “Kid shoots grandmother after brushing teeth”? Can we instantly rule out aggressive teeth brushing as the main factor? How about “Child murders caregiver after hot cocoa”? Sugar has been linked to aggressive and uncontrolled behaviour in children for decades.

Even if you want to cloud the event with the idea that violent video games can contribute to real-life acts of violence, the question in this case must be asked: why was an 8-year-old playing a game labelled M for Mature? I only read one article that even mentions the fact that GTA IV is so rated, and surprisingly that source was the Fox News website.

Of course, in the end we all know why CNN and its ilk chooses to visibly and aggressively stir up controversy about video game violence over this deeply unfortunate occurrence. Because mentioning the rampant gun-culture in the U.S. is “un-American”. Because calling out bad parenting is “strident” and “lecturing”.

Because video games get clicks.

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

What C. Everett Koop Thought About Video Games

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.

He addressed a conference of public-health workers at the University of Pittsburg 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.

His 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.

What Nolan Said: Dissing GTA

Nolan Bushnell helped to form the video game industry by creating Atari and PONG.  These days he’s like the curmudgeonly neighbour who sits on his porch shaking his fist at people passing by and making pronouncements like in today’s “What Nolan Said”:

The quote is taken from yesterday’s Bloomberg’s “Inkblot” session with Bushnell, a kind of word-association interview they occasionally conduct. It’s not too surprising that he would disparage Rockstar’s notorious flagship title, as he has always shown a distaste for violence and sex in video games.  In a mini-interview conducted by Newsweek in 2003, Bushnell noted a rule under his tenure at Atari, that while a programmer could destroy tanks and cars in a game, never a human figure directly.  Perhaps this is his Mormonism peeking through.

During the Bloomberg interview, Bushnell’s one-word response to an image of stacks of GTA IV cases was “Dystopian”.

The Wellspring of 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 where the controversy of video game violence began?

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.

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.

Duke Nukem’s Butt-Slapping Mode

I am not going to prefix this post with a disclaimer that I am against violence against women, because if you think that by protesting this effort against the game I condone such actions, you are an idiot not worth stooping down to talk to.

There is currently a furore brewing over an aspect of the “Capture the Babe” multiplayer mode in the forthcoming Duke Nukem Forever. In this mode, players attempt to kidnap a woman from the opposition and take them back to home base. Slung over the shoulder, if they start resisting and slowing your progress, a slap on the butt will quiet them down.

Let the outrage commence. For instance, there is a petition to get Walmart, the world’s leading retailer, to not carry the game if this multiplayer mode is included. It currently has, at this writing, over 5,600 signatures. Presented at change.org, it demands thusly:

Refuse to Sell Duke Nukem Forever Unless “Babe-Slapping” Mode is Removed

Greetings,

I’m writing to ask that Walmart take a stand against physical and sexual violence against women by refusing to sell the Duke Nukem Forever game until the “Capture the Babe” mode of play is removed.

Early reports reveal the new Duke Nukem Forever game is set to be released with a “Capture the Babe” mode of play. In this disturbing version of “capture the flag” the player is tasked with kidnapping a woman from his enemy’s base, throwing her over his shoulder, and carrying her back to his base to share the spoils. If she starts to “freak out,” the player is encouraged to slap her on the butt until she shuts up. This is a blatant celebration of violence against women in a game that will be played primarily by young people.

Walmart is a family friendly retailer and customers will not stand for the promotion of violence against women to the young people who walk through the store doors. Please publicly state that Walmart stores will not sell the Duke Nukem Forever game unless the “babe-slapping mode” is removed.

[Your name]

Let me proffer a couple of reasons why I think this petition is wrongheaded:

First: Equating a slap on the butt to “physical and sexual violence” is overblown, and belittles women who are the victims of ACTUAL violence, as well as endangers all women by diluting the idea of violence against women. At worst, the action within the game could be construed as sexual harassment. However, Duke isn’t an office manager, patting women on the butt as a sign that they better have sex with him if they want a promotion. For whatever reason (if any is even given in the game) he’s trying to kidnap or rescue women from a heavily armed opposition. Context, people!

Second: Duke Nukem Forever is rated “Mature” by the ESRB. This is not a game that should “be played primarily by young people”. If it is, then blame parents and retailers. Heck, blame Walmart, the company you are directing your petition to! Don’t blame the game makers.

And ultimately, it is just a game. If you think some butt-slapping in Duke Nukem promotes violence against women, why not a petition against the hundreds of thousands of bloody deaths that will no doubt occur in the game, which clearly promotes murder?