The next instalment of the ongoing debate about the content of videogames and the impact on the people who use them has started in the US this week. Bulletstorm is a first person shooter that EA describe as featuring "an arsenal of over-the-top combat moves and outrageously large guns" (http://www.ea.com/games/bulletstorm) as you character battles to survive "hordes of mutants and flesh eating gangs". Described as "tongue in cheek" by CNN in January, this game has been aimed exclusively at an adult audience, and it has been granted a 'M' Mature rating under the ESRB rating system.
However, the game has been made the object of a piece run by Fox News, entitled 'Is Bulletstorm the Worst Video Game in the World?', where psychologist and author Carol Lieberman baldly states
“The increase in rapes can be attributed in large part to the playing out of scenes in video games."
(quoted on MCVUK: http://is.gd/dFvAPQ). Later, Dr Jerry Weichman, a clinical psychologist at the Hoag Neurosciences Institute in Southern California, adds:
"Violent video games like Bulletstorm have the potential to send the message that violence and insults with sexual innuendos are the way to handle disputes and problems."
EA have responded to the claims made by Fox, with a press release made by Vice-President of Public Relations, Tammy Schachter, published by Game Informer (http://is.gd/GjQice).
"Epic, People Can Fly and EA are avid supporters of the ESA and believe in the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) rating system. We believe in and abide by the policies put in place by the ESRB.
Bulletstorm is rated M for Mature for blood and gore, intense violence, partial nudity, sexual themes, strong language and use of alcohol. The game and its marketing adhere to all guidelines set forth by the ESRB; both are designed for people 17+. Never is the game marketed to children."
Later, Schachter compares the game to the work of film directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, where hyperreal settings offer a context for acts of comic book violence.
Game Informer have published links to trailers for the game, and includes further quotes from the Fox coverage. Confusingly, the article signs off by describing the game as "sensationally violent". The tone of the coverage on the website glories in the sensational nature of the videogame, playing up the extreme hyperreal content on offer.
This type of media story has frequently been repeated in the UK press, and this story may well make the leap from the videogame specialist websites to the mainstream press in advance of the game release.
EA are walking a fine line with the release of a game, where the target audience have been primed with trailers, promotional downloads and interviews from the creative team who designed the game as long ago as E3, in June last year, all with the aim of maximizing the day one sales. EA have experienced a period of losses, recently reported as $322 million (http://is.gd/sbR3wC - comments) and Bulletstorm is expected to be the start of a turn around for what is one of the original videogame software companies. The current wave of media interest can only help EA in keeping the game in the public eye, and allow them to profit handsomely.
Looking further into the future, the need to enforce the age rating system may further enhance the move towards direct delivery of videogames via broadband networks. The purchase of downloadable content (DLC) can be controlled by limiting the transaction to a credit card, thus ensuring that the owner is of a certain age. Whether the owner of the card is the purchaser is another matter, and one the software company will feel they can leave to the household in question. The same is true for a streaming service like Gameplay, where the game code is streamed across a network and no disc is required for a gamer to start playing. Furthermore, the game software is protected from any threat of piracy by the removal of any disc to copy.
EA have been in the vanguard of the development of broadband delivery systems for videogame content, supporting X-Box Live Arena and PlayStation Network from the launch both services, and looking to gain revenue from the sale of in game content over the full lifetime of the game. With the removal of the disc-object and the direct sale of the game to the player, a software company can ensure that they derive the return of all surplus value from the game sale.