Pete's Perspective Episode 8: Pete's Wrath
So… what’s Pete so pissed about? I’m glad you asked. (If you didn’t, just pretend.)
As many of you who are regular readers probably know, Rockstar Games unveiled a new game this week, called Bully. Bully is said to take place in a reform school known as Bullworth Academy and is said to contain elements like trying to gain the affections of the opposite sex, dealing with teachers who pick on you, playing pranks on other kids… and, of course, dealing with bullies.
OK… what’s the problem here? Perhaps the school setting for a game from Rockstar is a bit questionable, especially if you consider the alleged link between video games and school violence. Still, we don’t know anything. We don’t have an ESRB rating. We don’t know the specifics of the game, such as how violent it will be. We haven’t even seen screenshots of the game yet—those will come at E3.
Enter Atty. Jack Thompson, self-proclaimed “anti-violent video game advocate”. Perhaps you’re heard of Atty. Thompson… he was featured prominently on CBS’ 60 Minutes news program several weeks ago, decrying the Grand Theft Auto series; now, he’s got his sights set on Rockstar once again.
It seems that our Atty. Thompson has allegedly been privy to more of Bully’s content than any of us in the media have been. In a press release that Atty. Thompson distributed, he claims that a “deep industry source” told him that Bully “will pit rival gangs against each other in a virtual reality school where they can mercilessly beat and harm one another, turning virtual schools into cauldrons of chaos.”
That’s deep, Counselor. Very deep. Cauldrons of chaos, you say?
I suppose that Atty. Thompson’s “deep industry source” could be right, but those in the know are also aware of another Rockstar project called The Warriors, which is based on the 1979 Paramount film of the same name. The Warriors is all about pitting “rival gangs against each other”. Is it possible that two Rockstar games could involve gang warfare? Yes. Is it likely? I’m not so certain.
Other excerpts from Atty. Thompson’s press release just pissed me off… especially this: “If the video game industry is allowed, unchecked, to continue to raise our children, then at this pace pretty soon ‘No Child Left Behind’ will morph into ‘No Child Left Alive’.” Why is this the fault of the video game industry, Atty. Thompson? Where are the parents? Oh, that’s right. In this country, we don’t blame children for the crimes that they willingly commit, and we don’t chastise the parents. Instead, we’ve become very good at finding applicable scapegoats to take our frustrations out on. Why hold little Jimmy responsible for his wrongdoings or attempt to make his parents accountable for what games he plays, when it’s far easier to try and censor games that don’t have content suitable for youngsters? Am I right? After all, censorship is what Atty. Thompson seems to be good at; back in 1992, he was named one of the top ten censors of that year by the ACLU. That’s quite a feat.
I draw the line here. I am a taxpayer and I have the right to play whatever game I want to play. You don’t see me shooting at people or ripping out their spinal cords. You don’t see most other gamers engage in this type of behavior, either… especially adults who cannot hide behind a video game to escape from their personal responsibility when they commit crimes.
So, then, it boils down to kids—or minors, more specifically. Frankly, I believe that the industry is doing their part to keep questionable games out of the hands of minors. The ESRB rating is very clear, and retailers are generally doing a decent job of making sure that “M”-rated games aren’t sold to minors directly. I suppose that there’s always room for improvement; and I’ve gone on record in the past to say that I’m in favor of some sort of legislation that makes the sales of said games to minors subject to fines or even retail license revocation in repeated instances. However, retailers can’t deny the sale of Bully to a parent who buys the game for his or her son, just to make him happy (and maybe even get him to stop being a pest). At some point, parents simply must assume some sort of responsibility in this; if they don’t, I guarantee that this issue will worsen… and it shouldn’t.
Yes, I’m calling out parents here. I understand that times are tough, especially if you’re in a single-parent situation or if you both have to work 40+ hours to make ends meet. I sympathize with your plight; however, you are ultimately responsible for monitoring what games your children play. There’s no way around it. Learn what the ESRB ratings are and what they mean. Make an extra effort to look through your children’s game collection and see what they play. Talk about it over a meal, or maybe while in the car. See what they play away from home, while at a friend’s house. Lastly, use the internet and sites like ours for guidance. Use our message boards and ask questions, or even e-mail us. It’s time to stop shunting responsibility and passing the blame around. You can do it. I have faith in you, and I’m not alone.
What’s becoming increasingly apparent is that kids are ultimately going to ruin things for themselves. Instead of going through the proper channels and attempting to understand why certain games might not be meant for them, kids today seem to have that “I want it now and I’m going to play it now” mentality, as if they deserve the world on a silver platter because they’re kids. Kids don’t understand age limits, especially now that they have cell phones, PDAs, credit cards, and seemingly everything else that their adult brethren have. It’s like they get the rights of adults without the responsibility sometimes, and blaming a video game for killing another person or stealing a car is just too convenient. Personally, I view this as a societal problem—kids should be treated as kids. We’ve gone too far now, though, and we could ultimately be looking at situations where the words “illegal to play under 18” appear on some game cases. That’s a damned shame.
As you can see, despite the industry’s best efforts to try and keep “M”-rated games out of the hands of minors, there’s a certain amount of blame that can be directed at parents and kids… which ambulance chasers like Atty. Thompson casually gloss over. Censorship is not the only solution; in fact, it’s not a solution at all. It’s a matter of taking responsibility, and perhaps that’s a word that all of us need to take to heart more often.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, it’s time for this week’s Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down… let’s get to it:
Thumbs Up: I’d like to give a hearty two thumbs up to our PSX Extreme crew as they make final preparations for their trip to Los Angeles to cover E3. Although many of us wish we were going with them, believe me when I tell you that it’s a lot more work than it is fun. While I’ll be posting press release news and other goodies as I receive them, these folks will be providing images and hands-on impressions which will make you feel like you’re there. (By the way, I want my E3 goodie bag this year. No pressure.)
Thumbs Down: It’s not Sony-related, but if you wasted 30 minutes to watch that MTV special on the unveiling of Microsoft’s XBOX360 on Thursday night, write a letter to Viacom to demand that time back. Aside from being aurally beaten to death by The Killers, viewers were visually assaulted by ADD-influenced MTV programming at its very worst. Of the 22 minutes that weren’t commercials, perhaps 10 of those could have been considered somewhat relevant. There were a few game trailers, most of which were unimpressive, and way too much Elijah Wood. God, I hate him now.
That’s it for this week. Please note that Episode 9 will be delayed until Sunday (May 22nd) so that we can wrap up our E3 coverage. Needless to say, I’ll have my own spin on the event… and you won’t want to miss it. Until then… may the Force be with you. (Midnight showing, baby!)
5/13/2005 Peter J. Skerritt, Jr.