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Bulletstorm Videogame Causes Rape: Bad Psychology in Action
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Bulletstorm Videogame Causes Rape: Bad Psychology in Action

A Fox News story makes the link between sexually-charged videogames and an increase in rape. Should the ‘experts’ be held accountable?

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Parents, lock up your children, because letting them play videogames might help turn them into rapists. That’s the claim from a recent Fox News story with the unbiased title “Is Bulletstorm the Worst Videogame in the World?”, which details a causal link between the rise of sexually-charged videogames and the rise in rapes among those who play them. Citing that ‘experts’ the organization spoke with were “nearly universally worried that video game violence may be reaching a fever pitch”, before launching an all-out assault on the upcoming and still-unleashed new videogame Bulletstorm.

The story claims that “sexual situations and acts in video games — highlighted so well in Bulletstorm – have led to real-world sexual violence.”  But don’t just take their word for it, because they’ve brought with them a gaggle of ‘experts’ to make their case, including Carol Lieberman, a psychologist and book author, who’s quick to make what can only be described as one of the broadest judgment’s I’ve ever read in a so-called legitimate news story:

“The increase in rapes can be attributed in large part to the playing out of [sexual] scenes in video games,”

One wonders if Carole Lieberman M.D. (misidentified as Carol Lieberman in the story), author of the new book “Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them & How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets”, which Amazon.com describes as “a no-holds barred, provocative look at the dangerous damsels who steal the hearts of men everywhere,” and claims to help girls discover if they’re a “Wanna-Be Bad Girl, a Man-Eater or somewhere in between,” has ever played or experienced the Bulletstorm game for herself, or whether the extent of her analysis goes beyond the anecdotal.

Furthermore, there’s no mention of the scientific data that birthed such a provocative statement linking the rise of documented rapes directly to those sexually-charged scenes in video games. Alas, the story makes no such connection, nor does it offer corroborating testimony to such a striking allegation.  Instead, it offers only further conjecture and blanket statements from others in the field, most notably Dr. Jerry Weichman, a clinical psychologist at the Hoag Neurosciences Institute, who claims “If a younger kid experiences Bulletstorm’s explicit language and violence, the damage could be significant,” adding “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.”

Of course, inciting potential parental rage over supposed sexual acts in videogames is nothing new for Fox News, as evidenced by the infamous ‘SexBox’ fiasco in which the network questioned the supposed sexual possibilities and situations of EA’s original Mass Effect videogame, which presumably included full sexual intercourse with space aliens and homosexual encounters. The segment on the now-cancelled show “The Live Desk with Martha MacCallum” pit author and ‘psychology specialist’ Cooper Lawrence against videogame journalist and host Geoff Keighley to discuss the game’s apparently sexuality, which Cooper insisted help fan (male) teenage hormones and anti-women sentiments.

“The damage is this – we know that all the research shows that violence has a desensitizing effect. Well, sexuality does too,” She then added “They don’t show women as being values for anything other than their sexuality.” To help cement the game’s obvious misogynistic bent she added “It’s a MAN in this game deciding how many women he wants to be with.”

Only, it wasn’t about that at all, as Keighley was quick to point out.  “That’s completely incorrect. You can actually play as a man or a woman.”  When asked if Cooper had ever played the game for herself, which might have helped her form a more accurate and less-damaging opinion, she simply laughed off this question with an incredulous “No!”

Cooper continued to defend her position, referring to Geoff as “darling”, saying that she had to “go with the search”, citing a new study out of the University of Maryland that claims “boys that play videogames cannot tell the difference between what they’re seeing in a videogame unless they have a real experience.”

It’s interesting to note that Cooper’s testimony about the game, much like Carole Lieberman’s allegations connecting videogame sexuality to an increase in rape, seemed to coincide with the promotion of her book “The Cult of Perfection: Making Peace with Your Inner Overachiever”.  It’s also interesting to note that immediately following her ‘expert testimony’ on the Fox News program said book was inundated with thousands of negative reviews, which effectively doomed it to a low ‘1-Star’ tally on the website’s rating system. While the irony of legions of enraged videogame fans ‘reviewing’ a book they most likely had not read could be summed up as just desserts, the experience was an eye-opening one for Cooper, who went on to apologize for her erroneous comments soon after:

“I recognize that I misspoke. I really regret saying that, and now that I’ve seen the game and seen the sex scenes it’s kind of a joke,” She further went on to say that her opinion of the game’s supposed graphic sexual nature may have been given to her by the show’s producers, adding “Before the show I had asked somebody about what they had heard, and they had said it’s like pornography. But it’s not like pornography. I’ve seen episodes of Lost that are more sexually explicit.”

And let’s not forget that any analysis of the still-unreleased Bulletstorm must be taken with a grain of salt, because the game is still, you know, unreleased. The theories proposed by the above-mentioned doctors are most likely based on the recently –released playable demo of the game, which does in fact feature several acts of gratuitous violence and sexually-charged attacks and references (“it’ll pucker your butthole”), though rendered in such overly-gratuitous manners that it’s difficult to believe anyone would ever mistake them for “real-life” scenarios, let alone attempt to mimic them.

Then again, far be it for so-called professional psychologists and members of otherwise prestigious medical boards to levy premature and blanket-statements on products they obviously have yet to consume in order to hock a product. One has to question whether the statements included in this latest example were firsthand accounting by the quoted ‘experts’ or limited to summaries handed to them just prior to their professional pronouncements.  Again, its either further irony in which a story about a publisher using controversy to sell a game uses controversial statements from so-called professionals to sell their own books, bad journalism, or abject ignorance all-around.  Is there an option for ‘all of the above’?

Full disclosure – I’m actually a Fox News viewer, among other cable and online news sources, and have been for several years.  I also consume an unhealthy amount of News Corporation-produced content and media, and have no intention of stopping anytime soon. Yet, as much as some of you reading this will take this particular story as further ‘proof’ of some conspiratorial agenda against videogames or use it to lambast Fox News and the like for their unprofessional behavior (to which I’d have no objection), that isn’t the case here, or with my wanting to address and possibly connection this most recent of unskilled journalism with prior offenses.

No, I’m actually more concerned with those in the field of clinical and behavior psychology who would so easily and with such unrestrained ignorance continue to offer unsubstantiated claims and opinions on subjects they clearly don’t understand, or have failed to study properly.  Whatever your personal views on whether there exists a causal link between videogames and/or other media and heighted violence and sexuality in human beings – particularly the younger and still-developing ones – is one matter. But to have those so-called professionals responsible for researching and only THEN drawing conclusions (pillars of the scientific method) shun the process for crass product and personal endorsements is both shameful and shameless; one wonders if some regulatory board exists for decertifying them before any real and lasting damage is done.

About the Author: Nathan Evans