Earlier today President Obama signed 23 executive orders in an effort to curb gun violence in the United States. The President has also stated that he will circumvent a 15 year-old ban on CDC-based research regarding gun violence.
Whenever a tragedy like the shootings in Sandy Hook, CT occurs the debate regarding any possible link between video games and real life violence is reignited. The new research ordered by the president is sure to relate to the video game industry.
While any link between virtual and real violence is tenuous at best it’s easy to see why the public is quick to view gaming in a negative light. Yesterday Deep Silver announced the special ‘Zombie Bait’ edition of the upcoming sequel Dead Island: Riptide. Included in this EU/Australia exclusive edition is a blood-soaked, bikini-clad torso with the head and arms severed.
The reaction from gaming journalists was almost universally negative. Patrick Klepek of GiantBomb wrote, “…this is over the line, and Deep Silver should have known better.”
Kotaku author Jason Schreier posted, “Really though, this is disgusting. It's the sort of marketing misstep that can make it feel really embarrassing to like video games.”
And it is an embarrassment. Deep Silver quickly issued an apology but has yet to state if they will go ahead with releasing this edition of the game. An apology is warranted and one has to ask how a misstep like this happens in the first place. How did no one in the marketing department speak up to say, “Hey, this could make us look really bad.” Someone at Deep Silver must have known this would be offensive, the box even states it contains what could be considered offensive material, and yet they still went through with it.
This isn’t the only recent incident of video game marketing going terribly wrong. In advance of Medal of Honor: Warfighter’s release last year EA partnered with gun manufacturers to promote weapons featured in Medal of Honor. Not digital weapons for the game; actual guns. One can argue the merits of gun ownership and the 2 Amendment ad nauseam but this was firmly tying a video game, albeit a mature-rated one, directly to the sales of real world weapons. After public outcry and negative coverage from major news sources such as The New York Times the promotion was terminated by EA.
How can the industry defend itself from accusations that it promotes actual violence when promotions like this exist? Not only do they border on, and sometimes cross, the line into offensive territory they do the industry as a whole absolutely no favors.
Recently video games have taken great strides in overcoming their image as mindless entertainment. Last year the Smithsonian American Art Museum celebrated the evolution of gaming and the Museum of Modern Art will open an exhibit of American games in March. Pride in seeing an industry that many of us have grown up with and find so much joy in recognized in such a way is wonderful. The Roger Ebert’s of the world who say gaming can never be an art form or the parents who chastise their children for wasting all of their time in front of ‘the Nintendo’ can be shown this as tangible proof that it’s something more.
Gamers don’t need that, we know what it is that makes video games special, but we can point to these highlights to help others begin to understand. And this understanding is what helps drive the industry forward. It’s what takes video games out of the basement and puts them in the living room where everyone can enjoy them together. But when crass promotions like what Deep Silver announced yesterday are created with the hope of earning our dollars gamers have to point to that as well. That has to be explained to those very same people that don’t understand our passion and see the offensive creations as all that gaming is.
The video game industry needs to look at things like that bloody, bikini-clad torso and ask itself, “Is this really what we want to be?”