A Non-Controversial Look At Controversy

Madonna - Saving the world a village at a time

Controversy is one of those things that make the world go around; it sells newspapers when a politician says something about immigration and everyone wonders if he’s being just a little bit racist. It sells magazines when a “celeb” adopts a child from a foreign country rather than from their own country and, on occasion, it’s been known to sell video games.

When you think of video games and the media, you generally think about negativity and, to be fair, why shouldn’t you? Read a news story about a school shooting and I guarantee that, somewhere in there, the idiot journalist will say “his favourite video game was popular online shooter ‘Counter-Strike’”, even though we’ve all moved on to CS:S by now (apologies to those who haven’t; 1.6 is still a good game).

“Supernanny” Jo Frost performed a very weak experiment into the effects of video games on children which showed us that after playing ‘Medal of Honor’ on a laptop for an hour, some kids were less likely to pick up knocked over pencils than the kids who played ‘Fifa 09’ on a laptop for an hour. Frankly, if they’d made me play Fifa on a laptop without a gamepad, I’d have stabbed the guy with the pencils. Of course, who can forget the epic scandal when ‘Mass Effect’ came out, with some people claiming it to be some kind of sex romp across space that totally objectified women?

Of all the major controversies over the years, Rockstar Games are usually at the centre of them. Yes, the Edinburgh originated developer turned global phenomenon are never far from the latest controversial game release. ‘Bully’ was criticised for its name in the UK to the point where they changed it to ‘Canis Canem Edit’, and in the US for featuring a bit of boy-on-boy action although the updated release, ‘Bully: Scholarship Edition’ kept its name in the UK and added even more gay kissing – eat it Jack Thompson! ‘Manhunt 2’ was briefly banned in the UK for its over the top violence although gamers in general couldn’t care less about the game, and the ban was eventually overturned. Then, of course, every single Grand Theft Auto game has come under fire just before its release because of its content of drugs, sex, and violence.

You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow

So, if Grand Theft Auto gets all the flak for being violent, sexy and drug filled, why aren’t the games that also feature the same kind of content lambasted by a horde of angry journos trying to progress their careers through the kind of lazy journalism that allows the Sun to carry on (Apologies to Sun readers)? Games like ‘MadWorld’, a game which rewards you specifically for killing enemies in a variety of gory and interesting ways, are ignored in favour of something that is, in fact, comparatively tamer, such as Bully. I’m not saying that we should start to focus on the violence and content in games, but why aren’t all games subject to scrutiny?

There are a few reasons. First of all, it’s all down to publicity. MadWorld is very much a gamer’s game and, as such, probably won’t have much of an advertising campaign outside of the usual gaming websites. The Grand Theft Auto series, however, gets plastered everywhere the human eye can see, giving it publicity whether it’s deserved or not. With a big budget, and no shame, it’s no wonder the series gets a clout every time a sequel comes out (ohh yeah, I can do rhymes).

Then we have public knowledge; EVERYONE knows what Grand Theft Auto is. It’s synonymous with video gaming in general, like Mario or Halo or Call of Duty, therefore it’s bound to attract attention whether it tries to or not. Meanwhile, ‘Soldier of Fortune’ gives you buckets of blood for half the price of GTA, and no one bats an eyelid because who’s ever heard of that game? Sure, it got banned from Germany and Australia, as well as all the usual suspects, but the British media let it slide past without so much as a passing nod.

But the weird thing is, it’s not the content of the game that’s at fault here. Let’s take the four most complained about aspects of the GTA series: sex, drugs, violence, and swearing. Sex in GTA is limited to witnessing a car squeaking from side to side and, even in the new HD generation, there’s no naked bits flying around on screen (Hot Coffee mod notwithstanding). Meanwhile, ‘Dante’s Inferno’ has not only a whole menagerie of bare breast on show, but also two (count ‘em, TWO) penises on show. Penises! In video games! Yeah, I know… GTA had them first in ‘The Lost and The Damned’, but not of this magnitude! Then we have ‘Dead or Alive Extreme 2’, a game with enough titillation to make a porn star feel a little embarrassed to be there, and we don’t even have any nakedness involved. Did this get any media attention? Did it hell! The worst that happened was when the female employee at GAME gave me a funny look as I bought it.

Fear my wrath... fear my PENIS!

Drugs. Are drugs even worthy of mention? You can’t move your head for cocaine in the world of TV screens. Rockstar’s own ‘Smuggler’s Run’ had more drugs in it than Amy Winehouse could snort in a weekend and people just let it roll on by. Drugs are just a set-piece in the background when it comes to a realistic, gritty atmosphere.

Violence is one of the worst excuses for GTA getting banned. Anyone who has complained about the game series has clearly never played it. Yes, you can run people over. Yes, you can choose different areas to shoot them. Do limbs fly off when you do so? No. Is there a massive explosion of blood? A small cloud of it, sure, but nothing major. ‘Call of Duty: World at War’ came out, allowing you to set fire to enemies and blast off limbs, in a game series that has established itself as being good enough to not require excessive amounts of blood, and it was actually praised for its use of violence.

And finally, swearing. Ok, I’ll admit, pretty much every character uses the f-word at least once in the game but even Desmond Miles from ‘Assassins Creed’ is swearing like a trooper these days. ‘Poker Night at the Inventory’ has Tycho punctuating every sentence with a cavalcade of swearing, and that’s a poker game!

So if the problem isn’t the content, what is it? Well, it could be the setting. ‘Grand Theft Auto 4’ is quite blatantly modelled on New York, so maybe people are offended that the city is being represented in such a manner. ‘Resistance: Fall of Man’ suffered a similar fate of being criticised when it used Manchester Cathedral for an epic showdown with alien hordes. But surely we’re now in a day and age where people can accept that these games are not models of reality, and are simply escapes from the harshness that reality can dole out on people.

I could be wrong about all this. It could be that everyone has actually stopped caring about video games and are finally letting them do what they like. Even Australia is finally looking into allowing the R18 rating to be allowed for video games, meaning developers no longer have to edit their games down if they want an Aussie release. Or maybe controversy is a much bigger deal than I’m aware of, and the many games I have listed in this article received a greater amount of attention than I saw. I don’t know. All I know is, Grand Theft Auto and other Rockstar games shouldn’t be subject to the constant criticism they receive. There’s far worse out there that people are playing. And those games usually aren’t even any good.

Last five articles by Ric



  1. Richie rich says:

    Rockstar arguably need to concentrate on their game mechanics and forget about being deliberately controversial. Fuck ‘em, they’ve not done anything good in years apart from Bully.

    A bit of blood, violence, rumpy-pumpy is fine. Can’t say it makes me bat an eyelid. Sure, when some pink tracksuit clad Kerry Katona-inspired mother buys Cockslaughterer IV for their toddler, that’s an issue but it’s someone else’s issue. At least games haven’t gone into that Rated 12 zone that ruined horror films I guess.

    Splatterhouse was a bit daft as it was all blood and tits. It didn’t offend me, it just made me think the devs should grow up a little.

  2. Thomas says:

    I agree with Rich here. Rockstar need to work on their games a little bit more and less on the controversy. Maybe LA Noire will bring about that change.

    On the point of advertising, Dead Space 2 was plastered everywhere here in Belfast, and it received no major criticism of any kind. Isaac stomped on mutant babies and children for chrissakes!!

    I don’t know what it is, but I guess it’s probably because they’re household names now. Slap the parents with fines and beat them in public for stupidity. Being a parent, I know better than that.

    Rant over and a great piece as always.

  3. Adam Adam says:

    My favourite is when the Tabloids not only slate the game, but when their games editor reviews it to a tune of 5*’s!

    Sometimes its unwarranted and other times it’s invited. EA’s marketing of Dead Space 2 called for people’s mums to watch the game played and then said it was a cool thing that she thought it was horrendous. Bulletstorm similarly kicked up its own fuss by throwing it straight at FOX News for the best free advertisement they could get. I’ll never agree with that level of marketing as it paints gamers with a bad brush, I’d rather there was simply some more care given.

    CoD I think is the strangest ones. At the launch of Blop’s and MW2, the press were all excited to cover the release of the game and how many people queue up, how many tens of millions it sells and just how much of a big thing it is. That the game is violent and played by the young children of bad parents is overlooked entirely, simply because it’s actually popular and everyone knows someone whose into it.

    I’d love it if we could move on to a state of non-controversy but so long as someone thinks they will make money or a name for themselves from it, aint a chance in hell.

  4. Lorna Lorna says:

    Well reasoned piece and I agree: the apparent ‘rule for one but not another’ nonsense with games is just mind boggling. GTA seems pretty tame in comparison to other titles, but gets attacked every time by a rabiid and ignorant press because Rockstar have become the poster child for controversy. They are an easy, level 1 target, which requires no real effort. Bully was a classic – if any of its critics had ever actually played it, they’d have realised that you spend more time protecting geeks and little kids and mowing damn lawns than bullying someone to the point of suicide.

    The mainstream and tabloid press always have been riddled with hypocrisy and double standards and it will never change, sad as that may be. Games aren’t the only victims of this. So while some games will be ignored, others will be burned in a DEFRA style pyre by a bloated Alan Titch and Anne Diamondback for producing noxious acid that easts the faces off babies or some other such crap.

    As far as sex in games goes, ‘about time’ is all I can say. As for showing some dick in games, well about time for that too. It’s called equality and makes up for Leisure Suit Larry. Film and TV have always suffered the same righteous indignation though… very much ‘no sex or man bits plese, we’re British, but you can lop that commoner’s head off.’ It won’t go away until the next entertainment medium becomes the route of all evil.. until then, remember folks, you can find far more violent, sexually debauched, and depraved works of fiction near you… they’re called books and these bastions of evil are housed in institutions where children roam free… libraries. The horror.

  5. Edward Edward says:

    I’m getting tired of the controversy about games in the media to the point I’ve started creatively making shit up about the same media that lambasts gaming to see how they feel like it.
    Turns out it hasn’t caught on as much as I thought, but my heart was in the right place, as was this article. Good job Ric! :D

  6. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    First of all, I want Rich to make Cockslaughterer IV.

    I enjoyed this piece immensely. It sickens me when the tabloid press jump all over a game just because some guy’s neighbour’s hairdresser’s mechanic’s ballet teacher happened to blurt out over a pint of heavy that the latest game release has a bit of gore in it. Piss off. LIFE has gore in it. LIFE has sex;. it has drugs, it has prostitution, death, suicides, disease, cancer… life is the most vile game we all play, yet we do it every day and think nothing of it until someone dares bring it to our attention and then we remember.

    The sooner the press recognise that all art has to use reality as a basis, the better. If every game, movie or song was about how wonderful life was, there’d be nobody left on the planet because we’d all fucking kill ourselves in disgust.

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