Creating Moral Panic: Bulletstorm in a Teacup

Conversations about Bulletstorm usually start with a criticism about the banality and puerile nature of the subject matter. A friend discounted the game as the product of a 10 year olds over active imagination. EA were #winning. EA had been happily fanning the flames of moral panic for close to a year in order to give Bulletstorm a USP. The panic had started at E3 2010 when EA distributed burgers outside allegedly made from human flesh. A cheap shot that wouldn’t  be the last.

CNN described the core game mechanic (skill kills) as ‘grisly’ and Fox described it as ‘The Worst Videogame In The World’. Carole Lieberman inferred a direct relationship between Video Game violence and rape. She attributed it to sexually explicit scenes in Video Games. It is a this point that one has to wonder if she had even played the game, or even knew how to turn on the X360. Lieberman has made a point of criticising video games over the years and that supported by the all too readily available, highly polished PR shot seem to infer she’s ready at the drop of a shotgun cartridge to denounce the games industry. An agenda was clearly at play on behalf of both Lieberman and Fox.Courted, encouraged and solicited by Epic and EA.

Cliffy B took great pleasure in proclaiming “I made a video game where you can blow out a mans ass-hole”. This was frat-boy marketing 101. The Bulletstorm circus created instantaneous folk devils. The Parody-Generator had gone into overdrive, lines were becoming blurred, and the media and publisher we creating exactly what they wanted moral panic. If sex sells, so does controversy. PT Barnum would have been proud.

This followed the all too familiar path that Stanley Cohen had set out in the early 1970s. The Mods and Rockers had created panic, Dungeon and Dragons has been a lightning rod on many occasions and yet again the games industry had deliberately created a panic for column inches. Hard to believe these sensationalist Smoke and Mirror tricks could still be so effective in 2011. The speed, velocity and communication of the panic was web-based and would evaporate quicker that you could say “Yesterdays news is tomorrows fish and chip paper”. The panic had been so quickly and deftly executed, it was a shock and awe case study. By the time the consumer was at the counter cash in hand it was forgotten.

So, was it right to drag games reputation through the mire again for the sake of one game? In an industry built on Groundhog Day thinking it’s expected. Inevitable to happen again … oh wait … Dead Island trailer anyone? Its time for fresh thinking, this shit is just getting old.

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