The Truth About Bulletstorm

  • By: CM Boots-Faubert
  • Posted 9th Feb 2011


Unless you intentionally avoid gaming news, you know that Cable News Network and Arbiter of all things Right-Wing FOX News (or Weasel News if you are a GTA Fan) staff writer John Brandon cut loose with a scathing review of the upcoming Electronic Arts FPS title Bulletstorm on the network's web site yesterday, with the headline asking the question: "Is Bulletstorm the Worst Video Game in the World?"

Of course the answer to that is -- No John, the worst video game in the world is Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust (and do NOT get me started as to WHY that one is the worst video game in the world because we do not have that kind of time).

Brandon illustrated the piece with the image of a zombie getting its arm blown off in full-bloody-gore-a-vision, and opened his broadside attack on the game with a warning to parents everywhere: "Parents had better beware: There's a Bulletstorm on the horizon."

The Gist of the Attack

To save you the bother of actually suffering through the article, I will sum it up for you in simple and easy to understand terms:

In Bulletstorm you shoot zombies in the butt! People swear and the F-Bomb gets dropped a lot! The Skill-Shot system in the game uses sexually-implicit labels for the various types of shots which is good because it means that it can be linked to all sorts of ills we think are created by video games. Now that we have your attention firmly directed at this horrible game we can tell you our position on Schwarzenegger v. EMA/Entertainment Software Association and why it is a good law. I can has cheeseburger now?

A more in-depth examination reveals that Brandon has a particular ax to grind -- he goes on to call upon the various experts that Fox keeps on staff to say the things that Fox wants them to say when they need to insert a quote that will fire up the ultra-conservative viewers of Fox News -- in this instance that includes a clinical psychologist who -- without having played or even seen the game -- concludes that Bulletstorm's explicit language and violence could significantly damage a younger player.

The clinical psychologist goes on to explain that by being exposed to this sort of video game, players will be brainwashed into thinking that "violence and insults with sexual innuendos are the way to handle disputes and problems."

That was not enough for Brandon, so he got another psychologist, Carol Lieberman, to claim that the sexual situations and acts of violence in the game lead directly to rape and acts of sexual violence in real life: "The increase in rapes can be attributed in large part to the playing out of scenes in video games," she is quoted as saying -- or perhaps misquoted because Brandon actually edited the quote inserting the word "sexual" between the words "of" and "scenes" in order to make the quote more applicable to the ax he was grinding.

In his next breath Brandon describes the ESRB Rating System -- having previously implied that the game is targeted at and will be played by 9-year-old children -- and then quotes Lieberman as declaring the video game rating system as being worthless.

At this point if you somehow managed to arrive at the conclusion that Brandon did not like Bulletstorm and that was what his article was about, well, no, not so much. The actual meat of the piece is not about Bulletstorm at all, it is about Fox and its support of the 2005 California law that would force video game stores to check ID before selling or renting games rated for violence and adult situations to their customers.

Assembly Bill 1179

The law started out as Assembly Bill 1179, and after it was handed to the Governator, became California Civil Code 1746-1746.5 containing several parts which defined the games effected and how they would be handled, with the following legal definition:

(d)(1) "Violent Video Game" means a video game in which the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being, if those acts are depicted in the game in a manner that does either of the following:

(A) Comes within all of the following descriptions:

(i) A reasonable person, considering the game as a whole, would find appeals to a deviant or morbid interest of minors.

(ii) It is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the community as to what is suitable for minors.

(iii) It causes the game, as a whole, to lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.

(B) Enables the player to virtually inflict serious injury upon images of human beings or characters with substantially human characteristics in a manner which is especially heinous, cruel, or depraved in that it involves torture or serious physical abuse to the victim.

The article was presented as a review condemning Bulletstorm, but is actually one of a series of supporting positions that the network has taken on the law -- in spite of the fact that as a news media outlet, Fox is supposed to be impartial.

Back to Bulletstorm

Remember Bulletstorm? This is an article about Bulletstorm -- and even though Brandon's piece uses it as a smokescreen to justify another broadside in support of 1746 it seems only fair that the issues raised be addressed, and the truth about Bulletstorm revealed.

First and foremost, Bulletstorm is a game that is being published by Electronic Arts, a company that while it may have some issues with respect to employee relations nonetheless is a responsible member of the gaming community. EA takes care to be certain that all of their games are properly submitted and rated by the ESRB so that parents can make the judgment call on whether their kids should play a game.

ESRB Ratings are one of the most effective methods for assisting adults in determining the type of content in a video game, and that is an important point here -- because the burden of deciding what is and what is not an appropriate game for a child falls squarely upon the parents, not a video game store clerk earning minimum wage who has no vested interest in your kid or knowledge of what you think is acceptable.

As a game, Bulletstorm is a First Person Shooter that follows an approach that is growing in popularity in recent years -- the cinematic-adaption for video games. It is typical of FPS titles today with respect to language, gore, and attitude. In short it is no Rogue Warrior -- something that I am sure we are all thankful for.

In movies -- like in all really good video games -- there are basic plot structures, and in the case of Bulletstorm the standard plot structure for horror movies is what we find: Kill the Monster. The monster may be a real monster, a group of monsters, or simply a big bad boss, either way in this plot structure the heroes have to work their way to the monster by eliminating lesser bad guys and then figure out how to take the boss out.

In addition to the standard Kill the Monster plot, this title has a modified subplot of the 'Do the Right Thing' sort, in which our hero (the gamer) is presented with moral ambiguities and conflicts that they have to decide how to deal with.

Wrap into that a fast-paced play style with a lot of violent action, challenges, a large arsenal of weapons, and an over-the-top set of combat moves, and it is easy to see why any right thinking parent would not want their nine-year-old playing this game. But that is as it should be, because Bulletstorm was not -- contrary to the position of Fox News -- created for children. It was in fact created for adult gamers, it is marketed at adult gamers, and it is engineered to appeal to adult gamers. I wish we could say the same for Fox News.