Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Remember The Goat

Sunday, on Lisa Ling's Twitter feed:

Horrified by the new Battlefield 3 commercial I just saw--especially after working with U.S. veterans with severe PTSD.

To the Battlefield gamers out there: I have no prob with the games, but when commercials come on randomly, it can trigger things.

Here's the ad she's referring to. So as not to cause the highlighted problem, it's a link and not an embed. Her first comment got picked up by a couple gaming forums, and the reaction was pretty largely 'who cares what she thinks' and 'idiot media is trying to stir up videogame controversy again'.

I'm not going to speak to the actual PTSD-causing quality of the ad- my dad, a Vietnam veteran, will commonly talk in his sleep using statements that frequently seem military-related, though to my knowledge he's not yet seen the ad and hasn't shown any waking-hour flashbacks of any stripe; otherwise he wouldn't be watching war stuff all day.

Though I will say that that particular ad isn't really all that outstanding or notable considering the genre. There are plenty of games just like it who have done similar ads. Unless this is some sort of crazy Pikachu-causing-a-seizure instance where the specific blend of images causes a trigger, I don't think she has much to worry about here. I think it might just be a side effect of her having been, as she said, working with PTSD veterans. Being around the subject a lot lately, it was fresh in her mind when she saw the ad, noticed it when she wouldn't have noticed it previously, and had the reaction she had. I think she overreacted, but I get her train of thought.

It's easy to see where the gamers are coming from too, particularly for me, a gamer myself. I grew up on the Atari and NES. A number of fights with the media and even governments over the years over a wide variety of games- Mortal Kombat, Grand Theft Auto, Manhunt, Postal, Doom, Night Trap, Death Race 2000, just to name a few off the top of my head- has given gamers a sort of 'oh, geez, here we go again' attitude towards any new controversy, or anything that even has the whiff of a controversy. They brace themselves any time a videogame is even tangentically connected to something bad in the news. If a kid shoots up a school, after 'that's terrible', one of the first reactions you'll likely get from a gamer is 'please don't let there be an Xbox in his room when the cops show up at his house,' because if there is, they know exactly what's liable to happen next. Whatever game was spinning in his Xbox at the time is at risk of being the next controversy, especially if it was a game with guns in it.

And since the Battlefield 3 ad doesn't really stand out, the reaction is pretty much to dismiss Lisa as one more stupid journalist that has no idea what she's talking about.

Epke of the forum NoobToob, however, made a different point:

EA [the publisher] will be pleased, there is no such thing as bad press, BF3 will sell more because of this.
And what is the biggie? it is not like the airport massacre in [Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2], just war like war is.

That's the other thing about 'controversial' games: controversy sells. People want to see what all the fuss is about. And oh, it can get much, much worse.

How much worse?

In 2007, Sony was promoting God of War 2 at a European release party in Athens, Greece. Fitting, as God of War references (read: kills) a large chunk of Greek mythology. In this release party, Sony went for the theme of an ancient Greek orgy. Attendees were treated to topless women.

Nobody noticed the topless women.

This is because everybody was too busy noticing the decapitated goat. The Daily Mail kicked off the controversy by describing it as such:

At the event, guests competed to see who could eat the most offal - procured elsewhere and intended to resemble the goat's intestines - from its stomach.
They also threw knives at targets and pulled live snakes from a pit with their bare hands.
Topless girls added to the louche atmosphere by dipping grapes into guests' mouths, while a male model portraying Kratos, the game's warrior hero, handed out garlands.

Sony released a statement in response saying that this was irresponsible reporting. Nobody was eating out of the goat, and it was returned to the butcher afterward. Well, that just makes it SO much better.

Everybody got in an uproar over this one, gamers included. Sony's explanation barely even slowed anyone down, with the response being simply 'you're still using a dead goat to promote your game'.

Here's actual footage of the event, so as to get away from he-said-she-said. You'll note in the video that snakes were not pulled out of a pit, but rather a key from a box filled with snakes, and the goat thing consisted of drinking something out of a large pot; Sony claimed it was punch. The knife-throwing, though, seems to have been described accurately.

God of War 2, of course, sold like gangbusters.

The eternal knock on violent games has been that the gamers somehow can't tell games from reality; that they'll put down the game, go about their day, and then mindlessly shoot someone thinking they'll get points for it, or something else of that nature.

Everything described by the Daily Mail, even that which was shown as wrong, is something most gamers would do in a game without thinking twice about it. Killing a goat is nothing. Using an in-game goat as a golf ball is a story you repeat on forums. In real life, though, when a goat gets killed, those same gamers will react like everyone else.

Battlefield 3 shouldn't be any different, for gamers or veterans. At least, that's what I'm hoping.

UPDATE: Lisa took the time to respond...

"Thx Aaron...I JUST returned home from a veterans retreat where men had been dealing with severe ptsd for decades. They told me that any realistic portrayal of war sends them into a panic. When I saw that commercial out of the blue, I couldn't help but think of those guys. I have nothing against the video game itself, but seeing the commercial on TV--and how real it is just startled me."

"Any realistic portrayal of war" is a fair bit more disheartening; as I stated, Battlefield 3's ad isn't that unusual. Ads and trailers for franchises like Call of Duty and Medal of Honor, as well as the rest of the Battlefield franchise, aren't going to be any easier on them. Halo, Killzone and Metal Gear would easily count as well if the threshold for 'realistic' is adjusted low enough.

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