My Letter to CBS

posted in Past Goodness on Jul 21, 2005

I would just like to congratulate Cynthia Bowers on her recent report about Rockstar’s game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (henceforth GTA:SA).  I congratulate it on the grounds that it is so extremely wrong in almost every respect that it boggles the mind.  I, unfortunately, did not see the broadcast of the segment, but I have come across a transcript online and am basing my comments off of that in the good faith that it (the transcript) is correct.
The errors begin with the first sentence: “Welcome to the world of ‘Grand Theft Auto: San Andeas’ – where killing cops earns you points, not prison.”  Obviously, her investigation wasn’t as thorough enough to actually play this game (or, in the least, watch someone play it).  Not only does the game not reward the player for killing police officers, it is detrimental to progressing in the game, as the more killing you do, the more of a force comes against you, effectively making the game much more difficult than it would be otherwise.  You could argue that the opening line needs to catch people off guard and get them interested in the story, but it should at least be a credible statement.  Starting off a segment with a lie usually is not what a nationally watched nightly news program strives for.
Secondly, the interview with Deb Perryman seems extremist.  She states: “[The games] were more graphic than the most graphic movie I’ve ever seen.”  According to this statement, we can assume Ms. Perryman has not viewed a major motion picture in the last twenty years.  Either this, or pictures such as Saving Private Ryan, Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, or The Passion of the Christ do not qualify to her as “graphic.”  Of course, the differences in GTA:SA and Saving Private Ryan are immense.  Where one is merely a video game, the other is a movie based on US history and is generally viewed as an important piece of cinematography.  The argument here, however, lies not with what these things are, but how graphic they are.  If put side by side, I’m sure the general public would consider (on the basis of just being “graphic”) that Saving Private Ryan is extremely more graphic than GTA:SA.  It would seem that Ms. Perryman is very sensitive to visual influences.
Further in the segment, Miss Bowers seems “stunned” to find that 87 percent of boys have played “M” rated games.  Compare this to children 7-14 who have seen “R” rated movies and I’m sure you could find similar, if not higher, numbers.  It seems odd that (through the influence of radical news reports such as this) that parents (and our government) have become increasingly jaded towards simple polygons on a television when both parents and churches promoted the most violent movie of 2004 (the Passion of the Christ) to their children.
In addition to this, the uproar about the “sex minigame” is completely overblown.  Somehow reporters and congressmen fail to realize that for a mere $10-15 a month, a child can see infinitely more graphic sex scenes on their televisions in their home on channels such as Cinemax (a channel which has come to have the more affectionate name of “Skinemax,” as it routinely broadcasts explicit sexual shows and movies).  Why is everyone so concerned about a mod (It’s not as easy as a “cheat,” something Miss Bowers is misinformed about on her Report’s Postscript) that shows two characters performing simplistic sex acts when a few clicks of the remote can give children access to the real thing?  And their parents are most likely paying for that too.  Also, if a child (in the 7-14 age range as talked about in the report) has enough skill to actually access this minigame (as it requires more than just a simple series of key presses or button pushes), then they need to find a job in game design and/or modification.  Back on the topic of sex: are we to assume that modifying a video game, a process that can range from complex to extremely complex, is somehow easier to do for a child than to type “porn” as a search query in Google?
Further into the Report’s Postscript by Miss Bowers, she states that (in a comment that I find most disturbing coming from parents) “…since I can’t play the game myself, I have no way of knowing.”  Why is that?  Why can parents not play these games?  In most cases, the parents are the ones who are buying these games, what is stopping them from sitting down with it and seeing what the game is all about?  If the parent is worried about the game, they should spend some time with it before handing it over.  Most parents will say that games are far too complex for them to understand and play.  Something tells me that these parents, who have found the time to become doctors, lawyers, CPAs, news reporters, and all manner of intelligent individuals, can find a little time to sit down and at least try to understand the games.  This situation is reminiscent of the popularity of Harry Potter novels.  When the books first came out and children across America became infatuated with the stories, parents became scared that they were influencing their children in things such as witch-craft.  In the case of Harry Potter, parents took initiative and read the books, ultimately calming down much of the animosity towards them.  Unfortunately, this is not the case with the video game industry.  A parent will not take the time, citing reasons that they “cannot do it,” to learn simple controls for a game.  If a parent is so adamant to find fault in a game, it would seem the parent would base their information on personal experience rather than what they hear on the news.  And this brings us back to the segment.
As television viewers of a nationally broadcast and respected news station such as CBS, we should be treated with unbiased and truthful reports.  Unfortunately, CBS and Cynthia Bowers missed the mark with this story, giving us an almost completely one-sided look at the situation.  It seems ironic that the most truthful statement in the piece comes from 15 year old Travis Perryman: “[Shooting people in the head in a video game] does not equate reality in any way.”  This is something that many parents and congressman just cannot seem to understand.
I hope that soon we will see a segment that looks at both sides of this issue instead of using scare tactics to frighten unknowing parents across America.  In a situation such as this, the uninformed need the most truth.

Garret E.