Games and Guns: A Game Bias Special Report

by Jed Pressgrove

Here at Game Bias, we take games, as well as biases, very seriously. Not to be outdone by U.S. President Donald Trump, we also take the association between games, guns, and real-life violence very seriously, despite the fact that Trump seemingly took those things very seriously first, well before the publication of this article.

People might look to 90-second videos and scientific studies for guidance on the connection between games and guns, and that’s fine. That doesn’t mean they’re bad people or even incredibly stupid people. It just means they’re people without firsthand knowledge of how games and guns can spontaneously intersect.

Lucky lucky you, I happen to have such knowledge to share. It’s time for you to listen to me.

Last year I had an accident. I stepped on my PlayStation 4 controller, rendering it inoperable in key ways. To make matters worse, I was in the middle of playing a game for a review that was near deadline, so I had to shell out $60 for another PlayStation 4 controller right then and there.

Not a happy occasion, as you can imagine. I hated the fact that Sony would make such a sensitive controller, and I hated the fact that Sony would sell extra controllers for $60. Additionally, I hated the fact that I hated these facts, as the hatred ended up making me fairly bitter about the whole situation.

I did the only thing I knew that could make me feel better: I went back to the woods where I grew up to fire holes in the broken PlayStation 4 controller with my Ruger .357 revolver. Here is select documentation of that cathartic event, starting with the controller’s placement into a gap of a dead tree:






As you can see, when games and guns collide, you can have one helluva mess.

The Fetishization of Violent Enslavement in Gaming: A Response to Retro Gamer

by Jed Pressgrove

As surely as artists have the right to depict violence, people also have the right to enjoy and criticize violence in art. From the enjoyment angle, many gamers are sensitive about criticism of violence in video games, partially due to politicians and media using violent games as a scapegoat for their own failures to foster a safe society. Indeed, the idea that violent games breed killing machines is an overstatement from a statistical standpoint. At the same time, it’s fair to raise questions and make claims about how violence is used in games and how its usage might impact our sensitivity to violence or conflict with our morality. Some game critics have written good analyses of game violence (see articles by Patrick Lindsey, Ed Smith, and Mark Filipowich, among others). But a recent article in Retro Gamer (Issue 131) gave me considerable pause after I read its evaluation of a certain act of violence in BioShock.  The most troubling sentence was in the article’s final paragraph:

‘A slave obeys,’ it tells us, as we smash our own father’s head in with a golf club — an activity we had no choice but to perform.

Let’s note that we, the audience, always have a choice about what art we consume in our homes. We can stop reading books, watching movies, listening to music, or playing games at any point. I recall Takashi Miike, the transgressive filmmaker of Audition and Ichi the Killer, saying that if the violence in one of his films gets too much for you, take a break and resume later. This very simple choice that we have as an audience stands in contrast to the notion that a game segment was “an activity we had no choice but to perform.” This notion rejects enjoyment of violence in favor of a morbid fascination with supposed enslavement.

The Retro Gamer article in question is part of a regular column called “Future Classics.” I was unsurprised to see BioShock selected for this distinction. The game is overly loved by game critics. The issue doesn’t lie with people enjoying the game or discussing its themes. The issue arises when critics, such as Leigh Alexander and Tom McShea, promote a sort of cultural elitism when speaking about BioShock or creator Ken Levine (Alexander’s and McShea’s negative reviews of BioShock Infinite do little to refute their appraisal of Levine’s superiority). All that said, my disappointment in Retro Gamer’s article is more related to its refusal to place BioShock’s patricide in a meaningful historical context; after all, history is the magazine’s strength (Retro Gamer is my favorite magazine for this reason). Instead, the article blandly sets us up with an unenlightening genre statement: “It [BioShock] took the assumptions developers (and players) had made about the FPS protag, turned them on their head, and fired them back at us.”

What about the assumptions that the above claim makes about all of us? This line of thinking about BioShock’s “subversion” brings to mind the commentary of The Stanley Parable, which draws a useless parallel between pushing buttons in an office, pushing buttons as part of a mechanic in a video game, and pushing buttons on the controller as a game player. Sure, some gamers are unintelligent and exploited by big studios, but are we all as unaware and dumb as The Stanley Parable suggests?

Moreover, are the gaming literati that unaware and dumb? Have they forgotten that not one but two 1980s action games toyed with the idea of confronting one’s father in violence? As if it couldn’t be anymore obvious, both of these 1980s games starred ninjas! Retro Gamer should have known better. The BioShock article ignored the precedence of Shinobi and Ninja Gaiden and glorified a more graphic form of patricide with the takeaway that we really didn’t know any better. On the contrary, I’m pretty sure most players know what a plot twist or design choice is. The suggestion that BioShock and The Stanley Parable enlightened us might be more than condescending. It’s starting to seem flatout dishonest.

Notes on Street Fighter II Turbo’s Violence

by Jed Pressgrove

These notes are based on the SNES version of Street Fighter II Turbo.

I think it’s reasonable to say that Street Fighter II Turbo has more powerful violence than Mortal Kombat II. Granted, this statement wouldn’t have made any sense two decades ago. Mortal Kombat II was a violent revelation in the early 1990s, especially on the SNES. The uncut Mortal Kombat II on SNES satisfied a bloodlust caused by the neutered SNES version of the original Mortal Kombat, which traded the arcade game’s blood for gray sweat. With the prospect of more fatalities and vibrant blood and gore in your home, Mortal Kombat II on the SNES was the baddest of the bad in 1994.

It’s hard for me to feel the same way about Mortal Kombat II in 2014. Since the early 1990s, we have seen countless games with blood and gore. At this point, Mortal Kombat II is just an old game with blood and gore. Its violence has lost meaning. However, I can’t say the same thing about Street Fighter II Turbo’s violence, which retains significant power for a few reasons:

1. The vomiting in Street Fighter II Turbo is relatively unexpected and disgusting.

Gory violence is a main attraction of the Mortal Kombat games. Any hit to the head in Mortal Kombat II causes blood to fly out. You can also expect blood to spew when sharp objects like Kung Lao’s hat are successfully used. Even the finishing moves have a predictability about them — “Finish Him!” is the game giving you permission to perform ultra violence.

In contrast, superior technique is the undisputed focus of Street Fighter II Turbo. That is, we typically don’t play Street Fighter II Turbo because we want to see vomit. Vomiting occurs semi-randomly during battle, which gives it a more surprising effect than Mortal Kombat II’s requisite gore. Sure, we know that a fierce attack, as opposed to a weak or medium attack, is required to cause vomiting in Street Fighter II Turbo, but a fierce attack doesn’t always result in vomiting, unlike the certainty of blood from a kick to the head in Mortal Kombat II.

I often forget about the vomiting in Street Fighter II Turbo. I will never forget about the prevalent and predictable blood in Mortal Kombat II. Part of this memorability goes beyond relative randomness/predictability. If Street Fighter II Turbo had been titled Vomit Fighter II Turbo, I wouldn’t be writing this. “Mortal Kombat” is a title that refuses to allow us to forget about the blood. Not only that, but Mortal Kombat was very influential in the increase of video game blood and gore; thus, Mortal Kombat II’s violence appears normal, even laughable, decades later. In a world where we often expect blood in games, semi-random vomiting during battle becomes a more powerful sign of violence.

2. The aftermath of violence is permanently emphasized in Street Fighter II Turbo.

Before you start a match in Street Fighter II Turbo, you see portraits of the two challengers facing off. After the match is over, you see these portraits again. The portrait of the winner is unchanged (and, of course, the trash talk beneath the portraits comes from the winner), while the portrait of the loser shows the effects of violence. Some of the loss portraits almost suggest death — for example, the life in Sagat’s one good eye appears to be gone.

The loss portraits in Street Fighter II Turbo have retained more power than Mortal Kombat fatalities. Unlike loss portraits, fatalities aren’t about the aftermath or consequences of violence; they simply play into the “We want blood!” motivation behind playing Mortal Kombat in the first place. As Ed Smith suggests, violence loses power when game design encourages killing. In this regard, the designers of Mortal Kombat II tried to satisfy the bloodlust of players by going well beyond the original Mortal Kombat, which only featured one fatality per character. Mortal Kombat II gives each character multiple fatalities, including silly Friendships and Babalities for further cheap entertainment. The problem is that you don’t even get to see these finishing moves if you can’t perform the right button presses. Mortal Kombat II’s insistence on input for fatalities points to another reason why Street Fighter II Turbo’s violence has stood the test of time better: regardless of how you finish off your opponents in Street Fighter II Turbo, you will always see the loss portraits after battle. The loss portraits carry a more certain and permanent sting.

Side note: Street Fighter III took loss portraits to a new disturbing level. Loss portraits in Street Fighter III expanded the focus to the characters’ entire bodies. This approach resulted in material that would receive harsh criticism if released today, such as Elena’s sexualized pose. Interestingly, while Chun-Li was the only Street Fighter II character who cried in her loss portrait, the Street Fighter III loss portraits featured both male and female characters crying, including Dudley, Ken, Necro, Elena, and Ibuki.

3. The Street Fighter series has cleaned itself up.

As new Mortal Kombat games try to top the gore of their predecessors, the Street Fighter series has gotten tamer. Zangief’s infamous biting hold, for example, has not made a comeback in the Street Fighter IV iterations, which have traded the vomiting, occasional blood, and loss portraits of its predecessors for a more exaggerated, cartoonish style of violence. As one watches Ultra Combos from their multiple camera angles in Street Fighter IV, one might find that Street Fighter now has more in common with Looney Tunes than it does with fighting games of the 1990s. If future Street Fighter games continue to refrain from blood and loss portraits, the understated but powerful violence in previous Street Fighters, including Street Fighter II Turbo, will carry more and more weight.