Monday, April 5, 2010

This Again?

By Kirk Hamilton

Last week, CNN ran a piece by Kyung Lah about the four-year old Japanese hentai game RapeLay. There was no apparent impetus for the story - no kid who recently got caught with the game, or school where it got sent around, not even a politician bringing it up as a talking point. Apparently CNN just decided what the hell, let's stir up some action by talking about a horrible, offensive rape video game from 2006 that hasn't been in the news for over a year.

It's just such a shoddy piece of journalism. It features minimal cultural context, maximum provocative screenshots, a weird Skype conversation with two random British gamers, and copy that's loaded with stinkers like:

"Hentai games are not new for Japan. This country has long produced products the rest of the world would call pornographic. But before the internet shrunk the world, it stayed here."


"What follows is a series of graphic interactive scenes that we can't show you. Players can corner the women to rape then again and again, and it goes on from there."

Look. If you want to know about this game, you should read Leigh Alexander's Slate article from 2009. It's both well-researched and well-written, and it provides cultural context. I've long since given up on berating the mainstream media for doing crappy work, but I at least wanted to point to some proper journalism to mitigate CNN's willful ineptitude.


The Tetchy Snail said...

Every time there's a few months gap without any of these stories hitting the mainstream media, I start to get my hopes up that perhaps the blithering idiocy is over. Repeatedly my optimism is demonstrated to be naivety. More fool me, I suppose.

These things seem to come along in bunches, too. Witness.

Still, at least on telly, CNN had Dr. Cheryl Olson (one of the co authors of the excellent Grand Theft Childhood) on as a voice of reason, who did her customary sterling job. As usual, having actual researchers providing a sensible point of view quickly makes the journalistic machinations look utterly stupid.

The response to these stories from gamers and bloggers has mellowed over time from outrage to a mere sigh. It seems that while there will always be a rump of people who lap this nonsense up, more and more people are recognising the shock stories for what they are.

Kirk Hamilton said...

Yeah, I actually saw that interview with Cheryl Olsen - I don't think it was part of the original feature, it seemed like it ran on a local affiliate or something?

It was interesting, because the news anchor asked her, essentially, "How horrible is this rape game? And kids can play it! Will they play it? Oh the humanity!"

And she says, flat-out, "The biggest problem with these sorts of freaky fringe things is all the attention that features like the CNN one give them."

She pointed out that before Hot Coffee became a huge scandal, barely anyone even knew about it. It seemed like the anchor wasn't ready for that - He tried to stay on the narrative he'd already picked out, but about two questions in she was talking about misconceptions about violence in games, and so he was too, but the onscreen graphics were still all about RapeLay. I thought it was all pretty funny/broken.

She seemed cool, though - I haven't read her book, sounds like it's good?

The Tetchy Snail said...

It was amusingly gratifying to see just how fast the original topic was dispensed with.

On a side note, what kind of chimps do CNN hire in their research department? A cursory search would have turned up the prior batch of stories on the same issue, all of which were non starters. But maybe I'm looking at it too much from a public information perspective and not from one of grabbin' viewer numbers. Anyway.

The book is not revolutionary by any means and the title seems to have been chosen, rather ironically, for shock value rather than relevance. What it does do is gather a lot of sensible, common sense, research based advice into one place without scaremongering or attempting to downplay negatives where they exist. It also places games into a context along with other activities and helps to demystify them that way. As such, it's mostly of use to parents, but especially those who have little idea of what this new medium/technology involves for their children. It's definitely something I would recommend to concerned parents.

There's also a website containing short excerpts.