Monday, July 04, 2011

They’re Murdering That Woman! And She’s White!

Last Thursday’s Daily Show tackled last week’s Supreme Court ruling that said a ban on violent video games would violate freedom of speech. If you watched this episode, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that I generally agree with Jon Stewart’s take. I grew up playing video games (some violent), and I probably would defend a person’s First Amendment rights as loudly as anyone else you know. However, now that I’m thinking about this issue for the first time since Tipper Gore made a fuss about it in the 90s — that is, also, for the first time since I’m no longer a child myself — I do worry about how the user-initiated blood spatter could affect the impressionable. I don’t think the government should override a parent’s role in protecting their kids from bone-breaking, organ-tearing melees, but I can also see how angry these parents might be if they found out that Little Joey played one of these forbidden, blood-soaked games despite their best efforts to prevent him from doing so.

I guess I’m old now.

But here’s a small facet of this issue that I don’t agree with The Daily Show on: the clip used to illustrate the depravity of these gory games. Now, if you click the above link for the actual episode, you’ll see that Stewart gives viewers a heads up that they’re about to see something that they might find very disturbing. It’s from the new Mortal Kombat, and it’s shows the game’s main heroine, Sonya, on the receiving end of the “Make a Wish” fatality. Yup, it’s a wishbone reference, and the victor of their little tussle splits in two and grabs either of Sonya’s legs, pulling until she rips up the midsection. She screams the whole time. If you absolutely must see the clip to get an idea of how awful it looks, click here. It’s not Sonya getting torn in twain but a different female fighter. You’ll get the idea.

Back? Great. I think we can agree that that’s pretty fucked up. That’s kind of the point. But hey — if you’re an adult spending your own money, you should have every right to spend it on that. And if you’re an adult with a child, you should also have every chance to forbid your child from telling the game to make it happen, to say nothing of seeing it happen at all. (How, exactly, would you shield your child from something that would be inherently tantalizing to most boys? I’ve got no idea. Figure it our, breeders.)

The “Make a Wish” clip, however, isn’t the only one from the game; there’s another, also featuring Sonya on the receiving end of a finishing move. Earlier in the same segment, the show cuts to Sonya getting punched the face and having her skull caved in. This one’s a little less explicit — Stewart doesn’t warn the viewer beforehand — and I’m posting a screenshot, mostly to show Stewart’s reaction.


Unfortunately, the way The Daily Show introduces Mortal Kombat is exactly the same way that those Tipper Gore-affiliated anti-violence crusaders demonstrated the graphic graphics of the original Mortal Kombat back in the day. I can remember from watching the news: The clip shown a forum on violent video games showed something very similar to the below image.


Sub Zero has pulled Sonya’s head off her body, her still-attached spine hanging done like some kind of grim wind chime. (Another knock against Mortal Kombat: unrealistic depictions of dissections. A decapitated head would never stay attached to the spine like that, stupid!) The speaker noted how sick it was that a game showed a man decapitating a woman.

This is where the prepubescent me raised an objection, and I’m raising it again today to a slightly larger audience. It doesn’t matter that the violence is being perpetuated by a man against a woman. If you’re going to object, it should be on grounds that it’s happening at all. In a sense, the Mortal Kombat series and all other fighting games is egalitarian in its carnage. Men and women can beat the hell out of each other equally, and no special allotment is made for a fighter’s gender. That means that a woman can get horribly mutilated but also that the same character can do it to a man. It’s wrong, but on some level, at least, it’s also kind of right.

The fact that Sonya, in particular, gets depicted as a victim of Mortal Kombat’s violence is especially telling because this is what Sonya looks like when her body is not literally being torn limb from limb:


If you likened her to a model in military-themed Victoria’s Secret show, you’d be spot-on — Bridgette Wilson played her in the live-action movie, and for good reason. She also happens to be the only blond-haired, light-skinned, female fighter in the series. There are women, but they look Asian or Vampirella-like or otherwise demonic, and I feel like there’s an unconsidered bias here — racist? misogynist? classist? Vampirella-ist? — that prompts people decrying the game’s violence to make Sonya play the victim. Tipper Gore’s people did, and years later, so did the Daily Show staffers, even though I’d imagine that they have fairly little regard for Tipper Gore’s shrill opinions.

In The Daily Show’s defense, Stewart did note the strangeness of the Supreme Court ruling that games could be regulated if they featured sexual content (as opposed to violent content), essentially meaning that Mortal Kombat would be more offensive if Sonya suffered a nipple slip while being disemboweled. But still, it’s telling that people conveying the extent of the game’s violence still go for the lowest common denominator, that being violence specifically against the series’s whitest, blondest, prettiest character.

A final thought: Why, if the Mortal Kombat characters are capable of so quickly reducing each other to corpses, do they just not attempt to do that in the first place?

5 comments:

  1. I don't understand how people can get so upset that minors can buy Mortal Kombat, for example, but completely ignore the fact that hat same kid could also buy Saw III at the same time and there's no law restricting that, either.

    Well, actually, I guess I do know how: they're too lazy to do even the most cursory bit of research. If they did, they'd find that no link has been found between violent games and violent behavior (http://www.pbs.org/kcts/videogamerevolution/impact/myths.html) and that the gaming industry has actually been the most successful industry at self-regulating (http://www.ames247.com/?p=6233).

    Both of those were the first Google result for "violent video game studies" and "gaming self-regulating," respectively. It's not like this information is hard to find. I could understand if parents don't bother, but I expect more from Stewart.

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  2. To me, the desire to block my (theoretical) kids from seeing explicitly violent or explicitly sexual content does not stem from the fact that they'd end up engaging in similar activities in real life so much as it is that seeing as at a young age can be shocking, disturbing and misleading. I know -- I was that kid who initially sought this stuff out before he was ready. I saw some stuff REALLY young and it fucked up my perception of death and sex. And then I didn't get my weird ideas corrected until well after I should have.

    And I feel exactly the same about movies. I just didn't mention that here because I'm talking about video games. But no child of mine would watch Saw III -- not just because it's violent but also because it's a piece of shit.

    I guess my standpoint is this: I believe that people can watch these things without harm and should be able to, I just want them to properly understand the subject matter -- that is, sex and death -- before they have it presented to them in a lighthearted or disrespectful way.

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  3. I don't disagree with you, I just don't think government should be the thing standing between children and violent material.

    And frankly, the gaming industry's self-regulation is probably already better than the government's would be.

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  4. Anonymous10:06 AM

    I remember when I was five I played RE2 as Ada Wong. I don't remember much about it other than the horribly gory death scene and the words YOU DIED. Coincidentally, I'm a sadist. Did seeing a beautiful woman at such a young age get mauled affect my present sexual tendencies? Maybe.

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  5. As for the sex vs. violence angle, I think the idea is that most kids eventually go on to have sex at some time in their lives, and viewing sexual content might affect when and how they start engaging in sexual activity. Whereas most kids don't end up murdering people so parents don't care as much. I don't know how to explain the opposite view in Europe other than perhaps there's more sexual education over there compared to the US where media exposure is pretty much the only sex ed most kids get.

    The research on the influence of sexual content on children is even spottier than violent video game research though, because university boards will authorize letting children play violent video games but not let them watch porn. So all you have to go by are surveys.

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