There have been numerous debates about sex and violence in such popular video games as “Grand Theft Auto,” but many parents would probably be surprised to learn that a popular game being sold in a bundle with a sensor for Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect video game system contains scenes of graphic bestiality.
On a recent visit to an Atlanta-area Best Buy electronics store, the game was playing on the in-store Kinect demonstrator. The game, “The Gunstringer,” featured a skeletal cowboy who fights a surly lumberjack in a flashback. In the course of the fight, the lumberjack falls from a high platform and lands atop a large alligator. In a long scene, the lumberjack writhes atop the alligator in an unmistakably sexual manner.
The scene cuts away from the two to a movie audience, most of who look appalled with eyes wide and mouths agape. In one instance, a man watches laughing and the woman next to him angrily hits him. As the scene shifts to the next level of the game, the narrator speaks about the “terrible union” and the cowboy, now back in present day, must fight the offspring of the lumberjack and alligator.
“The Gunstringer” is made by Twisted Pixel Games and is rated “T for Teen.” According to the company’s website, the game is about a “skeleton cowboy marionette” out to get revenge on members of his former posse who left him for dead. The website says that the Gunstringer witnessed the conception of the “gatorjack,” who is now one of the hero’s archenemies.
The manager of the Best Buy said that he was unaware of the content of the video game demo and stated that he would look into the situation. He agreed that the content was not appropriate for an open store floor where children of all ages could see and play the game.
Best Buy’s central customer service had a similar response in an email. A company spokesman wrote, “I wouldn’t want to pick up a demo to play and see that” (emphasis in the original) and promised to forward the information to “corporate offices and store upper management so this doesn’t happen in any store.” The email ended with an apology. On a subsequent visit to the same store, the Kinect demo was not playing at all.
A representative from Microsoft’s Xbox support team pointed out that the Xbox Kinect allows users to limit the type of content viewed on the game system based on the rating level of the game. This includes online and offline content such as video games, movies, and television shows. He apologized for the inappropriate content of the game and said that the Xbox Development Team would investigate “the Gunstringer” to determine whether the “T for Teen” rating is appropriate for the game.
Video games are rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). This is not a government agency, but a self-regulating trade group. According to the group’s description of the ratings on its website, “T for Teen” games may include “violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language.” “Suggestive themes” are defined as “mild provocative references or materials.” “Crude humor” is “depictions or dialogue involving vulgar antics, including ‘bathroom’ humor.” ESRB content ratings for “the Gunstringer” also note that it contains “sexual themes.”
The response from Twisted Pixel Games was lukewarm and brief. Company spokesman Jay Stuckwisch said in an email, “Thanks for your concern and sorry you were offended by the game. We appreciate your feedback and understand why you would not be interested in purchasing the game.”
The problems with “the Gunstringer” illustrate the difficulties facing parents in protecting their children from inappropriate and offensive material. Dr. Phil recommends that, in addition to reviewing ratings for video games, movies and television shows, parents check company websites and talk to other parents to find out the details about what their children are being exposed to.
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