David Jaffe, famed and famously outspoken developer of the Twisted Metal and God of War franchises, recently went on an enraged twitter diatribe about a particular CNN segment presented by Erin Burnett. If you haven’t read his rant yet, and I assure you that you will want to because it is a gloriously indulgent read, you can find it here.
Having read that, you may be wondering what this hapless news anchor could have said or done to infuriate Jaffe to such a considerable degree that it evoked an angry open letter in response from him. Well, let me describe the video (which you can find below, if you want to accompany my play-by-play commentary) for you, so that you can better understand his problems with it.
CNN news anchor Erin Burnett begins this video game focused part of the segment with the outrageously introductory statement “There’s the saying that guns don’t kill people, video games do.”, the identity of those who have apparently popularized this laughably moronic proverb are not revealed, nor are the trade secrets behind Burnett’s near-mythical pokerface as she utters this insanely stupid phrase very seriously and with a completely straight face.
Having opened the discussion with a suitably prejudiced statement, Burnett moves on to actually introduce her first, and only (for the sake of being fair and balanced I suppose?), guest in one Dr. William Pollock, who is the author of a book called ‘REAL BOYS: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood’. We’re off to a good start, right? This guy seems like he has the necessary lack of vested interest, the indisputable neutrality, the clear expertise to authoritatively talk about such an important subject. Well, no. He is just some guy peddling a book perpetrating the typically and tragically successful brand of parental scaremongering. Despite these potential criticisms as to his appropriateness or the reasonableness of him being the only guest brought on to talk about this subject, he was solely chosen nonetheless.
So, when Burnett immediately confronts him with this gem of enormously biased ‘questioning’ (e.g. cue for agreement) “Let me just ask you the point blank question. It is, a lot of people out there… this is accepted as fact that all these violent games – and by the way, they are horrifically violent – is why we are seeing [It is at this point where Pollock begins to vaguely nod in agreement, though with a distinct look of anxious worry on his face] this seemingly [sic] explosion in mass shootings. True?” Ignoring, for a moment, the assumption of inherent factuality which she laces the question with, and the absurd conclusion shoehorned into a disjointed question, it is fairly obvious that the actual question which is left hanging for the good Doctor pertains to whether he will play along and agree completely and, moreover, go onto to reinforce their unconditional agreement on the point by expressing serious concerns about the damaging effect of violent video games, et cetera, et cetera – you know how the whole ‘news’ anchor talking head rigmarole works.
But, no, not even the man unashamedly trying to sell alarmist tripe in the form of trashy literature can swallow this leading ‘question’ and its demoralizing payload of ridiculous assumptions and assertions of false facts: he admirably responds, unambiguously, “uuuhhh, no, not true”. It is at this magical point in proceedings where Dr Pollock looks like he’s sweating under harsh questioning before an increasingly perturbed grand jury and Burnett struggles to hide her incensed surprise at his apparent rebellion by gormlessly nodding along with a quaint look of condescension plastered on her face.
Not even the guest they knowingly cherry-picked, flagrantly disregarding the requisite need for balanced discussion, could, before the countless viewers watching, ally himself with the putrid verbal garbage that this woman is spouting.
Dr. Pollock goes on to mumble and ramble and stumble through some halfhearted condoning of increasing regulation of video games, and then finally brings it home, back to the lush, verdant county of implicitly advocating an ‘assault weapon’ ban. Not quite related to the original subject, but, hey, this is ‘news’ after all, it’s just a springboard for the opinions and viewpoints of talking heads.
You know, after some deep and particularly profound consideration, I’m beginning to think that, perhaps, Dr. Pollock has his own agenda here. Considering that Erin Burnett also has duplicitous, and decidedly antagonistic, intentions spilling out of her poorly sewn seems, it would appear that the butting of heads should commence.
They, of course, do not. The illusion of civility is maintained.
After the good Doctor Pollock finishes his bizarrely presented stance on assault weapons, Burnett tries another tactic to have her increasingly tangential guest re-align with the opinion she is trying to present as fact. She reads a statement attributed to Senator Charles Grassley (who was featured in a video earlier in the segment suggesting that “there are too many video games that celebrate the mass killing of innocent people”) which has apparently just been telegraphed – with great haste one must add – to the studio, so to bolster her fledging proposition about the apparently malign influence of video games. Part of this statement reads “The Norway mass killer [by which, he clearly means Anders Behring Breivik] wrote in his manifesto that he trained for his shooting spree that killed 77 people by playing video games. That ought to tell us that we should at least be looking at the issue [Burnett neglects to read this last, vital, sentence].” Burnett musters her best approximation of concerned sincerity and replies with “That is a pretty damning statement”, she says this despite the fact that the Senator’s statement makes no explicit proclamation about the nature of video games (negative or otherwise) and that it merely suggests that the entirely reasonable response of “looking at the issue” is warranted. Burnett goes on to add, whilst looking very pleased with herself at having decided to reiterate (or perhaps verify?) this patently unmissable point “…and that man did say that he trained on a video game.”; she then leans into the camera as if she ended that statement with a question, lips pursed with anticipation of Pollack’s long-awaited focused acquiescence.
Pollack can only express more vague agreement with the idea that violence in the media is somehow detrimental to young children – all whilst (at this point, decidedly un-violent) footage from Halo 4, of all games, plays beside him on screen – but once again can’t fully commit himself to what Burnett is trying to oh-so-subtly convey as fact to the poor gullible viewer because he eventually retorts “That alone isn’t the answer”.
Burnett, having been unmistakably rebuffed twice now in her attempts to have Pollack endorse her inane opinionated suspicion of video games, drops into the DEFCON 1 of obfuscation and appealing to long ingrained prejudices by bringing out the big guns, by which I mean she mentions the name that can instantaneously whip busybody soccer moms into a flurry of indignant protesting: “Grand Theft Auto”.
It’s at this point where low-res footage from what looks like GTA3 begins to play. You might think that this is an oddly incongruent choice of GTA game to exhibit, being that it is more than a decade old, and you’d be absolutely right – still, ever onwards with the poisonous posturing from Burnett.
Burnett goes on to talk about ‘Grand Theft Auto’ by saying “…when you kill people, you win points, right? For example, you kill a prostitute and that’s a big thing: you get to win points.” Let’s ignore her astoundingly accurate knowledge of how the gameplay in GTA works for a moment, because she goes on to, now positively overflowing with indignant self-righteousness, state “I find that offensive and disgusting but does that mean that those people who play that game are more likely to [it's here where she recomposes herself to finish on a poignantly somber note] kill people?”
A long and pregnant pause is observed.
After taking a breath to ready himself, the good Doctor replies “No.”
The rational viewer finds themselves potently conflicted, now at the precipice of a formidable dilemma. Both of these people are ridiculous, and yet the good Doctor seems to be our only proxy to rebuttal Burnett’s ugly sillyness. Do we root for the foolish man and his silly book? Is he the lesser of two evils? Is this television gold?
We must begrudgingly answer yes to all of the above.
Expectantly, Pollack expresses his own disgust at the (virtual) killing of (virtual) prostitutes, repeatedly stammering his appraisal of it being “heinous”. He nonchalantly makes some causal flaws in associating playing GTA with “domestic violence” but then attempts to wholly redeem himself by saying these immortal words “But there’s no proof that they’re gonna go out, get a gun, and shoot someone. Absolutely no proof at all.”
The good Doctor’s status as the anti-hero is cemented. He is our reluctant champion. Just like what Jim Gordon said in his speech at the end of The Dark Knight, he’s not the hero we need right now, he’s the one we deserve.
I jest of course, but merely to convey the great irony of this exchange: that they brought on someone who they were clearly sure would bend over backwards to agree with the pernicious assertions and opinions of Burnett, and yet, because he refused to do so, and occasionally even provided a logical rebuttal, a comically absurd imitation of fair and balanced discussion was had.
Burnett, thoroughly deflated at her continually rebuffed attempts to have Pollack act as her secondary mouthpiece, can barely make eye contact with the camera as she thanks him for his time and also thanks him (with a somewhat scornful tone) for his “provocative answers” before finally wrapping up the segment.
If you’d like to view this truly majestic back and forth, check out the video (you’ll want to fast-forwarded to 2 mins and 18 secs in, which is the beginning of the segment in question) below:
Whilst some may claim that my criticism of Burnett’s stance (and, moreover, the way she ‘subtly’ attempts to thrust it upon the viewer) is simply an appeal to ridicule meant to unfairly disregard what she is actually saying, I think it’s very important to understand that, in many ways, the criticism of her actions must necessarily be detached from that of the viewpoint that she is clearly a proponent of, so the facets of her argument can be dissected separately as to avoid them all being tainted by the more unseemly and repugnant ones (e.g. violent video games cause mass murders). Thus, the precisely opposite assertion is true: I’m trying to stop her ridiculous nature from sullying the overall argument about restrictions on violent video games (which I believe to have some reasonable points) behind her viewpoint. So, that I have taken such great umbrage with her manner of presentation does not signify that I mean to unquestionably reject the viewpoint she is arguing for, it is simply meant to show that if this discussion (about violent video games) must be had, and it must be, then somebody as thoroughly discredited as Erin Burnett should not be involved in such proceedings.
Back to Jaffe’s rant though. Whilst I can perhaps admit that some of the things he says and some of the ways he says them may border on immature and even unprofessional behavior, his actual point and purpose are singularly valid and laudable.
Furthermore, most educated, intelligent people know that you can’t expect objective news reporting or even rational and balanced discussion of controversial topics from the news anchors presented as television personalities on the major news networks (e.g. Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Piers Morgan, et al).
It’s easy to ignore their ridiculous mimicry of journalism when they’re trashing a random celebrity because of some perceived slight against chastity or morality or integrity or whatever, because it’s plain for all to see that they are simply childish people drunk with the power imbued to their opinions by the nature of them being broadcast on television. You can even perhaps ignore their egregious bias when they pronounce judgment on some political scandal, safe in the knowledge that everything they say is influenced by the (either innate or donation funded) political leaning of their parent company or of their taskmasters/corporate overlords.
However, when their prejudice and proclivity to distort facts and deviously portray their opinions as though factual or objective threatens to devolve into blatant propaganda purposed with swaying greatly important political debates and thus influencing the result of lawmaking, a line must be drawn in the sand, and their venomous spiel must be allowed to go no further. They are deceitfully, unscrupulously and nefariously manipulating the public discourse, and when this disgraceful attempt at puppetry pertains to something as important as the discussion about the perceived danger that violent video games might present to the minds of children, their debasement of honest dialogue is supremely morally reprehensible, simply unacceptable and must be halted at every treacherous step.
When they aren’t reviling the party antics of celebrity debutants or professing moral aggrievement about the secret womanizing of some ostensibly sexless politician, but are actually consciously attempting to alter public opinion and thus foster the unconsciously adopted espousement and advocation of the introduction of laws which seek to infringe upon or even revoke civil liberties, the rational minded amongst us must meet their wall of subterfuge and falsehoods with a bulwark composed of each of us, arm-in-arm, united as vanguards of truth and freedom.
I don’t mean to get all preachy, but it’s really that serious. It’s a scenario worth being made to sound like a LOTR battle scene.
They seek to take something very important from us, and so it is justified to be enraged. Jaffe, though he sometimes gets a little waylaid with profanity and facetiousness, aptly demonstrates the sort of impassioned response necessitated when confronted by this sort of unchecked villainy. If nobody speaks up, they will be successful in their rightly damnable objective.
First they decried the killing of prostitutes in GTA
and I didn’t speak out because I didn’t think it was important.
Then they decried the sex scenes in Mass Effect
and I didn’t speak out because it didn’t bother me.
Then they decried the mass murder training tool of Call of Duty
and I didn’t speak out because it was clearly ridiculous.
Then they came to outrightly ban the production of ‘violent’ video games altogether
and there was no one left to speak out for it.
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