Matt Damon won't do Bourne game, says too violent

by Paul William Tenny

the-bourne-conspiracy.jpgGTA IV has been released; cue moral outrage over video game violence. MTV's gaming blog writes that Matt Damon pulled his support from the official game based on the movies which are based on the books. Amusingly if you're saying the game is too violent, then what you're really saying is that the movies were too violent -- which is partly his fault -- and that the books were too violent (seriously?) and apparently all three are in appropriate for kids. I would agree on some level that neither the films nor the game are probably appropriate for preteens, but what does that say about the books then?
Aren't we saying that the books aren't appropriate either since the violence is right there in the pages, and that now books need a rating system too and anything like the Bourne series should be packaged behind glass and not sold to kids?

Perhaps there's something to be said for looking at the world from that perspective. Is depicting murder and torture morally corrupting and exploitive in films, harmful to minors in games, but acceptable if not totally awesome in books? I think that's a far more interesting question and would tell us about how we keep coming to these arbitrary conclusions; far more useful than studies that seek to prove a point going in, that violent video games make violent kids. With a game that is as wide open as GTA is, you've got to ask yourself if the game makes the player be violent, or if the player is making that choice all on their own. The latter means people will do what they want regardless of what this game, or that game will allow. The former may be a problem, but one that seems to be easily addressed with the already-existing rating system that prevents adult games from being sold to minors.

I've not played any of the GTA games, but I'm pretty sure nothing in that game requires you to kill strippers to "win" or finish it out. If people choose to do that, who deserves a tongue lashing, the game developers for allowing it to happen (entirely the point of open-box world simulation games) or the player for taking it upon themselves to do that? Argue away, but common sense makes this pretty clear as far as I'm concerned.

The Bourne film series is nothing but non-stop action and violence that is more extensive than any game I've ever played. Even war games that require you to kill the enemy have some claim to the moral high ground because you are trying to win a war, after all, and just like in real life, people die. If kids can't deal with games where death carries no consequence without going nuts, perhaps that person has problems that are still going to be there, game or no game. How are they going to react to real life death if they can't deal with games, and how is their (regrettable) mental problems the fault of the game developers?

But what I find amusing is a regularly experienced cliche in debating circles. "Studies show..." is automatic failure. Studies don't show anything, a study collects information and presents it for the reader to use to better their understanding of a given issue. A study is not the end of the line, it's the first step after which come many more. Many studies are needed under different circumstances with different criteria asking different questions without looking for any specific answer. The point is to ask many questions and then understand what the study is telling you, rather than what you want it to say.

Example, from MTV:

"I am very wary of violent video games," she said. "Research shows they desensitize kids to violence, even more because they engage kids in committing violence."

What you often find with the few studies that have been conducted are that violent video games cause changes in the brain while they are being played. What you won't find are predictions about what the long term effects are because nobody has actually studied that yet. Nor will you see similar comparative studies to see what effects other physically violent activity has on the brain -- like boxing or amateur wrestling -- which could give some indication as to whether or not we all experience these effects and if they are, or are not, in fact normal.

A 2006 study by the Indiana University School of Medicine looked at the effects these games have on the brain, which cannot be dismissed but are still not well understood.

Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine say that brain scans of kids who played a violent video game showed an increase in emotional arousal - and a corresponding decrease of activity in brain areas involved in self-control, inhibition and attention.

Does this mean that your teenager will feel an uncontrollable urge to go on a shooting rampage after playing "Call of Duty?"

Vince Mathews, the principal investigator on the study, hesitates to make that leap.

Nor should he, given his study only covered the instant effects on the brain, and not what happens anytime afterwards. It's not certain if these effects are abnormal because there's nothing to compare them to, and yet Mathews and people like Damon's mother choose to draw unfounded conclusions and move into the real of fear, uncertainty, and denial (FUD), a term coined to describe tactics used by Microsoft anytime it wants to destroy a competitor:

"Based on our results, I think parents should be aware of the relationship between violent video-game playing and brain function."

Perhaps, but what good does it do when there's no evidence that such a relationship extends beyond the act of playing said video games? Could the scare tactics not end up being more damaging than the games are?

The dreaded 'hypocrite' word has been thrown down already. How can Matt Damon star in a series of films in which he nearly beat a man to death with a rolled up magazine, and then complain that such violence is unacceptable in video games? Arguably, the films did more damage than the game will. The Bourne Identity was rated PG-13, meaning anyone older than 13-years-old could see the movie on their own, while the game I imagine will be rated 'M' by the ESRB, the same rating GTA IV received, meaning no one under the age of 17 is supposed to be able to buy it.

What's wrong with that picture?

Update -- A comment below refers us to a follow-up article on the MTV blog backtracking on their reporting that Matt Damon backed out of The Bourne Conspiracy because of excessive violence. The clarification is that it is believed that Damon backed out for this reason, that it is implied, but not confirmed. From The Boston Globe: '"..I accept and agree with what she says - that it desensitizes kids, that there could be blowback from it." His concern led him to refuse to allow his likeness to be licensed for any "Bourne" toys or video games.'

It sounds like a reasonable conclusion to draw, but that's just me.
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1 Comment

The MTV report you linked to is incorrect, and was corrected by a subsequent article, linked here:

Please read Damon's comments in the following Boston Globe article, and consider whether your item should be modified.

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