A word on that EWN / child psychologist thing

UPDATE ON THE UPDATES: I’ve moved them to the end of this post, because they were taking up way too much space here.

If you happened to venture across the endless, wild, and endlessly wild plains of the Internet yesterday, you may have noticed that your Daily Dose of Media Faux Pas was being keenly delivered to hapless passersby by local newsmonger FOX News EWN, or Eyewitness News. Riding shamelessly atop the wave of attention that’s being given to both the phenomenal success of Grand Theft Auto V and that sudden bout of total WTF at Glenvista High School, EWN reporters Craig Wynn and Govan Whittels set off on the quest for maximum pageviews by linking the two and decrying the effect of video game violence on the youth of today.

Now, any rational human who’s seen the footage of the little asshat at Glenvista High who attacked his teacher with a broom because of… something or other during what I assume was a disciplinary altercation no doubt feels, as do I, that it’s a violently appalling display of mob mentality, teenage idiocy and parental failings. As a side note, I’m very excited to see how that kid and his pet mullet fare when they inevitably land up in prison. EWN points out that towards the end of the video, one of the tiny hooligan’s socially inept classmates can clearly be heard exclaiming this: “Did you see that? That’s GTA! That’s GTA, ? That’s GTA!”

I’ve just watched the video, and it’s true that one of the kids actually does say those words.

This prompted EWN’s Govan Whittels to give me a call late Wednesday afternoon. We had a quick chat about video games, ranging from how easy it is for underage humans to get hold of mature games like Grand Theft Auto, to just how violent the game is. I explained that, to the best of my knowledge, retailers train their employees not to sell mature games to minors, and that, if those minors were to be accompanied by an adult, they’d likely explain to said adult that the game contains mature content, that it’s not intended for children under the age of 18, and then ultimately leave the purchasing decision up to the (hopefully responsible) adult in question.

Later, I went on to plainly state that Grand Theft Auto is a very violent series of video games. I also explained that it should be very easy for any sane human to make a distinction between the virtual world of GTA and that of this very obviously far more realistic world in which I’m sitting on a very real, very comfortable chair and using a very real keyboard to type the words you see sprawled out before you.

I made it very clear that, even if these kids do get a hold of these games, it’s ultimately up to the parents to regulate the access that their kids have to such games. If you see your 15 year-old child mowing down pedestrians in Grand Theft Auto, maybe do a bit of parenting and put an end to it. Especially if your child seems to be exhibiting signs of becoming an incredibly violent entity. And just to be clear – and pay attention to this part, because it’s important – not because of video games, but because your child may be intrinsically damaged and a potential psychopath. These types of people existed long before video games were born, and they will continue to exist with or without the influence of gaming.

Don’t get me wrong here. I understand that being a parent is difficult, and given that I was once a kid too (and I still spend much of my time behaving like one, because it’s fun), I know that kids can be total assholes. I know that they’ll find a way to play these games somehow. Perhaps it’ll be because they have friends whose parents allow their kids to get away with whatever they’d like and will happily allow their child (and by extension, any visiting friends) to roam the streets of Los Santos / Liberty City / wherever, gleefully picking up diseased virtual prostitutes while mommy and daddy get drunk and talk shit with friends out by the pool – probably openly lamenting the fact that their kids are such little wankers without a trace of irony.

Honestly, there are any number of ways your kids could be exposed to it. But kids talk about things that they like, and if little Lauren’s just told you how much fun she had running drugs with her homies in GTA at Johnny Turdface’s house yesterday, maybe explain to Lauren that you don’t want her playing such games until she’s old enough to understand them. And then maybe get in touch with Johnny’s parents and call them out for being the inept child-spawners / birthing channels / just terrible parents that they are.

Anyway! I’ve gotten so far off track here that my monitor is starting to pull funny faces at me.

EWN proceeded to run with what they had, publishing a scattered quote from my five-minute-or-so chat with Govan that, while it provides far too little context for my liking, is fair enough. “I would say it’s definitely one of the more violent games. You’re effectively playing the role of a gangster or a criminal. It’s not always the retailers who are responsible because younger kids opt for pirated copies as they don’t have money to spend.” Which, like I say, is totally fair, because I did eventually state that, because there’s a culture of piracy prevalent in SA, kids could also always bypass responsible retailers entirely and either simply download the game, or walk into, say, a flea market and buy a pirated copy from someone who doesn’t give a damn how old the tiny person they’re selling the game to is, so long as they get their cash in hand.

They did, however, misspell my name as “Dan” Remendes. I spent pretty much all of yesterday curled up in a ball in the corner of the NAG office, furiously rocking back and forth and sobbing uncontrollably, because of that missing E that normally plays such an important role in my name.

Where things get truly weird in the EWN post, however, is with a quote from Tshepiso Matentjie. Matentjie is a supposed “child psychologist” with multiple master’s degrees, who’s apparently gained dubious renown for serving as a “consultant educational psychologist” at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy For Girls, and for being the resident psychologist on SABC 3’s 3-Talk with Noeleen. When EWN contacted Matentjie, she apparently told them that the newest GTA is the most disturbing one yet. This is why:

“Players gain points when they perpetrate very serious violent acts. If you kill a woman with your bare hands you get points. They also get points for raping a woman.”

Wait… what?

Grand Theft Auto puts players in the shoes of criminals and gangsters and unleashes them in a gritty, but also incredibly silly world where they’re free to do pretty much as they please. You can wantonly kill people, sure. There’s some really graphic, sometimes incredibly disturbing violence in there, there’s no getting around that. But looking past the fact that it’s entirely factually incorrect to state that you get “points” for doing violence of any sort in the game, there’s a much more serious grievance at play: it’s completely disgraceful to blatantly, dreadfully lie that it’s possible to rape women in the game. In a country that’s called the rape capital of the world, where statistics say that someone is raped approximately every four minutes, it’s also shockingly insensitive to imply that a video game would allow you to perform the horrific act.

Apparently, Tshepiso Matentjie would rather spout absolute bullshit on subjects she knows nothing about than do the respectful thing and simply decline to comment. Well done, Captain Dignity.

What’s really got me annoyed is that EWN allowed Matentjie to say such things, to actually go so far as quoting her words, without calling her on her crap. A quick Google search would’ve revealed that what she’d said was just unabashedly untrue. It’s irresponsible, inflammatory “journalism” in the name of easy hits, and it irritates me that my (admittedly misspelt, but hey) name is contained within the same “news” post as Matentjie’s thoughtless, uninformed accusations.

I’m baffled by the fact that nobody at EWN actually plays a game so monumentally popular and so entrenched in popular culture as Grand Theft Auto and would therefore be qualified to defend it, and why nobody thought to perhaps ask me about Matentjie’s comment while they had me on the phone.

Then again, EWN’s news post isn’t for us, the gamers who’ll continue to buy the games regardless. It’s sensationalist crap, designed to garner cheap attention from people who classify our favourite hobby as being “evil”, or whatever it’s being called these days. Nevertheless, it’s damaging to our industry in its own way, however insignificantly, because it fuels a fire that should’ve been put out a long time ago, one which illuminates gaming in a needlessly negative light.

Special thanks to Lazygamer / Gavin Mannion for drawing attention to this garbage, and calling out EWN on their irresponsible posting of that quote. However, I must mention that in Gavin’s post, he does speculate that I never said what I did to EWN, and that they’d cherry-picked comments from other interviews I’ve done. I’d just like to clarify that this isn’t true – the quote was pulled from a relevant interview, meant specifically for EWN’s post. So there’s that. You can read the Lazygamer post here.

And as much as I’m loathe to give EWN more pageviews by linking to the relevant articles, you can find the one with Matentjie’s quote here, and an opinion piece on GTA V and what the kids exclaimed here. And here’s the video, but be warned: it’s quite disturbing.

I’m happy to speak to EWN about all things gaming in the future, because I love gaming, and I love telling people who don’t know much about it why I’ve loved it since before I could read, but seriously – just keep things balanced. You’re better than this.

I’d also just like to add that I long for the day when the mainstream media shines its spotlight on the many, many beautiful and relaxing and non-violent and artful games out there that make gamers every bit as happy as GTA. Games like Proteus. Games like Waking Mars. Games like Journey. Games like Dear Esther. Games like Gone Home.

I don’t know about you, but that would make me happy.

tl;dr: don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.

UPDATE #1: As Squirly points out in the comments below, EWN seems to have pulled the original news piece. Sadface.

UPDATE #2: And the facepalm continues. Tracy Benson has kindly informed us in the comments section that the news piece is back online, and that EWN has indeed removed Matentjie’s senseless rape quote from the news piece. But! They’ve replaced it with this: “Kids gain points when they perpetrate very violent acts. One of those violent acts, as they move towards a higher level, is to kill a woman with their bare hands.” Again, ignoring the fact that the “points” thing is total rubbish, since when does GTA encourage the player to kill women with their bare hands? And why only at a higher level? I’m confused as to why EWN insists on publishing the word of someone who not only knows nothing about GTA, and most likely nothing about gaming as well, but is so obviously comfortable with fabricating facts for… I don’t know, attention maybe? It’s embarrassing.

Also, at the end of the news piece, EWN has posted this half-assed apology: “Editor’s note: It was brought to our attention that parts of Matentjie’s quote published earlier were in correct [this is their typo, not ours] and that a player cannot rape a woman nor does he/she earn points for perpetrating such an act. We regret the error and apologise for the inaccurate information.” I call it half-assed because they apologise for publishing inaccurate information, and then immediately go and do it again. Wow.

Also also, Tracy points out that they still haven’t fixed the spelling of my name. Double sadface.