Maybe some of us get the sort of dark reverse psychology that cruel in-game behavior on display outside the game pulls some people into the “fold,” but non-gamers don’t. And many younger recipients of such messages would likely be non-gamers, since the game’s about as “M” as an M-rated game could be (M for “Mature” because of the gore, violence, sexuality and substance abuse it depicts, according to the game raters at ESRB). Maybe Square Enix got that the timing, with online and offline bullying of high concern in our society, was really bad.
Maybe the company even got that a lot of people (e.g., those who hadn’t heard of the game) could get hurt, but I hope it even got that the campaign was modeling as well as enabling social aggression.
“The defense of this, if there is any,” writes GeekDad Curtis Silver, who said he’d enjoyed other games in the Hitman franchise but wasn’t going to buy this one because of the campaign, “is that gamers tag each other with dirty jokes and insults all the time, so it must be okay to send such an insult through Facebook. But what if you send it to someone who doesn’t play video games? Is it still just for laughs?”
This is great material for helping kids understand context and perspective – to think about how someone broadsided with a cruel inside “joke” might feel and what they might do to help. It’s also a good reason for gamers to talk about what they think of the in-game chat they participate in and whether – if they don’t actually enjoy it much or don’t feel it’s appropriate – they could think of something to do about that when playing games.