The Santa Barbara Killer Is a Product of Our Culture, and We Shouldn't Hide From That Fact

Editorial: It's important to understand what we consume.

by

Near the University of California Santa Barbara on Friday night, one man took part in a murderous spree in which seven people died and many more were injured. It was a shocking tragedy, one that makes us draw closer to those we love, mourn those who were affected, and try to figure out how such a terrible event could possibly happen. Although the killer died in the attack, we do have a glimpse at what he was thinking beforehand, and what could have led him to commit such atrocities; he blamed the women who shunned him for his aching loneliness. "All I ever wanted was to fit in and live a happy life amongst humanity, but I was cast out and rejected, forced to endure an existence of loneliness and insignificance, all because the females of the human species were incapable of seeing the value in me," he wrote in a document titled My Twisted World.

It was women the shooter blamed. "Girls gave their affection and sex and love to other men," he said, "but never to me." There's a feeling of entitlement in his words, that he expects women to be close to him, that he's owed their companionship. It's a troubling thought--one that dehumanizes women as objects to be enjoyed rather than people capable of making rational decisions--and one that was echoed in the game I spent the weekend playing.

Killer Is Dead finally made its way to the PC on Friday, many months after it had come to consoles, and considering how much I've enjoyed previous games from Grasshopper Studios, I happily downloaded it to see what Suda 51 had concocted this time. Sadly, there is questionable treatment of women in this stylish adventure. Amid the standard stages are side missions dubbed Gigolo mode, in which you ogle women at a bar until your confidence grows to an acceptable level. Sneaking peeks at their underwear gives you the courage to present gifts, and by doling out some perfume or a fancy stone, you earn their love. They are objectives to complete, prizes waiting to be won, whose presence follows you even when you're not actively courting them. The women call to you mid-mission, urging you to come back to join them, as you brush off their pleas because you're busy with more pressing matters.

There's a feeling of entitlement in his words, that he expects women to be close to him, that he's owed their companionship.

Drawing even a tenuous link between games such as Killer Is Dead and the motivations of the Santa Barbara killer is unfair. No one piece of fiction could possibly change the ideology of a person--even one who is easily influenced--so I am not pointing my finger toward any one thing in an attempt to take blame away from the individual and shift it onto an inanimate object. A person who could commit such a horrific act is troubled in a way that I cannot possibly understand. His actions are his responsibility, and his alone, but we should still look at the world that he existed in, and the cultural influences that are all around us.

It's not likely that one game would be able to change the thought process of a person. What we should consider, though, is that Killer Is Dead is not alone in its treatment of women. There are countless other games in which this philosophy exists--many of which have achieved far more popularity than this niche hack-and-slasher could ever reach--and it's hard to avoid this message if you play games as much as I do.

Mass Effect, for instance, is one of the most engaging adventures I've played in recent years, handling difficult subjects such as genocide with aplomb, and yet establishing a relationship with a woman requires no more than answering multiple-choice questions correctly before you get to bed her. You can also court men as a female Shepard in Mass Effect, though it's a false equivalency to treat those two situations as equal because the women are so much more sexualized. The same stripped-down approach to love was found in Persona 4: Golden, a game with fascinating characters that still resorted to in-game rewards and a shallow courting process to win the hearts of your female friends. There are much more glaring examples of objectification in games, but it's important to notice that even smart, progressive games such as these fall into the same traps.

Games aren't the only place in which this mentality is ever present, and when I think about the recent media I've consumed, I can't ignore how often men dominate the women in their lives. Just a note, the following examples don't glamorize the dehumanizing of woman, but they do showcase the supreme dominance of men. In Haruki Murakami's novel Norwegian Wood, Toru is an incredibly selfish character who struggles to deal with women who don't bend to his every whim. He expects the women in his life to please him whenever he wishes, and becomes discouraged and frustrated when they refuse to give him what he desires. In the television series Masters of Sex, the men demand that their wives quit their jobs, work at home, and obey them without question, and balk whenever a woman dares to strive for independence.

Masters of Sex often puts women in disempowering situations.

The movie Under the Skin examines one woman's search for her identity. It's a sobering journey in which the protagonist must escape from a man who desires her, and finds that she can't fight against those who are so much stronger than she is. I see this theme repeated over and over again, showing women in a place of weakness, men as the dominating force, and justice being forsaken for primal pleasure. This is the world in which we live, the media that shapes our point of view, and something that we shouldn't ignore.

Where this gets so difficult for me is that I enjoy everything that I've written about so far. Killer Is Dead isn't nearly as interesting as Suda 51's previous games--such as Killer 7, No More Heroes, Shadows of the Damned, or even Lollipop Chainsaw--but I was riveted by its violent, sexy exploits nonetheless. The visual design is so expertly constructed, the combat so dynamically satisfying, that I plunged deeper into the adventure even though I couldn't ignore the objectification of every woman I met. I cannot deny my love for Mass Effect, either, and Persona 4: Golden is one of the finest games I've ever played. Norwegian Wood is a deft exploration of the selfish desires of a young man, and Masters of Sex creates sobering conflicts in which I hoped against hope that the characters would do the right thing. And Under the Skin, well, I can't remember the last time I saw a movie this affecting. It's a masterpiece, and one that I haven't been able to get out of my head for the past two months.

This is the world in which we live, the media that shapes our point of view, and something that we shouldn't ignore.

Women are often treated poorly in popular culture, but searching for an easy solution to this problem is a lost cause. Our society has been infected by these ideas for so long, and we can't change the way people think at the drop of a hat. If there were an obvious scapegoat we could point to, something that clearly triggered the tragedy in Santa Barbara, we would have a strong place to start, but such a thing doesn't exist. For the government, there are policies that need to be examined, the same issues that seem to surface whenever such an event occurs. For instance, the discussion around the availability of guns is once again going to take place, as is our relationship to mental health care. But those matters have to be settled by our lawmakers. The government does not dictate culture, though, so it's our responsibility to examine the media we create and consume.

Artists should be able to express themselves without fear that their work is going to be banned. But just because there aren't any rules dictating what kind of ideas authors, directors, and game developers can explore, they still have a responsibility to themselves and the world at large that shouldn't be ignored. Media does not force people to commit violent acts, and to imply that's the case is dangerous and unfair. Still, creators have to be cognizant of what messages they are sending out there. If they continue to demean a certain segment of the population, if they dehumanize our friends and loved ones, then it may be worth reexamining those beliefs.

We, as consumers, have our own role in this healing process. We have to accept that the media we hold near to our hearts can still have troubling messages. To hide from this fact is disingenuous. Admit that major themes may be damaging, that you understand and respect that others feel uncomfortable, and yet still celebrate the elements that you enjoy. Our voices are important. It doesn't help anyone to stick our heads in the sand, to pretend that everything is all right even when so many people think otherwise. There's nothing wrong with liking media that others find disgusting. Yes, I am a little embarrassed to say that I enjoyed Killer Is Dead amid the controversy that surrounded its release, but at the same time, I can't hide who I am, and I am fully aware of what kind of messaging it has. So don't stop playing the games you love, or watching the movies that speak to you. But don't brush off the criticisms directed toward them, either.

Video games are supposed to be an escape. They're where I go when I want to relax for a few hours, or to visit a world very different from my own. I recognize that games are power fantasies, fictional endeavors in which I can jump higher than real gravity would allow, withstand bullets without dying, and dunk a basketball from the three-point line. Those power fantasies are what often draw me into games. But it's when those fantasies shift from exaggerating my own physical strengths to turning women into mere objects that things stop being fun. We have to recognize the cultural impact of our artistic expression. Only by talking openly about what we're enjoying, and examining how it affects the world at large, can we better understand how a person like the Santa Barbara killer could have such troubling ideas about women to begin with.

Discussion

1384 comments
chuckwobbly
chuckwobbly

As long as the majority of cultures throughout the world see women as nothing but property, you're right, this is a cultural problem.  Men feel entitled to have sex with women and those who can't whine about the 'friend zone' meaning 'because I am nice to you, I am entitled to your p&*sy. Men are continuing to prove what losers they are around the world with this sort of behavior....SHE gave me the apple and I did eat...yes this behavior goes all the way back to a popular book of fairy tales in a good deal of people's houses.

McDayman
McDayman

So many in these comments seem stuck on the idea that Tom is blaming games for these murders.  He's not.  In fact, he specifically says so.


"I am not pointing my finger toward any one thing in an attempt to take blame away from the individual and shift it onto an inanimate object."


Let me summarize his point, in hopes that future people reading this (or skipping right to the comments) might understand it.  Tom is saying that our culture is in part responsible for nurturing these negative ideas (sexism, misogyny, etc) in people.  Games, movies and TV are contributors to our cultural norms and thus influence those of us that grow up knowing them.  When our entertainment media handles difficult topics (relationships, sex, rape, violence) irresponsibly, it does affect people's real world perceptions.  There are other factors, certainly, but this is one of them.  So yes, there is value in considering and criticizing such content in media that we consume.

psuedospike
psuedospike

After reading his manifesto, which I highly recommend Tom actually do, it's pretty clear that this was the final act of a twisted mind full of anger due to years of isolation and bullying, also parental abandonment.  That coupled with the failure of local police to monitor this kid after Youtube videos detailing exactly what he did resulted in this recent mass murder.


It was not society or entertainment to blame, it was bad parenting coupled with an entitled little @$$hole who didn't get what he thought he deserved, period.

Salinger
Salinger

Seriously I think this article is terribly off base.  Misogyny is women hating; games are virtual reality.  You might as well write an article on why hunting games are driving animals extinct.  Saying this tragedy is a product of "our culture" is too big a concept, so it becomes meaningless and trite, especially when you decide to focus that accusation narrowly down to video games.  Relating a tragedy like the Santa Barbara massacre to getting laid in Mass Effect is in itself harmfully misleading minimalistic dredge.  I am, and always will be an advocate of feminism, nonviolence, and humanism, but that doesn't mean the games I play need to be paragons of those virtues to satisfy those who want to limit free speech in a "culture" they do not approve of.

musalala
musalala

I find it sad that the male victims , who were asian and by all accounts nerds like us hardly even get any attention, coz you know f**ck men right.

crazedged
crazedged

You know what else is a product of our culture?


Justin Bieber. 


And he is much more of a menace to society than this guy will ever be. 

hystavito
hystavito

I'm gonna guess this has been said already many times, but I think it wasn't a great decision to include the shooting in this article.

GlaciusXL
GlaciusXL

Didn't the girl in Lollipop Chainsaw decapitate her boyfriend and wear his severed head on her body?... Anyone?... See, no one cares. And that's how it should be because the MFer isn't a political statement about the male gender. But no, I get it. It's "objectification" unless we're talking male abs and pecs, then it's just "eye candy".

Pie_FOREVER
Pie_FOREVER

Dear GameSpot (namely, Tom Mc Shea)


You are not psychoanalysts. Your job description is someone who plays video games for a living. You do not create, or actively participate in real life. You exist vicariously through other people's created worlds for a living. If that weren't so embarrassing I'd probably laugh this article off, but you set a dangerous precedent with editorials like these, and that is you're pretending and masquerading as an authority on mental health and social issues that people should listen and pay attention to, like you're somehow qualified to talk about it. You're just as qualified as any other sensationalistic media outlet twisting this story to fit the writer's own agenda and narrative.


Please stop, your job title isn't qualified for this line of work. This is why no one takes video game journalists seriously, because you take yourselves too seriously.


Sincerely,


Everyone.

Neo_OnionKnight
Neo_OnionKnight

The problem is that some people feel entitled to anything and everything, not just their sexual needs but careers, money, property and fame. Parents should've raised their kids properly and told them to strengthen their shoulders for the burden life offers.


"The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection" - Thomas Paine

electrichobo99
electrichobo99

Uh, duh! Say what you want about our culture's propensity to objectify women, but the real issue should be about gun control. On John Oliver's Sunday night HBO show, he made a rather relevant point: "One guy tries to blow up his shoes at an airport and we all have to take our shoes off, but there have been 31 school shootings since Columbine and we still haven't altered our gun policies". Thanks goes to the Republicans and the NRA for allowing these massacres to continue. And why is it that the vast majority of these firearms were purchased legally? Does that not negate the argument that criminals will always find a way to get a gun? They let lunatics like the Santa Barbara shooter and the Virginia Tech butt-licker legally purchase firearms while they are clearly insane, yet I can't own a 12-gauge to save me or my family from a home invasion. My blood will be on the hands of the local shop owner who refuses to let law-abiding citizens such as myself have the ability to protect themselves while at home.

plaintomato
plaintomato

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zintarr
zintarr

Its really sad that Tom lacks the intelligence to understand that the horrible acts committed were the actions of an individual who had been in therapy since the age of 8. It was not video games, movies or the poster of Heather Locklear (when she was young and firm) in a bikini I had in my room as a teenager that caused this. It was the madness of someone beyond any sort of help.


However Tom was partially correct in that the Santa Barbara Killer Is a Product of Our Culture. The culture of not looking at the root cause of the problem. The culture of not reporting the facts in order to gain "clicks" for dollars. The culture of comparing apples and oranges.


Also if Tom truly feels the way he says he does then he needs to seek professional help immediately because millions of people are exposed to the exact same media as Tom but do not act out nor do they put down or think poorly of women. 


Seek help Tom before its to late.

Zombrex
Zombrex

Throw in the word "misogyny" a few times and I would have thought Caro wrote this.

Stonecutters908
Stonecutters908

You can't say the females in Mass Effect are any more sexualized than the males. The only reason you are saying that Tom is that you must be straight and a male. 


But both have the ideal "good looking" traits. The females have voluptuous breasts and rear ends on a trim figure and the males have the slender waste, broad shoulders, muscular arms and chest, and square jaws.


I also have to take issue with your assessment of the social interactions in the game. You seem to single out the romantic entanglements as being particularly trite and narrowly focused on just finding that optimal question or response that helps the player get the girl/guy. But Tom, that is the entire game outside of the action. Every interaction in Mass Effect is that same mini game of finding the right thing to say to get what you want. For some reason you focus on the romantic part of it as being particularly indicative of sexual objectification when it is obvious that the interactions are so shallow across the board it is a bit strange to expect anything else.


Beyond that, you have pointed to Killer is Dead, Lollipop Chainsaw, and Shadows of the Damned, games that are all made by Japanese studios and kind of obscure in the grand scheme of things. I have little meaningful knowledge of the Japanese culture but from the outside looking in it is fair to say they have sexual objectification issues in their own media but I hardly consider that to be indicative of massive problem across the entire line of videogame products which are produced all over the world. 


Do any of the following strike you as overtly and aggressively sexist? Assassins Creed, Call of Duty, Madden, FIFA, NBA2K, WWE, Mario Kart, Pokemon, Halo, Battlefield, Civilization, Batman, Forza, Gran Turismo, etc.etc..etc... These are the games that will populate best seller lists this year. These are the games that most people are playing and I don't think any of them are instilling a sense of sexual entitlement into their male customers. There will always be artists who push the boundaries of good taste but what really infuriates me are these articles like yours suggesting that we shouldn't tell them what to make, but to think about what they are doing when in all honestly that is exactly what you are suggesting


You talk about how solving this problem of shootings and sexism isn't about easy answers but I'm afraid nobody wants to be honest about anything involving this case. We are so afraid of a reality that tells us there are some times these crazy people that do really awful things and there is little we can do about it because the world is chaotic and increasingly crowded place. 


You know something? Crime rates in this country are falling at a consistent rate, sexual assault included but it's still a big country and bad things will still happen and we just so happen to be in an age when we hear about all of it and pretend like it is some sort of cultural epidemic of violence when that is completely unfounded. Violence against women is a terrible thing but it's a complete farce to act like it's anything new, a lie to act like it isn't an improving situation, and worst of all a disservice to women all over the country who are being hammered with this nonsense so consistently that they walk around in fear of 49% of the human race who apparently have been warped into violent entitled rapists by videogames and movies. 



armanmatevos
armanmatevos

When Columbine and Sandy Hook happened, the video game community laughed at the idea that it had any responsibility. However, when women are the targets of violence, video games are automatically responsible? Welcome to a new world of double standards, censorship, and political correctness.

BSC14
BSC14

AWESOME CLICK BAIT TOM!!!!


You can now brag that your "article" got more hits and replies than the ones about you know....games. 


Maybe you will get a raise......

Threesixtyci
Threesixtyci

Is it me or are articles such as these, the real reason this stuff gets so out of hand?

So, now it's the public's fault for clicking on media with enticing headings with no real substance?  Nothing like stirring up a hornet's nest to increase ratings, Right, Gamespot?

nazart81
nazart81

A world class wussbag wrote this article

mehrdad19872010
mehrdad19872010

Don't really accept the objectification of women in Mass Effect or Persona 4 but an interesting article nonetheless. 

uxtull
uxtull

@chuckwobbly Most countries have equal rights for women, how then are they nothing but property? Same way I could say about men that they're seen to be nothing more but disposable tools for creating welfare at the cost of well being and possibly losing life. I'm sure there are men who think they have right to sexuality of each individual women, but there are no less of women who think they're entitled to every man they approach and if a man dares to reject their advances he's inviting trouble, at worst he might get attacked by very woman that tried to seduce him a moment before or her's friend, at best the woman will comfort herself by saying that the man has to be gay.

loafofgame
loafofgame

@McDayman To add to that, Tom also says: 

"Media does not force people to commit violent acts, and to imply that's the case is dangerous and unfair." 

It seems that whenever videogames are placed in a broader context than just videogames, people get upset. They will focus solely on that one aspect that threatens their medium and ignore any nuance that might exist in the given article. Now, partly, this is understandable, because a lot of people have bad experiences with videogames being negatively depicted in the non-dedicated media and when they see these issues being discussed in their dedicated sources they immediately see red. But isn't this also a perfect and direct example of how the media work and how strong their impact on people can be? How much they can mess with our heads, without it immediately leading to us killing Tom...?

zintarr
zintarr

@McDayman Had Tom done just a smudge of actual research in to the actual factors that may had played a part in this horrible event, then Tom would have learned that this murdering scum had stopped taking his medication for the treatment of schizophrenia


I am willing to bet this scum not taking his medication for a few weeks is the overall contributing factor. I am sure Tom would disagree as his made up analysis is much sexier than simple reasoning. Culture had nothing to do with these killings!

DanGleeSack
DanGleeSack

@psuedospike THIS^^ Thank you for actually pointing this out. I read it too after I saw the story, and came to the same conclusion. Very chilling.

rawkstar007
rawkstar007

You do realize that you get to put the shoes back on, right?

Zombrex
Zombrex

@plaintomato
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Salinger
Salinger

@zintarr Wouldn't it be more accurate to say the Santa Barbara killer is a product of our genes?  I feel his mental illness had more impact on the events then cultural staples.

Zombrex
Zombrex

@zintarr It's getting kind of sad that our culture is based on sensationalizing the negative behavior of the people instead of focusing on millions that are perfectly fine. Our new culture of blaming the last movie a killer watched instead of the mental instability they suffered from.

simonbelmont2
simonbelmont2

@zintarr Society does tend to sometimes avoid dealing with the root cause of a problem. The reason for this is because the solutions for the root causes are more difficult to implement. Some people would rather blame scapegoats like video games etc.

simonbelmont2
simonbelmont2

@Stonecutters908 Yeah, I don't buy Tom's argument about Mass Effect. The women in the game are just as sexualized as the men. Also, their primary function in the game is to help Shepherd win against the bad guys. They are not in the game merely to be sexual playthings. Most characters have a fair bit of back story too and the player gets to learn all about their history, beliefs etc.


The multiple choice mechanic is the devs method for allowing the player to interact with characters easily. It was designed to allow us to decide what we want to say in certain situations. The system was not designed purely to lure women into bed like the Killer is Dead system. If a person misinterprets that and believes all women in real life should be that easy then that is a problem with his/her perception. One can't blame the game for how a person  misinterprets the devs intentions.

Zombrex
Zombrex

@armanmatevos It's been a long time in development and it's only going to get worse. When the industry starts siding with the opposition there's only one result.

Then again, this is Gamespot so I use the term "industry" lightly.

psuedospike
psuedospike

@BSC14 Tom McShea is basically the Bill O'Reilly of Gamespot...they like to wheel out his BS sensationalism whenever site traffic drops.

Gr3gSolidus
Gr3gSolidus

@psuedospike They should have the freedom to die from horrible head trauma. Forcing safety onto people is for Liberals and Communists.

McDayman
McDayman

@loafofgame @McDayman Absolutely.  Video games + content criticism + current events = automatic defense mechanism.  You do more justice to the medium by considering the criticisms aimed at it.

McDayman
McDayman

@zintarr Again, you're looking for a singular, easy thing to blame it on.  Being schizophrenic does not plant the ideas in the guy's mind that that he is owed attention and sex. That he was sick and not medicating most likely played a big part in setting him off, but his misogynistic attitude was learned from somewhere.

psuedospike
psuedospike

@chuckwobbly Editorial: One man's, often uneducated, opinion expanded into a wall of pointless text.

armanmatevos
armanmatevos

@Zombrex @armanmatevos You're right, politicians and industry outsiders have used video games as scapegoats for societal woes since Mortal Kombat.  However, this is a new trend because the attacks are coming from within; gamespot and polygon, just to name a few, are blaming video games for the Santa Barbara shootings.

BSC14
BSC14

@psuedospike 


At least Bill has logic at times, this "article" though......

psuedospike
psuedospike

@Gr3gSolidus Oh yeah, sexist bike helmet laws have been enforced by the patriarchy for too long!  Rise up fellow morons, we must not take this clearly misogynistic follicle abuse any longer!!!

zintarr
zintarr

@McDayman At this point even the news networks have stopped with the misogynistic theme so only Tom and like minded individuals are defending it. Tom was wrong but is to proud to admit it.


This "editorial" can go down as one of the worst ever posted on Gamespot. I assume that is why it has been removed from the front page...cheers.

edwindamen
edwindamen

@zintarr @McDayman why is tom wrong? because you say so?


this editorial was removed from the front page because it's a couple days old and it has to clear space for new articles.


as mcdayman said before, you're again looking for absolutes (worst editorial EVER posted on gamespot / tom did NO actual research / culture had NOTHING to do with these killings). this simple reasoning of yours seems awfully black and white. it's too simple. please try to understand and accept other people's views and observations a little more, it'll help you be a better person.