When Does Video Game Violence Cross the Line? Apparently When it is Violence Against Pipelines

There is a new video game called “Thunderbird Strike,” which, according to an MPR story, allows “players to symbolically destroy oil pipelines and other infrastructure.”

On queue, industry groups are warning that the game will lead to eco-terrorism. And since a Minnesota state arts grant helped fund some of the game’s development, a Minnesota state legislator already has promised to introduce legislation to limit similar funding in the future.

According to the MPR story:

The game [Thunderbird Strike] depicts a mythical Native American figure called a “thunderbird” that gathers lightning that can be used to either revive creatures or destroy trucks and oil infrastructure, including a pipeline that’s also depicted as a snake, using hand-drawn images and stop-motion animations.

Creative Commons License: https://c2.staticflickr.com/8/7572/16035778385_498ba76bb8_b.jpg

OK, I haven’t played video games since Donkey Kong, but I do know there are some pretty violent games out there, like the Mortal Combat and Grand Theft Auto series. Those seem a lot more violent than Thunderbird Strike.

According to Wikipedia, in Grand Theft Auto III, ” players could pay for the services of prostitutes to restore their health, and if they wished, kill them to get some of their money back.” Grand Theft Auto IV introduced a new drink-and-drive feature. The list of blood, gore, and violent images in video games is extensive.

If someone can point me to examples of the energy industry’s outrage about these violent video games, I’d be glad to republish them here.

Thunderbird Strike has hit a nerve because of the proposed Enbridge Line 3, an expansion and reroute of an existing tar sands crude oil pipeline. It starts in Alberta, runs 337 miles through northern Minnesota, and ends in Superior, Wisconsin. Line 3 would cross the Mississippi River twice, including the headwaters. A pipeline failure could harm the state’s clean waters and recreation and wild rice areas. The Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) people who are native to the area are strongly opposed to the project.

What About the “Man Camps?”

The MPR story on Thunderbird Strike cites Toby Mack, president of the Energy Equipment and Infrastructure Alliance, saying his group is concerned the game could inspire violence against pipelines. “The consequences of somebody committing an act such as you can on the video game is just horrific,” he is quoted as saying.

I am glad that Mack and industry groups are concerned about violence. The Minnesota Department of Commerce’s environmental impact statement (EIS) discusses the very real-life threat of increased sexual assaults and violence against women associated with Enbridge Line 3 man camps, the temporary pipeline construction camps.

The EIS says the problem of sexual violence against women associated with man camps is well documented, particularly against Native women.

American Indian and minority populations are often at higher risk if they are low-income, homeless, have a lack of resources, addiction, and other factors often found in tribal communities (MDH 2014). The addition of a temporary, cash-rich workforce increases the likelihood that sex trafficking or sexual abuse will occur. Additionally, rural areas often do not have the resources necessary to detect and prevent these activities. (EIS Chapter 11 pages 20-21).

The suggested solution is offered on page 23 of that same chapter:

To address the potential for sexual abuse or sex trafficking, Enbridge can fund or prepare and implement an education plan or awareness campaign around this issue with the companies and subcontractors it hires to construct, restore, and operate the pipeline. Enbridge can also provide funding to local and tribal law enforcement to identify and stop sex trafficking.

Comment: This language seems vague and even naïve, as if the problem can be easily fixed by training and perhaps a few dollars for more police. Can Enbridge point to effective training to reduce sexual assaults near man camps? Where is the data? Also, note the EIS’s noncommittal language. It says Enbridge “can” (but not “will”) commit money. There is no discussion of a specific plan, no firm commitment, just placeholder language.

I will close with a question: If the industry is so concerned that people will act out on video game violence, does it have recommended policies banning Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat, and similar videos from camps and work sites? Does Enbridge have such a policy?

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