Nintendo have just released the latest game in the massively successful Mario Series – "Super Mario 3D Land" for the new Nintendo 3DS. While most people, even non-fans, will see this as another piece of harmless entertainment, one organisation has already taken offence. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, commonly known as PETA.
PETA's particular grievance with this new game is in Mario's not-so-new "Tanooki suit", which has the appearance of a raccoon. According to PETA, Mario is "...even wearing the skin of a raccoon dog to give him special powers". The reason I say "not-so-new" is that in fact Mario has worn this suit as far back as the early 90's in "Super Mario Bros. 3" for the NES.
Mario is of course famous for jumping on to turtles and even pulling the legs off a squid (albeit "evil" turtles and squids...) My point here is that it's a game, and a pretty inoffensive one at that (compared to others). Mario is never shown actually skinning a raccoon dog to get the skin for this suit of course, it's just meant to be a fun visual and one that will relate to Japanese players (a "Tanuki" being a mythical creature in Japanese culture). I might be wrong, but I really can't imagine anyone being offended by this, unless they saw the PETA campaign possibly.
Also, I hardly imagine that anybody would, after playing the game, suddenly take a knife and go out to find the nearest raccoon dog to kill and skin, wearing the skin whilst looking for a handy turtle to jump on. So is this campaign by PETA really valid, or just a way to build their own agenda by using a piece of popular culture? I'd argue that it's the latter, but it's certainly another example of games being blamed for various ills in society yet again.
There has been much debate about whether violent games induces violent behaviour and, not being a psychologist, I won't say that either they do or they don't. I feel that each individual is very different and can take inspiration from many different sources in life. However, I also believe that particularly violent behaviour is, unfortunately, probably going to be committed anyway by some individuals. I don't believe that games, films, books or any other media are directly responsible, although they can provide ideas. However any form of information exchange, in any form, can provide new ideas, so I like many others don't believe it's fair to say that games are directly responsible for social violence while ignoring everything else. Yes, games can be violent, but so can films, books, music, media on the Internet, even good old fashioned social interactions.
In the gamut of game genres, Mario is definitely one of the least violent or offensive and in the gamut of various "rights" organisations PETA is probably one of the most controversial. I'm sure they know that people like me will write about campaigns like this and, to be fair to them, it's all added publicity for them. But even though this campaign is absurd in my opinion, maybe it's a good thing – it shows how much we can overreact in this whole "violence in video games" debate and hopefully will add some much needed perspective.