Gaming and politics

Well, even though this was widely linked last week, I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on it as well. There was a piece in the Opinion Journal (of the WSJ.com) by Brian Anderson about video games. It’s the same mantra we’ve been hearing but it never hurts to repeat it:

Video games can also exercise the brain in remarkable ways. I recently spent (too) many late-night hours working my way through X-Men: Legends II: The Rise of Apocalypse, a game I ostensibly bought for my kids. Figuring out how to deploy a particular grouping of heroes (each of whom has special powers and weaknesses); using trial and error and hunches to learn the game’s rules and solve its puzzles; weighing short-term and long-term goals–the experience was mentally exhausting and, when my team finally beat the Apocalypse, exhilarating.

And the ever-present challenge to would be gaming-Nannies:

With the next generation of high-powered consoles on the market or soon to appear, gamers will have even richer, more complex virtual environments, many of them nonlinear, to explore. Working through these worlds alone, with friends or–in the ever more popular “massively multiplayer online role-playing games,” or MMOs–with thousands of strangers is far from a “colossal waste of time.” Video games are popular culture at its best. Critics would do better to drop the hysterical laments and pick up a joystick.

Of course, that can be favorably contrasted with this article in the Washington Times about video game legislation, that claims:

For one thing, these laws have tended to be mostly symbolic; the fact that interest in them tends to fade in the absence of newspaper headlines suggests strong elements of political theatrics at play. Second, the laws are regularly struck down by courts for their dubious constitutionality, and everyone including the scourges knows this. Third, more than 9 of 10 retailers have policies restricting the sale of such games to children anyway. All of which begs a question: Just how sincere are the proponents of these laws? Most of them are Democrats with strong interests in easy “moral values” scores. Smells like opportunism to us.

Political theatrics? Political opportunism? Perish the thought!

As an aside, the Opinion Journal mentions the study done by Dmitri Williams at the University of Illinois (which I mentioned here) which uses the game Asheron’s Call 2 for its study. I’ve never played AC2 (or the first one, for that matter), but it doesn’t seem like that game would be explicitly violent or very gory. Is it? Are the violence and gore on the same level as a Resident Evil 4 or a Grand Theft Auto? And if so, can fantasy violence really be compared to a game with more “realistic” characters? Is running over an innocent bystander with a pick-up the same as smashing a goblin with a mace? Just a thought.

Related articles can be found here.

But is that Legal?

Glenn Reynolds, aka The Instapundit, has a great piece on the Clinton/Lieberman/Bayh legislation that would codify the ratings assigned to video games. While IANAL, Reynolds is, so when he says this law would be unconstitutional, I would have to agree. He makes some great points, including the fact that this is blatant posturing by Clinton to position herself with parents for the upcoming 2008 election. A couple choice quotes:

Politicians — and, for that matter, journalists — tend to think there’s a difference, because a lot more of them read books than play computer games. But that’s more a reflection on how behind the times they are

We’ve said something along these lines many times before here, but it bears repeating. It’s the rock-and-roll analogy. Our grandparents didn’t like that our parents were listening to Elvis Presley because it was foreign to them and that made them resist it. This is very similar.

And since it’s hard for me to believe that a rating system for books would pass constitutional muster, I have considerable doubt that it will do so here.

This is another point. Where does the rating of the media (and our hobbies/past times) end? Everyone already ignores movie ratings (including the theaters), the Parental Advisor sticker on a CD case is the path to instant success with teenagers, and supposedly no one understands the video game rating system. Rating systems work if they’re actually meaningful, not just empty gestures with “the Children” in mind. So far they all seem to be just that.

Needless to say, go read the whole thing.

I’ve bookmarked the opinion Reynolds references for future referencing. It’s a good read (if you can navigate the legalese) and it seems at least judge Posner “gets it”:

Violence has always been and remains a central interest of humankind and a recurrent, even obsessive theme of culture both high and low. It engages the interest of children from an early age, as anyone familiar with the classic fairy tales collected by Grimm, Andersen, and Perrault are aware. To shield children right up to the age of 18 from exposure to violent descriptions and images would not only be quixotic, but deforming; it would leave them unequipped to cope with the world as we know it.

Maybe video games are different. They are, after all, interactive. But this point is superficial, in fact erroneous. All literature (here broadly defined to include movies, television, and the other photographic media, and popular as well as highbrow literature) is interactive; the better it is, the more interactive. Literature when it is successful draws the reader into the story, makes him identify with the characters, invites him to judge them and quarrel with them, to experience their joys and sufferings as the reader’s own.

Indeed.

(thanks to Bobster for the link)

Gaming and politics

I will probably need to add a new category for games and violence/politics at some point here on buttonmashing.com. I don’t cover them as thoroughly as Game Politics and others but I still follow it closely. (I’m little bit of a poltical junkie but I try to avoid anything too political on these pages). Anyway, this is old in blog-time, but there’s a good response to Hillary Clinton’s propsed legislation I briefly mentioned here at Tech Central Station.

I like that other people are getting into the discourse. John Luik isn’t a gamer but says something that I just love.

For some, these complaints about video games are nothing more than a reflection of the cultural and generational divide between those below and above age 40. For instance, the Economist recently noted that “The opposition to gaming springs largely from the neophobia that has pitted the old against the entertainments of the young for centuries. Most gamers are under 40, and most critics are non-games-playing over 40s.” That may well be true, though studies suggest that about half of Americans play some sort of video game. As for age and bias, I am both not a game player and rather regrettably well past 40, but the evidence leads me to side with the kids who want to play.

I also find it interesting how many people (bloggers) out there are into gaming in one form or another that aren’t “gaming bloggers”. I read a lot of gaming blogs (too many!) but I also read my fair share of blogs on other topics. I recently read this little gaming blurb on VodkaPundit about Bushnell’s comment about the number of gamers being smaller than 20 years ago. The VodkaPundit, as long as I’ve read him, doesn’t often comment on such things, so it’s cool to see others talking about it. What really amazed me where the number of comments remininscing about gaming. I think that’s a great thing and I hope it continues.

Ugggh

Hello, America. I want to be your next President. Why should you vote for me? Look at all the things I’ve done for the children. Won’t you please think of the children?

Parents just have to be better parents.

First off, I never wanted buttonmashing.com to become a place for political statements, so I will try to refrain from such comments as much as possible. Also, I didn’t want to talk about GTA:SA anymore. I think the game has no redeeming qualities. I respect the opinions of people who think otherwise, but for my money, GTA:SA is a poor game. That said, I really don’t want to beat dead horses (Jack Thompson is an idiot and the GTA scandal) anymore but if you throw in another horse (Hillary Clinton) and I’m game. As it’s been reported, Senator Clinton has thrown her considerable political weight behind an investigation into Rockstar’s peccancies.

Mrs. Clinton asked the commission to determine “the source of this content,” especially since the game can fall into the hands of young people. The game industry’s self-policing unit, the Entertainment Software Rating Board, is investigating whether the maker of the game violated the industry rule requiring “full disclosure of pertinent content.”

Do we really need “federal regulators to investigate” this? Whether this game should have been rated M or AO by the ESRB it should never “fall into the hands of young people.” The NY Times also seems to be sketchy on the rest of the details, but that’s beside the point. It’s troubling that an influential Senator has taken interest in this case, because it gives credence to nut-jobs like Jack Thompson.

In fact, this seems to have been Jack Thompson’s dream come true, as he is literally slobbering in this letter he purportedly sent to everyone in the video game industry.

(On a side note, as a conservative Republican, I am sad to learn that Jack Thompson also belongs to my party. But that is neither here nor there.)

As I read this letter, I had to pause numerous times and pinch myself. Certainly I had drifted into a parallel universe where logic doesn’t exist and saying things crazy-stupid is the norm. As few choice quotes from the letter:

For a month Doug Lowenstein and his ESA pretended that there was no mod, that there was no scandal, that there was no need for any action whatsoever by ESA. How wrong he was.

No, how wrong you are Mr. Thompson! It’s the ESRB, not the ESA, that needs to take action. They rated a game based on content provided to them. It is neither Lowenstein’s nor the ESA’s fault that Rockstar may have held back certain content. This is just hot air.

Doug Lowenstein could have prevented what is going to happen today, but he preferred to shoot the messengers. It is his chronic style.

I wondered if he was trained to do that in Grand Theft Shoot-the-Media. Do you think he has an option of “Shoot the Messenger” in one of his cranial menus?

News organizations don’t trust ESA because Doug Lowenstein is its head. Why should they? He treats them like dirt.

After watching 60 minutes in March, I’d say it was the other way around. They gave whackos like you all the time in the world to spout your nonsense and then gave Doug the equivalent of a couple sound bites.

When Hitler invaded Russia, opening up an Eastern offensive on the eve of winter, Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill noted that “Hitler must have been rather loosely educated, not having learned the lesson of Napoleon’s autumn advance on Moscow.”

Your Doug Lowenstein is similarly “loosely educated” about the United States Constitution.

Whoops, Thompson has “jumped the shark.” When the “Hitler” comparisons are thrown around, it’s time to pick up your things and leave. Nothing to see here. If you made it that far in the article, you can stop there. Does anyone see the similarity between a madman who exterminated millions of people and a man who may have missed a simple bit of content in a video game where NO ONE DIED? I know you, smart buttonmashers, are familiar with history. I won’t belabor the point anymore. You’ve seen the diarrhea pour out of this guys mouth time and time again. There’s more of this garbage, you can read it if you are a glutton for punishment. You can make your own decision about this guy.

There is one nice little gem, though, from Mr. Thompson. It reminded me why I love George W:

The evening in January 2000 that I appeared on NBC Nightly News to talk about the link between violent games and Columbine, Tom Brokaw asked then Governor Bush about that link and what he as President would do about it? George Bush simply said “Parents just have to be better parents.”

Amen, brother! We can write all the legislation in the world, fine stores and their clerks for selling games to minors, whatever. In the end, if the parents will let little Tommy play GTA:Kill ’em All Rampage, who’s to blame, really?

Update: Here are two cents (which are actually worth more) from blogger JKL, in which he refers to Jack Thompson as Thumper. Anyone who would think of that is okay in my book.

Also keep checking out Kotaku for updates. Brian is on this case like white on rice.

Related Posts:
Cranial Menus
GTA should have been rated AO
Parents just have to be better parents