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Enemy of the State by Game Informer Associate Editor, Matt Miller, was a piece of great interest to me. Legal issues in the gaming sub-culture are important and opportunity to honestly discuss how or why these laws will affect jobs, hobbies, or passion abound. Sadly, what articles tend to lack in proper focus and scope, is made up for in shock and hyperbole. The latter is the reason I found Enemy of the State disappointing. I believe that perhaps, the article treated the topic irresponsibly and presented facts poorly, if at all.
Many articles have surfaced concerning California Assembly Bill 1179 (AB 1179). I am not compelled to “explain” what the Bill says or what it means because I believe readers are intelligent enough to glean from it, true meaning; a link is sufficient. Proposed by Senator Leland Yee, Endorsed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, stricken by twelve judges and opposed by seemingly everyone in society, AB 1179 is perceived as a modern evil determined to undermine core Constitutional values by enslaving the gaming community, industry, and culture. Few articles however, explore the depth of the situation or provide accurate purview as to the potential effects to whom. As the situation develops, the journalistic opinions shroud facts to a point of inseparability and the public outcry in opposition to the proposed bill grows louder. Regardless of stance, gamers have voiced their concerns about what they think and feel, based on what they are told. Are their feelings based on good information, or is there more to consider prior to solidifying an opinion? What is really going on? What does the Bill truly say? How did it get to the Supreme Court? Why send broken controllers to Yee and is that even a great idea?
Many questions remain unanswered despite alleged attempts to answer them. Based on other articles on the topic, there is much information yet to uncover – and to get a clearer, less restrictive answer to certain questions, a long road lies ahead.
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The Magical Accountable Elephant: Now you see it – Now you don’t.
<bAmerican liberty is premised on the accountability of free men and women for what they have done, not for what they may do.
-Jon O. Newman (Federal Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit)
Journalists are people who collect and disseminate information about events, people, movements, or concerns. Expected to present information factually and without bias, journalists have an ethical commitment and moral responsibility to objectively report for the greater good of the people. I have never been a professional journalist but am, in some circles, considered a “citizen journalist”; most of my experiences in writing pertain to political opinion. More recently, I have turned my writing attention to the gaming sub-culture. I will not claim to be a good writer or one who writes well. However, in the eight years I have written on various topics, I have learned to identify fluff and bias when I see it. I have also learned that writing for the public has a price – accountability and responsibility. When an individual puts forth information for public consumption, he or she is responsible and accountable, by degrees, for the outcome.
The very fabric of our society finds balance in such standards. One may say or express freely, nearly anything provided it does not promote lawlessness. History shows few instances where a limitation of First Amendment rights were required and more where limitation was nothing short of an attempt to stifle progress. The First Amendment grants many people an ability to seek truth but using the First Amendment as a shield from responsibility and a means to express on the basis of existence is an abuse of the freedom. Equally, to obfuscate one’s motive through misleading audiences by way of the First Amendment is cowardly.
Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall once asked, “What is the quality of your intent?”
In such few words, Marshall introduces the idea that an outcome is not predicated by intent alone, rather the quality of intent – the fibrous reasons in the heart, not the mind. He continues:
Certain people have a way of saying things that shake us at the core. Even when the words do not seem harsh or offensive, the impact is shattering. What we could be experiencing is the intent behind the words. When we intend to do good, we do. When we intend to do harm, it happens. What each of us must come to realize is that our intent always comes through. We cannot sugarcoat the feelings in our heart of hearts. The emotion is the energy that motivates. We cannot ignore what we really want to create. We should be honest and do it the way we feel it. What we owe to ourselves and everyone around is to examine the reasons of our true intent.
My intent will be evident in the results.
The First Amendment is not something to irreverently toy with, to bend in a favored direction temporarily because the particular instance is agreeable; something on which many agree. From my viewpoint, the true heart of video-game violence issue has little to do with Freedom of Speech, at least much less to do with it than implied by other vested sources and corporations. Unfortunately, Freedom of Speech is the bastardized wedge used to raise awareness and shape opinion.
Understanding is Imperative.
<bOne sees great things from the valley, only small things from the peak.
-G. K. Chesterton (Journalist, Novelist, Essayist)
AB 1179 may contain some vague wording, and in some respects overreaches the established order of voluntary game rating via the Electronic Software Ratings Board (ESRB). To be fair, the ESRB hasn’t done a terriffic job with rating games. The primary letterring systems sub-categorize E-rating to “E” and “E 10+”, but the jump from “T” to “M” or “M” to “AO” is vague. T-rated games may contain violence and blood, but at what point does “T” convert to “M”? The ESRB label itemizes the content in each rating, but to get a clear picture on the level or severity of blood in a “T” v. “M” game, parents have to research the title on-line on the ESRB website and click through a series of pages to find the proper information. This is not helpful to a parent making a impromptu decision at Wal-Mart or GameStop. It is also unhelpful that the games many parents object, should probably fall under the “AO” label. Likewise, similar to NC-17 and X-rated movies, “AO” carries such a strong negative connotation that the assumption is sexually perverse and the stigma repels consumers. What does this leave developers to do? Typically, nothing other than get as close to “AO” without crossing the threshold as possible. Also of interest, the ESA heads the ESRB.
In contrast, the ESRB is responsible for making an attempt to inform consumers without also stifling sales. It has provided a voluntary means for publishers to have content warnings and identifications on the title. Regardless, many agree that much need for improvement exists. Why not start redefining terms, subdivide major ratings in the same manner as “E” – “M and M 18+”, or color code the labels? The bigger question is why the ESRB or the game industry not proposed altering the ESRB in the face of the Bill back in 2005? Why is there no proposal for it in 2010 or a hint of it in 2011?
The Bill has undergone several changes since introduction in 2005 by Yee. AB 1179 halted in the lower courts, considered “unconstitutional” by the courts including the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. However, the bill will go before the Supreme Court from a summons verdict trial de novo, which with my limited scope of knowledge of courtroom procedure, means the previous court is unable to fully grant a decision in favor of either plaintiff or defendant, thus orders a review by higher authority. No matter how the trial moved to de novo, Wikipedia explains that in a de novo, “…the panel of judges for the court [of appeals] will review the lower court’s reasoning and fact-finding from the beginning, based on the record” ("Trial de novo", n.d.).
What earns AB 1179 the label “unconstitutional” is not its core content or intention, as many other public protective / content restrictive laws have come to effect within the same contexts. The Bill is considered “unconstitutional” because of arguably vague wording. Wording and semantics in Bills like AB 1179, are very important and often require several modifications prior to passing. Vague wording exists for example, the Communications Decency Act of 1996, stemming from the premise presented in the case Erznoznik v. City of Jacksonville. In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court has stated that “minors are entitled to a significant measure of First Amendment protection, and only in relatively narrow and well-defined circumstances may government bar public dissemination of protected materials to them” (Erzonik v. City of Jacksonville, 1975). This same case was used to argue the legality of the “V-Chip” legislation that allowed Congress to legally mandate all TV’s include provisions for individuals to limit the content shown to minors within their household and that public broadcast television provide ratings to alert viewers to content. Despite an arduous courtroom battle, U.S. Supreme Court upheld the proposed law as constitutional.
Point of fact, the counter-argument that Video Games have no effect on children is a regurgitated argument altered from TV broadcasting and film industries. Many agree that video games are art, and that the level of interactivity makes games the next “new media.” Supposing this idea finds popular support, then one may equally counter-argue in favor of Congressional findings with regard to the V-Chip Law because if one believes the below argument and understands games are more interactive and immersive than television the games not only have an effect, but greater effect:
(1) Television influences children’s perception of the values and behavior that are common and acceptable in society.
(2) Television station operators, cable television system operators, and video programmers should follow practices in connection with video programming that take into consideration that television broadcast and cable programming has established a uniquely pervasive presence in the lives of American children.
(3) The average American child is exposed to 25 hours of television each week and some children are exposed to as much as 11 hours of television a day.
(4) Studies have shown that children exposed to violent video programming at a young age have a higher tendency for violent and aggressive behavior later in life than children not so exposed, and that children exposed to violent video programming are prone to assume that acts of violence are acceptable behavior.
(5) Children in the United States are, on average, exposed to an estimated 8,000 murders and 100,000 acts of violence on television by the time the child completes elementary school.
(6) Studies indicate that children are affected by the pervasiveness and casual treatment of sexual material on television, eroding the ability of parents to develop responsible attitudes and behavior in their children.
(7) Parents express grave concern over violent and sexual video programming and strongly support technology that would give them greater control to block video programming in the home that they consider harmful to their children.
(8) There is a compelling governmental interest in empowering parents to limit the negative influences of video programming that is harmful to children.
(9) Providing parents with timely information about the nature of upcoming video programming and with the technological tools that allow them easily to block violent, sexual, or other programming that they believe harmful to their children is a nonintrusive and narrowly tailored means of achieving that compelling governmental interest
(Federal Communications Commission, 2003).
Implications that AB 1179 would restrict “speech” because the State is empowered to apply game labels to create a sense of nonexistent severity and stifle industry growth by “shutting up” anything it disagrees with. This idea is further impacted by the vague language found within the Bill and has been challenged by the ESA et. al.,(Entertainment Software Association v. Arnold Schwarzenegger, 2009).
Regulatory attempts by politicians will remain a constant. Currently there are several other Bills and Acts introduced to Congress, some making headway and others like the Communications Decency Act of 1996, already in place. The following are worth reading about and gaining an understanding of where and why regulatory items such as AB 1179 are considered. It goes beyond what the media, corporations and politicians willfully disclose – making it imperative that individuals take it upon themselves to read and research prior to acting on the words of any party vested in the topic.
From the 110th Congress:
From the 109th Congress:
- H.R. 6120: Video Game Decency Act of 2006
- H.R. 6113: Truth in Video Game Rating Act
- S. 3935: Truth in Video Game Rating Act
- H.R. 5912: Truth in Video Game Rating Act
From the 108th Congress:
Not everything the government does is a good idea or with good intention though. Corporations and citizens have ample and valid reason to fear legislation that limits. After all, the governed have been taught to fear the governing as a means of control and there are clear instances where government intervention oversteps social acceptance and comfort, several instances where the government. In the book The Assault on Free Speech, Public Assembly, and Dissent author Heidi Boghosian writes, “The suppression of legitimate First Amendment activities by legions of police and government agents suited in body armor and engaging in paramilitary tactics has a terrifying effect on demonstrators and creates an atmosphere of violence. Such tactics frighten protesters and encourage aggressive behavior among police officers, resulting in unnecessary confrontation and injuries” (Boghosian, H., 2004).
I do not believe that should this Bill become Law, droves of angry gamers will take to the streets similar to the 1969 Stonewall Riots. However, repeated discrimination and false labels applied among media and politicians often deter and thereby restrict the will to speak freely. Protesters blocked into certain areas may conceivably show an inability to freely speak, or that their ability to voice grievances is severely limited by City ordinances. Though, nothing like Tienanmen Square has or would conceivably happen.
Disservice With a Smile.
<bTo base a scare campaign on the fundamental human rights of a vulnerable minority is an abuse of freedom of speech.
– Rodney Croome
The above image, was taken in 1968 by Eddie Adams during American involvement in the Vietnam War. When initially printed, newspapers claimed that the man with the gun, Brigadier General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, then Chief of the Republic of Viet Nam National Police made an impromptu execution of a Viet Cong prisoner on a Saigon street in the Tet Offensive in 1968. Many instantly find sympathy for the victim, “Time” and “People” previously had – but the real victim is the man with the gun. The executed, Nguyen Van Lem, commanded a Viet Cong assassination and revenge platoon which on that day had targeted South Vietnamese National Police officers, or in their stead, the police officers’ families; Lem was captured near the site of a ditch holding as many as thirty-four bound and shot bodies of police and their of whom were the families of Loan’s deputy, close friend, and six of whom were Loan’s godchildren. Loan shot and killed a Lem in a moment caught perfectly in a photograph. Loan lived from the time of the photograph until his death in 1998, with false shame because the media did not do their job properly with integrity; the truth didn’t fit an agenda.
Snapshots are great for quick information or representations, but are a disservice to the true form of a situation, most of the time. The impressions of snapshot imagery provides too loose interpretation by the audience if not accompanied by a highly detailed description and is not confined to a photograph alone; summaries and overviews that omit valuable details and back-story have negative impact in a similar fashion that Adams’ photo served as the catalyst to the anti-Vietnam war effort. The effects of partial and misleading information, the disservices done, are principally identical. Basic depiction of facts or a summary of talking points is not enough to “connect dots” because those connections are summary assumptions where the audience is allowed to erroneously jump from point to point in any order.
In his article, Miller supposes, “Connecting the dots gets easier from there on out.” They are? The context of his statement is based on Taylor’s claim that developers would face increasing difficulty selling an “M” rated title if retail stores had to follow AB1179 (Miller, M., 2010, 19-20).Taylor’s viewpoint is that Freedom of Speech would be limited by the retail decision barring sale of certain games considered ultra-violent altogether thereby “forcing” developers to tone down their content. Perhaps, Taylor means to say “force true creativity,” would be an appropriate phrase here. “Connecting the dots” is not easier, because there are not proverbial dots to connect. Taylor’s assertion is a “worse case” assumption and the Bill makes no inferences toward limiting what developers produce or publishers publish.
Ben Reeves, also from Game Informer produced an article in Issue 211 stating, “Every year, the list of top-selling games is dominated by E-rated series such as Madden and Pokemon as well as M-rated franchises like Grand Theft Auto” (Reeves, B., 2010, p.23). In the same article Reeves points out that the “best year for M-rated games was 2005, when they took up an ambitious 13 percent of the market.” Should it be of interest that Yee’s proposal was initially introduced in 2005? Maybe, maybe not.
CEO of Activision / Blizzard, Bobby Kotick made, in my opinion, a ridiculous statement to the Supreme Court that the impending regulatory efforts are “beyond absurd,” explaining his opinion as no laws “have been made indiscriminately based on age.” The fact is, he is right – no laws made ‘indiscriminately’ based on age exist – all age-based laws directed at a specific age range are discriminatory; in order to independently operate a motor vehicle legally, the operator must be a minimum age of 16, for example. Kotick’s statement, rethought, would give ample explanation why a 12 year-old may hunt with a parent and see a penis or vagina in sex-ed – because the law says an individual must be a certain age to buy, not use. Final say on the matter still resides within the parent. AB 1179 is a discriminatory proposal in the same manner as tobacco and alcohol laws are, despite the suggestion toward the contrary idea and ultimately give final say to the parent on what content breaches the threshold of their home.
AB1179 is not devised from discrimination however, nor should it be. Neither the law nor lawmakers indicate that regardless of parental consent, M-rated games cannot be in the hands of minors, only they not be sold to them. Legitimate questions surface about topics such as securing a means for online age verification in an online store (that won’t get thrown out by the Supreme Court) or whether digital content would have the same restrictions. There are not solid answers to these types of questions yet, and it may be a good idea to have a structured plan in place, ready for implementation beforehand – but the time for that has passed and thought on these topics will have to occur after the fact.
Miller closes in the digital iteration of his article with the opinion, “No matter how you feel about the law in question, gamers owe it to themselves to get involved. If the presence of this law before the Supreme Court isn’t a wake-up call, it’s hard to know what will be.” But why? Why do gamers “owe it to themselves?” Gamers get nothing from this Bill but a standardized version of the ESRB from the government and the degree of parental responsibility enforced by law.
From the same, Miller continues:
If you’re displeased with the way the ESRB rates and retailers sell video games, contact the organizations and let them know how they should improve. Alternately, if you sympathize with the ESA and believe video games deserve to be protected speech like any other form of art or entertainment, then you may want to look into the video game voters network. You’ll be able to easily sign up to join the organization, and read the network’s take on video games and first amendment issues.
‘There are over 200,000 registered voters who are game enthusiasts, who are keeping track of policy as it relates to computer and video games,’ [Rich] Taylor says. ‘If someone comes up with a misguided, unconstitutional, hostile proposal, the network contacts them. That speaks louder to a policy maker or a politician: to hear from constituents that say ‘I disagree on your stance on that.’ If that 200,000 number were to become a million or more, it would be the kind of number and voice that would make clear to legislators at the local, state, and federal level that gamers are engaged. Gamers are paying attention, and they’re going to register their satisfaction or dissatisfaction at the ballot box.’
One million gamers is about one quarter of the people who read this magazine every month. It’s about an eighth of the players who bought the last Call of Duty game in the first week of its release. It’s less than a tenth of people who currently hold World of Warcraft accounts. It’s not an unattainable number, so if gamers want to prove they’re more than disconnected stereotypes that never come out of their mothers’ basements, then it’s time to step up and be counted
(Miller, M., 2010).
The problem is that only two courses of action are implied as available: encourage the ESRB to change or join the VGVN in their cause. In either case – individuals would be speaking with the ESA since the ESA runs ESRB (creating a broad wedge between consumers and publishers, thereby having all the power). The options presented are akin to opting to “go right” or “go hard right.” Many people have taken to telling the ESRB and the retail industry about their feelings and numerous gamer blogs over the past few years discuss the flaws within the ESRB (yet the ESRB remains unchanged).
I don’t doubt the VGVN “send your broken controllers” movement overlooked the polls suggesting roughly 70% of parents would back this Bill (Zogby International, 2010). Among other polls from Commonsense Media indicate, 75% of parents believe the video game industry is doing a poor job of protecting kids, and 61% of adults with 65% parents are concerned about violence in video games. One may step back and look at the line of questioning in the poll and determine that, as with most polls, the questions are designed to generate a specific answer – that will not stop the impact of the poll of the public, media, and politics.
What I seriously doubt, is that publications and the ESA have overlooked that gamers are not pets. They are not dogs to be given an order with which to aribrarily comply: bark, sit, fetch, send in busted controllers. That's someone, I'm sure, but that is not gamers (at least it should not be). And even if that description is gamers, it is not considered humane to treat them in that manner.
Irrespective, Taylor’s remark about “200,000 registered voters who are gaming enthusiasts,” is a strange number. On a fact-finding search, I easily discovered that the number of registered voters:
- In California is 16,993,073 registered voters.
- In Yee’s 8th District (Western-half of San Francisco and all but the southeastern part of San Mateo county) is ~427,328 registered voters (California Secretary of State, 2010).
Of course, assuming Taylor is referring to the number of registered users of the Entertainment ESA’s Video Game Voter Network (VGVN), the numbers are still strange because it means Taylor implicitly had the rough number of registered users from Yee’s voting district on hand and intentionally dispersed improper comparative figures. Alternatively, if 200,000 people is Taylor’s national estimate then not all of them could vote for or against Yee, thus of no value and without relevant context. I believe that insight toward Taylor’s position can be found on his organization’s website:
The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) is the U.S. association exclusively dedicated to serving the business and public affairs needs of companies that publish computer and video games for video game consoles, personal computers, and the Internet.
The ESA offers a range of services to interactive entertainment software publishers including a global anti-piracy program, business and consumer research, government relations and intellectual property protection efforts.
The ESA also owns and operates the E3 Expo
(Entertainment Software Association, 2010).
In contrast, the ESA seems to have a history with irresponsible counting and figures to promote their agenda.
Two years ago ESA head, Michael Gallagher, reportedly praised the passing of the “Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights Act of 2008,” (or, Pro-IP Act) a measure enacted to reduce software piracy by – wait for it – involving the government, directly and heavily. Gallagher claims that this Act was needed to bring down “pirates” (but any other abstract noun works, too) making money. Piracy and file sharing are typically non-profit crimes wherein an individual freely distributes software unlawfully. The attraction to such actions is clear; why buy what is freely distributed?
The ESA argument that pirates make money is not accurate. Most reports indicate software pirates are motivated by a wide range of reasons, seldom money. However, publishers falling victim to software piracy claim a substantial loss in potential profits. The debate over the validity of this claim is old and two ideas on the matter have surfaced. The first stems from the cliché, “a penny saved is a penny earned.” Blogger Glyn Moody explains:
One thing that is always omitted in these analyses is the fact that the money *not* paid for software licenses does not disappear, but is almost certainly spent elsewhere in the economy … As a result, it too creates jobs, local revenues and taxes (Moody, G., 2010).
The second theory is that piracy reduces injected income into the development industry and thus, progression could cease or slow the industry to unsustainable levels. Understandably, the money is not where it needs to be according to the ESA and BSA, and that point is indisputable. However, the money is not wasted or placed in the pockets of pirates in lieu of publishers and developers s the claim suggests. Software piracy is to a developer and publisher as plagiarism is to a journalist, but the argument based on economic outcome has root within ethical and moral foundations and basis upon monetary gains may be valid, but also contrived.
Nate Anderson from Ars Technica reports the newly appointed Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, Victoria Espinel in her position created by the PRO-IP Act, requires better data than the initial figures handed down by International Trade Commission et. al., because – wait for it – the figures provided in the report to argue the urgency of the PRO-IP Act are inaccurate (Anderson, N., 2010).
The problem is that when confronting the game culture, “business,” used as a reason for action is acceptable but when “business” is threatened, “culture” becomes the shield and a foray of PR fluff shower the public to distract them from “the man behind the curtain.” Gaming is both business and culture, but they are not interchangeable, rather two heads of the same dragon; totally separate but dependent upon the each other. Because of this, it is important that they respect one another. However, the business aspect of gaming is the productive end and therefore treated favorably. Gamers are, after all, merely enthusiast consumers, who without, the business aspect would be irrelevant.
Miller finally closes his digital article with a numbers game, giving paralleling support to Taylor; when raw numerical truth does not make big enough impact, numerical comparisons abound in ways statisticians have wet dreams about. One million, on a national level, is about 3.23% of the national population shrinking the impact of the assertion to something much less flattering and appealing. The same number when converted to percentage and contrasted in an ‘apples to apples’ manner deflates a point (which is why ‘apples to oranges’ works when unchecked). Interestingly, the numbers and figures put forth as encouragement are global numbers: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 week one sales, World of Warcraft subscriber accounts, Game Informer subscriptions. Yet, this law is a national law so using numerical “apples to oranges” misrepresents the facts. In my opinion, these “number games” occur because the provide an easier means of compelling people to act.
I take personal insult that anyone, particularly anyone in the gaming industry, would think so little of gamer intelligence – the people relied upon to support the industrial economy – and pass forward such fallible information readily. I believe the average gamer can be argued as compulsive and reactionary, perhaps even a bit incomprehensible or irrational – but so can any group under proper circumstance (international football fans, for example). Speaking to the gamer sub-group with the hope and presumption they are too stupid to form their own opinion unguided is telling, if nothing else, of a poor personal character and a worse judge of character.
If it Ain’t Broke, Fix it ‘Till it is
<bAn escalator can never break: it can only become stairs. You should never see an “Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order” sign, just “Escalator Temporarily Stairs”. Sorry for the convenience.
With the wealth of information available to individuals on this matter, the clearest picture is that the consumer is both the most and least effected, which places them in the most vulnerable spot. To a politician, swaying voters to support an Act ultimately designed to protect them is a challenge, especially when confronting a relatively socially inept sub-group of people. Salespeople do not have it any easier. Convincing someone that an increase in corporate control and price hikes as a benefit takes a high degree of charisma and intelligence. Social engineers are busy working on new innovative ways to conflate and contrive society, constantly devaluing systems to break and replace day and night.
Among many compelling reasons to heckle a politician with regard to their motions and attempts at legislation, AB 1179 is not a good reason. AB 1179 is not a ‘life’ changing bill, but rather an industry limiting one – and even so, on a small scale, or much less limiting than they want. Enemy of the State and the ESA encourage readers to send broken controllers to Senator Yee. Individuals are well within their rights to do so, but a bit of caution: the time taken to receive, open and throw away those broken controllers costs money – as in the same tax dollars Taylor and Gallagher considered outrageously spent introducing a Bill. Perhaps my viewpoint is biased, but personally, tax dollars spent on throwing away trash that people send in is a worse “use” of tax dollars than a Bill (good or bad). Additionally, the objective is to demonstrate that politicians can lose votes – that is the entire point Taylor bringing numbers to the argument; what would it say about the character of a leader who would alter their behaviors to retain position rather than alter their behaviors because it is the right thing to do?
Hypothetical situations aside, engaging in a protest is well and good. When an individual believes strongly in a cause, it is their duty to defend it. However, apart from understanding the cause one fights for it may be prudent to effectively gauge the long term effects of one’s actions – even Martin Luther King Jr. sat in jail. Turning to the Baltimore Sun, Gallagher writes in an Op-Ed:
Indeed, there is no peer-reviewed research that proves a causal link between violence in games and real world violence. In their 2008 book, “Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth about Video Games and What Parents Can Do,” Harvard Medical School [emphasis Gallagher's] professors Dr. Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl K. Olson wrote: “The strong link between video game violence and real world violence, and the conclusion that video games lead to social isolation and poor interpersonal skills, are drawn from bad or irrelevant research, muddleheaded thinking and unfounded, simplistic news reports”</i
(Gallagher, M. D., 2010)
Gallagher is correct – there are not any peer-reviewed research paper proving a causal link just as there are no peer-review articles or journals disproving alleged causal links. Research is at a stalemate, but a standardized process is in development and thus far, more research points to facts contrary to the claims of the game industry and the ESA. Equally, there is also no evidence that smoking causes lung cancer. Smoking is only a highly contributory risk factor to developing lung cancer. Likewise, Gallagher avoids pointing out that Harvard Medical School Professors aregue on page 99 of this book, that not playing violent video-games may be a marker for problems for kids with addictive personalities or lack of other creative outlets. Using a $1,500,000 government grant, they asked middle school children to report on their own video-game habits and their own problematic behaviors. They then compared kids who played M-rated (“extremely violent”) games frequently to those who played them less or not at all. They report that among both boys and girls, M-rated Gamers were “signifigantly” more likely to have been in a physical fight, to have hit or beat up someone, to have damaged property just for fun, and to have gotten into trouble with the teacher or principal. They also note that the more M games on a child’s list, the stronger the relationship (Kutner, L., Olsen, C. K., 2008).
All of this aside, it boils down to politicians vs. salesman, neither profession is noted for historical honesty and closely seconded by lawyers arguing either side.
To an audience I encourage first, independence; second, caution. As an experienced friend pointed out “journalists are not an expert in any field.” Make an effort, take the extra time to research, and find facts for oneself in addition to the information given by the media. Question authority because questions promote the systemic integrity owed to the governed. Feel free to join the ESA’s VGVN. Feel free to do nothing. Feel free to agree with AB 1179. Feel free to do absolutely nothing and abstain from it all – whatever one does – do it because it is what one believes independently; do it because there is a deeper understanding and educated opinion and not what one is told to believe from arbitrary and blind trust in others. Ultimately, the consequence of choice falls upon those responsible with making a choice. One cannot make a choice for another in reasonable moral capacity, especially when the choices based on limited information, narrow scopes, and biased viewpoints become commonplace.
Regardless of whether the Bill becomes Law, the debate on causal links in video- games and violent behavior is far from over. MIT Professor Henry Jenkins believes:
Rethinking the debates about media violence in terms of meanings rather than effects has pushed us in two important directions: on the one hand, it has helped us to see the ways that game designers and players are rethinking the consequences of violence within existing commercial games. These shifts in thinking may be invisible as long as the debate is framed in terms of the presence or absence of violence rather than in terms of what the violence means and what features of the game shape our responses to it. On the other hand, a focus on meaning rather than effects has helped us to identify some pedagogical interventions which can help our students develop the skills and vocabulary needed to think more deeply about the violence they encounter in the culture around them (Jenkins, H., 2006).
The only thing I believe Jenkins omits from his observation is that a detrimental factor to the debate is not why the debate happens, but how – language, terms, semantics and concepts involved are common skewed. Of course, it doesn’t help that media, gamers, the game industry, and politicians use non-standard language with interdisciplinary debates. First, have a standard then discuss the problem.
Anderson, N. (2010, February 24). White House IP Czar Retrieved Oct 25, 2010 from http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2010/02/white-house-ip-czar-demands-good-data-from-righstholders.ars.
Boghosian, H. (2004). The Assault on Free Speech, Public Assembly, and Dissent. A National Lawyers Guild Report on Government Violations of First Amendment Rights in the United States : The North River Press.
California Secretary of State (2010, Sep 3). Report of Registration as of September 3, 2010 Registration by County Supervisorial District Retrieved from http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/ror/ror-pages/60day-gen-10/supervisorial.pdf.
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