Erin Hoffman's Inside Job

Erin Hoffman's Inside Job
Inside Job: Voices of Sanity: An Interview With Gerard Jones

Erin Hoffman | 21 Dec 2007 21:00
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The people in the industry can be almost as clumsy. I remember a lot of people reacting with angry yells when that retailer in South Dallas refused to rent games to kids unless they got decent grades and behaved well in his store ("no 'N'-word," for example). There are some tricky issues brought up by what he did, obviously, but the general decrial that I heard from game people only served to show how they just don't get what parents out there are feeling. Here's a black store manager in a fairly poor black neighborhood, tons of kids coming into his store with single working parents, latchkey kids and under-parented kids, and the guy makes a stand for pushing kids to improve themselves. To lay off the electronic entertainment for a while until they're achieving something and can maybe do better than most young men in South Dallas. And along the way he's trying to get them to stop calling each other "nigger." Whether or not it's the place of a retailer to do that, the response of a lot of people - not just ultra-conservative parents or game-hating parents, but a lot of people who care about the next generation - was "Thank God somebody's trying to look out for these kids." A retailer who wants to push kids to do more than consume looks downright heroic. And yet what I was mostly hearing from game people was only an angry desire to protect the sacred bond between producer and underage consumer. It didn't smell good.

One last rant: I believe game publishers, platform makers and groups like ESA are making a mistake by flatly denying the possibility of a link between videogames and aggression. They're doing exactly what screwed the tobacco companies: flat, legalistic denial in place of a nuanced response that shows they might care about their place in the larger community. I'm not convinced by the game-violence research at all, and I think most people are in doubt, but these studies are finding something, and if you want to seem like you give any kind of damn about people, you've got to at least show a willingness to consider that there may be a problem here. The companies and the ESA are allowing litigation strategies to drive their responses; the Legal Department is calling the shots, which is usually trouble. That's pretty understandable, especially when you have gigantic lawsuits hurtling at you based on a supposed game-violence link. But still, the impression that the game industry gives is that it cares about nothing but protecting its own profits from the world's assaults and is indifferent to the lives of its consumers and the world at large. That does not incline voters, parents, citizen's groups and legislators to be friendly.

The game business could learn a lot from the movie business as to how to wear a humane face. How to look like the community cares about people and the world but will still defend artistic freedom. A few years ago I gave the keynote at the academic track of GDC, and my theme was that the game business still lacks a human face. I was talking about the lack of an "auteur signature" more than this other issue, but it's related. The game community doesn't present itself as a community of people. From the outside it looks like interchangeable suits and geeks who can't make eye contact.

Well, that turned into quite a rant, and I never did answer your question about self-examination, exactly. But I think I should stop.

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