The Needles

The Needles
Pushing Back

Andy Chalk | 29 Jan 2008 21:00
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This perception makes games easy targets for legislation, censorship and frothy ranting, because kids are powerless against these kinds of attacks. They can't vote, and they don't have the wherewithal or motivation to put together any kind of cohesive protest against commercial entities. Howling about injustice on gaming forums and Facebook may be cathartic, but it doesn't amount to much in the real world; that kind of demographic impotence, real or not, can spur individuals, organizations and even governments to reckless and agenda-driven behavior, based entirely on the belief that they can act with impunity.

The reality of videogames, as we all know, is something entirely different, and we can readily quote the statistics when called upon to do so: The average videogamer is 33 years old; the vast majority of videogames sold are rated T (Teen) or lower; FCC studies have shown the ESRB works, with a very high level of awareness and employment among both parents and kids. But here's the bad news: It doesn't matter.

Joseph Goebbels is famous for saying, "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it." This is what the videogame industry is up against. The facts don't mean a whole hell of a lot against the outrageous and repeated assertions of groups like the Parents Television Council, the National Institute on Media and the Family, Focus on the Family, and, yes, even Fox News. Geoff Keighley being talked over by Cooper Lawrence and Co. is simply a microcosm of the industry's everyday interaction with much of the world at large.

Of course, it's not an endorsement of stooping to the level of the slack-jawed mudslingers. The truth is our greatest weapon; Herr Goebbels followed his famous quote about the power of a lie by ruminating on the even greater power of truth: "The truth is the mortal enemy of the lie," he said, "and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State." It doesn't take a genius to extrapolate that to more immediately relevant topics. The truth will indeed set you free, as long as there's someone around to fill you in on it, and that's where we've dropped the ball. We preach to the choir. We talk to each other about how normal we are, how prevalent gaming is, how correlating violence to videogames is about as useful as correlating violence to breathing, but nobody's ever really stood up to the world at large and pushed back.


This is why EA's recent stand against Fox was as surprising for gamers as it was for everyone else. We're so used to taking this kind of crap with nothing more than inward-looking outrage that we were caught completely off guard by an industry heavyweight actually calling our detractors on their lies. It's akin to the moment when that nervous-looking kid who never talks and sits alone at lunch finally snaps and beats the living hell out of the star football player one day after school: Nobody sees it coming, but everyone feels the tremors of a very fundamental shift in the social dynamic. Fox apparently thought we were an easy target; EA made a commendable effort to prove them wrong.

But the long-term impact of EA's maneuver will depend entirely on the follow-through, not only by EA (and hopefully other industry heavy-hitters, like Activision, Ubisoft and Valve, for starters) but by "non-aligned" groups and even individual gamers. The Entertainment Software Association's new political action committee could be a formidable weapon if properly wielded, and its leveraging of the Video Game Voters Network represents an opportunity for individuals to make themselves heard. On a more grassroots level, correspondence with local representatives, congressmen, members of Parliament or whoever it is you've elected to carry your voice in government is a great way to begin breaking the perception that videogames are something played by the voters' kids.

In truth, the games themselves have never been the problem. It's the perception of who's playing them that keeps the industry on the defensive. Toning down the games only gives incentive to people who would implement tight legislative restrictions on anything harsher than Viva Pinata. But meeting the detractors head-on as we really are, and not as they see us, might just be the best first step toward establishing the kind of recognition and respect that every other entertainment medium in the country takes for granted.

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