Salvation vs. Condemnation: The Two Faces of Government

Jason Della Rocca | 20 Sep 2005 12:00
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As an example closer to home, the state of Louisiana is fighting the same ideological battle. Just as Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco approved the state's Digital Media Act to support game and new media production in the state via tax breaks and other incentives, Louisiana State Senator David Cain (R-Dry Creek) announced that he plans to introduce anti-game legislation in the 2006 session.

Back on the other side of the pond, British Prime Minister Tony Blair declares, with great pride, the innovative spirit and value of the English game development industry (rivaling film as a top export) as UK companies head to E3 to display their latest and greatest (just down the hall from the Aussies, of course). Simultaneously, culture minister Kim Howells bashes games as spawn of the devil, stating:

"I look at the video games my kids play... and I see no humanity at all, nothing that tries to highlight and underpin the finer virtues that are in people and society."

Dare we ask what games Howells' kids are permitted to play?

The Jekyll/Hyde pattern has presented itself, quite consistently, across the globe - from Canada to Korea, from Japan to New Zealand. One step forward, two steps back.

Part of this pattern is that the role of Dr. Jekyll is always played by the technology and economic development arm of government, while Mr. Hyde is played by the cultural arm. Well, from the industry's point of view at least.

Clearly, games do drive business and advance technology. As purely technical products, there's simply no end of excitement on the part of economic development reps to grow their game sector. Only a fool would look at the global games industry and fail to see the enormous cash-flow potential of this medium. On a trip to Northern Ireland, I wound up in a room full of government officials eager to learn how to foster game development as a means to resuscitate the country's lagging economy. They are not alone.

And, in an odd way, this interest and support can provide the shot in the arm that industry needs to break out of its current stagnancy. That is, if the support is directed toward new entrepreneurial and innovative efforts, as opposed to facilitating the next EA or Ubisoft mega studio.

However, that's all for naught if we can't get over the cultural stigma held by the Hydes of government.

Why is it that the cultural and artistic merit of the game medium is so hard to accept? Are games simply too complex for digital immigrants to grok? Why can't they see games for the powerful medium that they are? Is the word "game" honestly so damaging as to demean the entire creative output of the industry, to reduce it to an empty pastime? Or, are the politicos enacting an entirely different drama where the industry is their hapless whipping boy and the sincerity of their intentions to "save the children" need to be questioned altogether?

Games are an extension of social man and are in many ways a faithful model of our culture. As Marshall McLuhan noted, games give great insight into a people. Perhaps it is that the Hydes of government are simply uncomfortable with what games have to say about ourselves.

Jason Della Rocca is the executive director of the International Game Developers Association. Opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the
IGDA. His personal blog, Reality Panic, has way too many entries that would really piss off Mr. Hyde.

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