Inside Job: Voices of Sanity: An Interview With Gerard Jones

Inside Job: Voices of Sanity: An Interview With Gerard Jones

For this pre-holiday-madness edition of Inside Job, I had the fantastic opportunity to interview Jones himself on the issues of game censorship, parental concerns, the social context of the videogame censorship battle and more.

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This is an excellent interview. If I had to pull one quote, this is what it would be:

Game fans and people in the business definitely need to outgrow the knee-jerk response. At one conference, Craig Anderson told me about the emailed threats and obscenities gamers sent him. Which is obviously stupid and insane. You're mad at the guy for saying that your videogames make you hostile, so you're going to send him a death threat? ... What a perfect way to undermine your own argument and perpetuate the image of game-players and under-socialized and dangerous.

I liked it too.

I'm definately in the "wait till it blows over" camp, and I'm not swayed by his response:

"Does the game community just want to survive and eventually be left alone, or does it want to become a valued member of the entertainment establishment and our common culture?"

I'm voting for being left alone. I'm hoping that the internet will be able to protect us from the common culture. What's so great about the entertainment establishment anyway? The videogame establishment is bad enough.

So in conclusion, GET OFF MY LAWN!

I don't know that we have the option of just being left alone. We're too big and there's way too much money involved. Anything this big either becomes largely a part of the common culture, with some eclectic fringes on the side, or gets wiped out for being weird.

The business of videogaming has evolved a hell of a lot faster than the movie industry did, but we can take lessons from that, and do what we can to catch up. You can already see that we're developing significant mainstream and non-mainstream lines of gaming. We need to develop the culture around those. Start up the Cannes of Videogaming (which, I suppose is what the IGF is working toward becoming) and somehow get it the recognition it deserves for showcasing some of the most innovative stuff around. Of course, to do that, we need a lotp more stuff coming out so that Sturegeon's law doesn't hit us so badly. And to do that.. we need a wealth of cheap engines that make videogame creation easy to do.

Perhaps Crysis is kind of good in this way. By demonstrating that simply being prettier doesn't necessarily make you sell more, there may be some room opening up to fund more creative projects.

Wow, that was a very thoughtful interview.

rawlight:

I'm definately in the "wait till it blows over" camp, and I'm not swayed by his response:

"Does the game community just want to survive and eventually be left alone, or does it want to become a valued member of the entertainment establishment and our common culture?"

I'm voting for being left alone. I'm hoping that the internet will be able to protect us from the common culture. What's so great about the entertainment establishment anyway? The videogame establishment is bad enough.

So in conclusion, GET OFF MY LAWN!

Yes, yes, I agree with you, I think. All these durn fool kids. But! All we're trying to be is nonchalant about the whole "videogames as valued member of the entertainment establishment and our common culture" thing. Valuing our self-importance, we don't even talk to people in the "other camps," yeah? We talk a big game to ourselves, but deny who we are to the world.

I think if we were nonchalant to everyone (not just ourselves), things could be better. Kind of like how the French under the Vichy Regime positively generally did nothing as the French Resistance aided the Jewish people during the Holocaust. Simply acting like everything was okay was good enough to save lives. We can do good by being ourselves.

I apologize for comparing videogames to the Holocaust, but I stand by my analogy.

It's a little over-dramatic, but I see where you're coming from. What I'm not 100% sure of what "being left alone" and "being a member of society" means to an industry. Were are we at the moment? There's very little compromise that the gaming industry can do to become the good neighbor. Changing age recommendations to age limits would be, if I've understood it correctly, a hard blow. Not only because of the factor Yathzee brought up about Postal 2, but also that a large chunk of people juuuust below the age limit would be skimmed off the top, forcing games towards lower age ratings to a larger extent than they already are. Lack of originality and innovation is already a large problem, tangible even in games that time and time again is called "highly innovative", like BioShock. But still, BioShock was a step forward and it would be a sad thing to see the rising spirit of innovation be knocked down by irrational fear.

I do think Mr.Jones has a point though when he says the gaming community needs to learn how to control its temper. While I agree with Richard Kyanka that the internet has rather isolated groups of people than broadened the view to others, it's still a public space and there is reason to think before you write. That, sadly, brings out two other SomethingAwful sentiments:

1: If a group of people exceed a certain number they will think they are the majority, regardless of what they are told.

There's a storm building out there. Ignoring it, dismissing with a flick of the finger or with anger and threats of violence hardly makes it better. It's happening in the "real world", it's not just some forum fight where everyone walks away the winner. What we do now might very well decide the outcome of whatever is brewing out there.

2: (and this is rather the depressing one) People in general are idiots.

That might seem harsh, but I'd like to include myself into that group. I've had ridiculous forum fights over ridiculous reasons, and for what? I'm not going to change anyones opinion by writing insults in caps, so why do I do it? Obviously because I think I can, at the time. And I'd still like to think that, by being aware of this, have come pretty far. I wouldn't act like that towards anyone in real life, and especially not over some game or other. As the interviewee mentioned, he was flipped off by a audience member during a seminar. Did that person think before he acted? Sure, using the same logic he'd use for a forum fight. Grinding an argument to a halt by refusing to argue won't end the discussion when you're dealing with people who can make descisions over your head.

Do games make people violent? Probably not. Not anymore than movies or books do (Catcher in the Rye?), but they might have other effects. People can get addicted to all sorts of things, some just matter less (like coffee). Games, however, is (as of yet) not such a good thing to get addicted to. In general you learn little to nothing from playing games. Not anymore than you would watching some random action movie. And if you spend large quantities of time on it you'll get dumber because of the lack of stimulance. And a lack of stimulance easily leads to a bad temper, which many a forum thread shows.

I think the key to forum discussions is to allow yourself to have your views changed, instead of trying to change someone elses views. I made such a change a few years ago, and I found that discussions suddenly became a lot more interesting.

I do think that games might affect kids. I do not know how though. It doesn't make them cold blooded murderers, but if you spend a lot of time with something, it does leave marks.

Maybe an interesting response from gamers to critism would be something like; 'Ok, so you think games affect kids. How do you think that *we* can solve this problem? Games will not dissapear, but we're still a changing and morphing market'.

Maybe no response will come then, apart from another rant, but then at least we know what we are dealing with. And if you show to be open-minded, the other party might actually start to place itself in your position too.

Could somebody please get out their sextant? I think this thread is going off course.

I mean comparing the state of videogames to the Holocaust? That's totally insane and the analogy doesn't even make any sense, let alone being inappropriate.

Oh Something Awful, teh internets would not be the same without thee... More intelligent commentary comes out of SA forums than out of all these mutual-masturbation conferences that "gaming scholars" are so fond of. Also, Yahtzee came from SA so chew on that one.

Don't we want videogames to be more like art to prove that fat bastard movie critic wrong? If so, then stay well away from Hollywood, they wouldn't know art if it came up and bit their ear off.

I don't think anybody could argue that games DON'T affect people. Games are a part of our environment so why wouldn't they affect us? The problem lies in proving what they actually do. There is no proof that videogames actually increase violent behaviour. The only option that I see is to wait for all of the old relics to die, taking their antiquated notions about videogames with them to the grave where they won't hurt me or my children.

Violence is all around us, how can we single out videogames as causing violent behaviour when our society is such that you can't go more than a few steps without seeing some kind of violent behaviour that might be emulated? Videogames are the convenient scapegoats of our age, and the scum-sucking politicians who use them for short-term political gain (I'm looking at you Hillary Clinton!) will ultimately fail at producing results and will move on to something else.

Well we might as well try to find out together what that effect can be under various circumstances, instead of cursing the other parties to their graves right?

For the record, none of my curses were directed towards anybody here. But dishonest politicians and ignorant film critics are fair game.

Just som technical input...
Erin, page 4 of your article Who's your daddy appears to be broken.
There's also the link to Killing Monsters which is down or something.

Thanks, all, for your comments. Arbre, sorry about the broken pages, I'll take a look.

msgriffin, I thought this: "We talk a big game to ourselves, but deny who we are to the world." was very interesting, even if you did nearly require the thread's ending in accordance with Godwin's Law. I think that that level of internal discussion is what causes the inflammatory response to Thompson, when, as Jones states, in the greater public sphere there is just not that much awareness of him. So by even bringing him up to an audience that will have little context, the gaming community doubtless does itself more harm than good.

Girlysprite, I think that you are exactly right in what might be a more fruitful approach to the issues of responding to game criticism. This was something that I found somewhat surprising and opinion altering out of the interview with Jones. I have generally been in the ESA's camp in terms of response to the rhetoric -- with the rationale that giving any ground in terms of the potential 'harm' of videogames would be initiating a slippery slope or justifying the arguments of those who say that games can make you violent. However, I have also spoken with many devs who, like myself, have considered that question with a great deal of seriousness. It is my experience that game developers, perhaps arguably more than most other groups, do genuinely want to know whether the things that we create could potentially be harmful. What compassionate human being wouldn't? Having a question about the impact of one's work is nothing new -- there are plenty of people who have to come into this internal conflict and reflection from much more serious occupations, professional soldiers just to give an obvious example -- and game developers do, too. But the sense within the community concerned about censorship is that because these attacks have no basis in scientific research, to concede any potential harm is to give those false claims credence. But I now think Jones is correct in that the people making those claims are not the ones we need to address and concern ourselves with. The greater caring public, the parents who -- like the ones I spoke to a few columns back -- take a very realistic approach to videogames and can see their benefits as well as their risks -- those are the people we need to be talking to, and I think exactly in the way you describe.

Dectilon, I almost wish I had a more elaborate response to give you, but I don't -- I just generally agree. Particularly with your points about the transfer of internet argument into the real world space where it is out of context and inappropriate. The situation Jones described does strike me as completely out of hand.

rawlight, I'm glad your comments weren't directed at anyone here, but who peed in your cornflakes, man? Also I generally like Ebert and his reviews. He just is woefully off course in terms of games, and he is an old guy so probably not worth arguing with. His comments about video games remind me of the philosophy majors who spend their time arguing that computers will never achieve intelligence. What's the point? Either they will or they won't (either videogames will be art [I think they already achieve that level -- some of them] or they won't), and harping about it in advance is kind of doomsaying and pointless.

ErinHoffman:
The greater caring public, the parents who -- like the ones I spoke to a few columns back -- take a very realistic approach to videogames and can see their benefits as well as their risks -- those are the people we need to be talking to, and I think exactly in the way you describe.

I think the people we should really be talking to are politicians. There are plenty of unpopular industries that do quite well just because they play the political game well. I'm unaware of any industry lobby--is there one for videogames? I mean reaching out to people with dialog is the rational thing to do. But are we really concerned about the rational thing to do if there's an irrational but far more effective in the real world tactic available? I wonder if we're concerned about the ends and not so much about the means if there's a less noble but far more effective strategy--like lobbing--out there. Or getting a copy of Call of Duty 4 out to every Congressperson who once served in the military.

I also think we have to understand that this issue isn't some struggle of ideologies. It's an historical event in the future, and if video games get dealt a blow like comics, I think it's more likely that it'll be a Terri Schaivo-type incident. Because I've come to the conclusion that social conservatives don't think in terms of big ideologies and hypotheticals. They think in terms of individual cases that stand for the big issues. Remember how Congress was ready to move heaven and earth in the Terri Schaivo case? How much have you heard about the issue since? It just seems to me that when there's a clampdown, it never comes in response to some kind of cumulative effect. It always seems to come in response to some singular event that for some reason gets a lot of news coverage.

In other words, I don't think it'll be some kind of 'critical mass' number of cops or hookers killed in a GTA game that leads to a clampdown. It's going to be some single scene that people latch onto. It'll be something wacky, like one alien lesbian sex scene in Mass Effect that leads to the clampdown. Something that makes us all go 'huh? Are you kidding? Do you know how *tame* that is?'

Which leads to something in the article. One of the responses was: "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."

I think he very much mischaracterizes the game people here. Game people I think are mostly socially liberal, and social liberals think in terms of big ideological struggles. I think game people saw this as the first step towards, say, pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions for the pill for unwed women. In other words they didn't see the details, they saw the guiding principle in it that 'merchants can dictate their morals to us' and that's what got them angry. I don't think there was any more of "an angry desire to protect the sacred bond between producer and underage consumer" in this issue than there's a desire to protect kitty porn rings in the angry response to government data mining among internet people.

+++

As a side note, why are we so afraid of the link between violence and video games? It's not like we're living in very PC-friendly times. I mean, no one sees a problem these days with music that talks about putting a boot up someone's ass, because it's the American way. While I'm sure some people think of that as foreplay, I think to anyone looking to clampdown on games that sounds like a pretty violent event. We have to be honest here--we're not talking about violence. We're talking about *socially unacceptable violence*. Violence that isn't the American way.

So maybe we should *never* acknowledge a link between games and violence. Maybe we should talk about a link between games and *assertiveness*. Or some other word with positive, heteronormative, red-blooded American connotations.

Why are we so willing to let the other side choose the vocabulary the debate is conducted with?

Peed in my cornflakes? I do not have a chip on my shoulder that's just my style, direct and brutally frank.

So we are in agreement that Ebert is to be ignored. Your example was good (damn philosophy majors!), and it reminded me of another one. It reminds me of the ludology vs. narratology debate. What's the point in that exactly? Nobody in the industry cares about the question, so what's the point in arguing? I know the answer, but I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings in case they are reading.

Cheese, I think you are spot on when you predict that there will be this one turning point, where the media zooms in on some particular game or event in a game and uses that to make all sorts of grandiose claims about the effects of videogames (easy to do when you have no idea what you are talking about). Of course, this is always how the media works. Past examples of this happening include: World of Warcraft, Second Life, GTA and Manhunt.

And the answer is always the same, you will hear about it everyday for a few days and then it disappears off the face of the earth. Politicians like Thompson or Clinton will use these "issues" for short-term political gain. They don't really give a crap about the legislation or the children or anything, only campaign funding and votes. So I think mailing games to Congress (no thanks, they get enough free stuff) is pointless, they just don't care. I also doubt they have any consoles, and if they did, that they know how to turn them on.

rawlight:
Politicians like Thompson or Clinton will use these "issues" for short-term political gain. They don't really give a crap about the legislation or the children or anything, only campaign funding and votes. So I think mailing games to Congress (no thanks, they get enough free stuff) is pointless, they just don't care. I also doubt they have any consoles, and if they did, that they know how to turn them on.

I'll have to disagree. I'm not so cynical about all politicians. I really think that a lot of the video game hysteria is because, like you said, they wouldn't even know how to turn a console on. I think that ignorance makes them easy prey for *other* politicians who are as mercenary as you are saying. They say you could get Ronald Reagan, notorious for clampdowns, to care about almost any issue if you could put a human face on it. I think maybe some kind of outreach from the industry to politicians showing them another side of the videogame world would go a long way.

I think when one of these bills gets proposed by one of those mercenary politicians you're talking about there would be a big difference if all the other politicians know about video games is that you can play as a black criminal and kill cops and hookers, or if they also know you can play an American soldier and kill Nazis and terrorists. I think all those WWII shooters could go a long way towards getting all those geriatric politicians to maybe have a more nuanced view on the issue of violence in video games.

Glad we agree on the idea that it's going to be on infamous case that does it! The videogame industry shouldn't be so worried about studies and research and all that. They should be worried about getting Willie Horton-ed over one clip of game footage.

The whole clamdown issue is why I was thinking that the industry should take some matters into their own hands. Some publishers have enough money to start an ad campaign for example, explaining to parents what age rating on those games is for, and to encourage them to watch what the kid plays. It has several benefits; We don't have to wait for politicians to grow 'aware', it leaves a positive impression with the parents, and it removes some 'ammo' from the bad news guns; the induistry could no longer be protrayed as a bunch of uncaring idiots.
It is easy for politicians to make a case out of an inductry that doesn't seem to care, and much harder if the inductry is already taking steps itself.

Now I wonder; how do I get this plan to EA? Hm...I know someone from Codemasters, maybe I should start there ;)

Girlysprite:
The whole clamdown issue is why I was thinking that the industry should take some matters into their own hands. Some publishers have enough money to start an ad campaign for example, explaining to parents what age rating on those games is for, and to encourage them to watch what the kid plays. It has several benefits; We don't have to wait for politicians to grow 'aware', it leaves a positive impression with the parents, and it removes some 'ammo' from the bad news guns; the induistry could no longer be protrayed as a bunch of uncaring idiots.

It's just that I don't think parents are the issue. Parents aren't going to get anything done. They might complain about these games, but, not much more than that. It's only going to be *organized* parents that are going to get anything done, and probably only if they're a bunch of Senators' wives. And the kind of parents that are going to organize aren't the kind to whom anything can be explained: they're the zealots to begin with.

Maybe the best tactic is to get the plan to EA to buy a lot of advertising in news broadcasts. Parents don't get outraged over games; they get outraged over *news stories about games* and, well, it seems like major sponsors of news programming rarely get negative press.

Also, I think it's important to distinguish between parents being concerned about what their own kid is playing, and parents feeling they have some sort of duty to make the world safe for all children. I think a lot of times people are more socially conservative when it comes to regulating things than when it comes to running their own lives. I think a lot of the concerns of these parents have nothing to do with concern for the welfare of their own children; I think most of it has to do with 'what will people think of me if I go on record saying that I think it's perfectly ok for my kid to play GTA; won't people think I'm an unfit parent if I say I think GTA is perfectly fine for my teenager to play?'

 

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