Op-Ed

A Battle is Won, But the Cultural War Goes On

| 3 Dec 2005 12:11

U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kennelly yesterday overturned Illinois' statute banning the sale of violent and sexually explicit video games to minors, calling it violative of the 1st Amendment right of free speech.

This ruling, the latest string in a series of legal successes for the game industry, points out that our problems are not judicial. Ultimately, the problem is that while gamers are today on average in their late 20s, and gaming as a pastime is widely popular throughout Generations Y and X, it is still widely perceived by those who hold political power as "for children". Broadly speaking, politicians' and policymakers' reaction to video games is skewed by the lens of their relationship to video games: They don't play them, their kids do, and so they react accordingly.

The cultural war around video games will continue until one of the following occurs:
1) Video games are neutered as comics were neutured; some level of regulation arising that would genuinely relegate video games to children's entertainment by making adult topics off limits. This would be a self-fulfilling prophecy, as games would be for kids because games not for kids would be banned.
2) Video games are able to establish themselves as a genuinely mature entertainment medium. Establishing maturity will require a multi-front campaign - demonstrating that games have artistic merit, demonstrating that games have adult players, and marshalling lobbies of gamers to apply political pressure.

To drill down on this latter point, the current strategy to demonstrate that games have adult players seems to be to lump in as many older and female gamers as possible by placing online chess, pogo, bejewelled, and the like into the discussion. Unfortunately, this undermines the cause more than it helps it, because it seems to say that the games that adults like don't include ultra-violence or sexual content. Instead, what needs to happen is that the maturity of the audience for games like GTA needs to be demonstrated -- what is the average age of the GTA player, really? At the same time, games that can artistically be compared to the likes of, say, Memento, need to be held up by the industry.

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