Ludo, Ergo Sum

To the Editor: Regarding your most recent Editor’s Note: whether or not games are art is immaterial to their status as speech protected under the First Amendment.


-B. Doskocil

Dear Mr. Doskocil: I respectfully disagree. In fact, the question of whether games are, or are not art is critical to their status as protected speech. In the landmark case Interactive Digital Software Association v. St. Louis County, Missouri, the decision at the Court of Appeals turned on whether or not games contained expressive value similar to that possessed by painting, music and literature. The Court ruled that “If the first amendment is versatile enough to shield the painting of Jackson Pollock, music of Arnold Schoenberg, or Jabberwocky verse of Lewis Carroll, we see no reason why the pictures, graphic design, concept art, sounds, music, stories, and narrative present in video games are not entitled to a similar protection,” and upheld First Amendment protections for games.

Had the Court of Appeals not found that games could stack up next to Pollock, Schoenberg or Carroll, it’s highly likely they wouldn’t be protected – which was exactly what the district court had decided, before it was overturned. It was for this reason that the reversal led to headlines such as “Video games get ‘art’ status in the US.”



From the Lounge: [Re: “Unremembering William” by Tom Rhodes] I took the time to click on your Roger Ebert link, and was dismayed but unsurprised to read the following:

“…I did indeed consider video games inherently inferior to film and literature. There is a structural reason for that: Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control.

I am prepared to believe that video games can be elegant, subtle, sophisticated, challenging and visually wonderful. But I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art. To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers. That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic.”

Wow! Didn’t he write the screenplay for a Russ Meyer movie? Beyond the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens? That’s two precious culture-grubbing hours that many people are never going to get back. Unless that was the other guy, the late Gene Siskel.

I would have to say that based on most of the popular movies this year – and Ebert has been a tireless champion of the popular movie – most filmgoers aren’t lapping up any more of the milk of human kindness or the cream of intellectual civilization than any given gamer. And I have to say I honestly feel my precious cultural time is better spent on Diablo 2 than on reading The DaVinci Code.

Seriously, though. If you are trying to make an apples-to-apples comparison of conventional narrative vehicles vs. computer/video games, what is the basis of comparison? The experiences they provide? Learning? Empathic bonding? Emotional turmoil? How can you rule out the idea that a game couldn’t provide all that? Maybe gaming doesn’t have its Shakespeare yet, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be one.

And don’t get me started on the idea of authorial control – far better minds than mine have argued that the idea of the author itself is moot.

Anyhoo. Phew! Had to vent. I enjoyed your article very much. And it’s nice to see that you understand that the urge to play is so essential to humanity that no matter the platform, whether it’s tic-tac-toe drawn in the sand or Halo 3, games will always be played.

-Dave Allen

From the Lounge: [Re: “A Question of Manners” by Spanner] Your article makes a good point. Especially in these days of the internets, people have lost touch with good manners and often resort to shouting and name-calling right out of the gate.

Fortunately, the people who mind their own business are the norm, but there is a vocal minority that wishes others to conform to their own views of how they should behave or parent or worship. This “Terror of the Few” is what causes most of the problems. So, immediately, the other side springs up, usually much more coherent, but not usually arguing from a position of overwhelming passions (in all but rare instances). Thus, conflict.

As long as there are good intentions, the road to hell will be paved with them.

-Tom Rhodes

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