Archive | June, 2011

Video Games and the First Amendment

30 Jun

This week saw the Supreme Court rule in favor of the gaming industry, granting first amendment status to video games. Even the violent ones. The case was brought before the court because California sought to prohibit the sale of violent video games to minors, essentially giving the government the power to censor the games that it deemed too violent for children. Keep in mind that the video game industry voluntarily allows for a rating system to help parents distinguish what games contain the more mature content.

I am a gamer. My husband is a gamer. When I moved in with my husband, I brought my own console. Our weakness pre-baby was games. We bought them. We played them. Our weekend schedule was dependent on whatever new game hit the stores that Tuesday, and there were MANY a night that he and I would play co-op Halo or L4D into the wee hours of the morning. (Since I hit my second trimester, I have barely picked up a controller, but it has to do with finding the time. Not lack of desire. I am ITCHING to be able to just lose myself in a game again.)

Anyway, all of that is to show that we are a gaming household, and we believe there is a real place for video games in a house with children: Games are fun. Games can allow the whole family to interact together. Games can give common ground to age groups. Games help with coordination. Games help with problem solving. Games tell stories.

That last one, that games tell stories, is why I am so happy about the First Amendment status.When I was trying to pick a concentration for my Doctorate, I was very strongly leaning toward an analyses of video games as a literary form. The games often, in my opinion, struggle to tell an effective story in a new and engaging way that is coherent with its medium. Many of them fail: they fall into the trap of telling a story in a way that works for a book, but doesn’t translate over to the gaming experience. But when a story works and is told in a way that makes the most out of the user’s interaction, well then. THAT is a beautiful thing.(I am thinking here of games like BioShock, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Portal, and Fatal Frame. Interesting to note  that the BioShock site asks you to input your age before entering.)

It is a relatively newer format when compared to books or movies, and for the games that don’t hit the mark with narrative, I believe there is a tendency to rely heavily on violence, gore, sexuality. But these all have their place in games, just as they do in movies and books. Games are telling the stories of our future. As the game designers and the game writers experiment more with how a game tells a story, the lines between what is violent, mature content will get harder to distinguish. If we were to start trying to define what is acceptable content now, we run the risk of silencing future generations of storytellers. We would also lose out on the exciting ways we will be able to interact with a story – ways that we can’t even imagine right now.

Our house was a gaming household, and it will continue to be, as our child gets older. The way that we incorporate gaming into our lives is what will change. Just like determining what books and movies we introduce our kids to at different ages, so it goes with video games. And sure, some crappy, violent games may slip through, just like some crappy, violent movies and crappy, violent books. Past generations grew up reading crappy violent books, and things turned out fine. Sure, there are exceptions to every rule, but exceptions should not be held as the norm. It is our own parental involvement that will determine what games are appropriate for what age. It is our own parental involvement that will help our kids navigate the inevitable exposure to violence in the world:  the government doesn’t need to be involved. We have it covered.

Thank you, Supreme Court, for recognizing this.

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