Category: rants

Mountains of Misogyny

It seems like the last month has been a great one for all the he-man-woman-haters not only in gaming but in comic books as well. (To be pedantic, not all the things I’ve seen are clear cut examples of misogyny. Some of them may more accurately be called examples of sexism against women.)

It started a few months ago with the case of who was having a launch event for Battlefield 3 and on the page describing the event they wrote:

“Nothing ruins a good LAN party like uncomfortable guests or lots of tension, both of which can result from mixing immature, misogynistic male-gamers with female counterparts. Though we’ve done our best to avoid these situations in years past, we’ve certainly had our share of problems. As a result, we no longer allow women to attend this event.”

This post got picked up by a lot of websites and the powersgaming people started editing and changing their website. (Missing out on saving some of the edits of their page is what was what finally convinced me to install the scrapbook firefox extension). At one point they posted a “misogyny statement” which read, in part, as follows:

This is the truth about the “misogyny” statement, why we had it on our event page, and the reason it was posted there.

We started these events back in ’99, and always allowed women to attend. Keep in mind this is a private function held on private property with no more than 25 attendees. I would say 1/4 of our attendees back then were wives or girlfriends or simply women we’ve met in the gaming biz. It was like having a bunch of friends over for a backyard BBQ; nothing more. But on one occasion we had a guy named “Joe” show up who was being a total jerk to a girl gamer named “Jane” (not real names) to the point where she complained to my daughter. We kept an eye on the situation, and yeah, Jane was right; Joe was a complete a**. Warnings to Joe went nowhere, so we tossed him out the front door and finished the event. Jane had a great time and remains a good friend of ours. Joe.. We never saw again.

Afterwards, we had to make a choice. Since we didn’t know this “Joe” guy before he signed up, how could we keep this from happening again ? Sure we could deal with it if another “Joe” showed up, but honestly we come to these events to have fun and relax, not to police morons like Joe.

So, we made a decision to invite guys only, and that “misogyny” post (below) was based on the above experience; that’s it.

Like most of their edits this too has been taken down. Luckily for me I was in the middle of revising my chapter on masculinity and these guys were perfect examples of performances of masculinity.

The thing that neither the people on the site nor any of the sites I saw criticizing them noted that aside from the obvious issue of punishing women for the actions of a man, the site is also full of casual sexism as well. The group’s message boards — and indeed the very posting that got them in trouble in the first place — has lots of examples of using pictures of women as sex objects. So even though the website has tried to erase all traces of their discrimination they still display their sexism on their sleeves…



In the comic book world, DC recently rebooted their comics (except in certain cases like Batman and Green Lantern and the Legion of Super-Heroes where they didn’t) and a couple of the characters, namely Catwoman and Starfire, were depicted as as basically vapid sex objects.

I bring up comics because the new Batman game is out and I don’t think I’ll be playing it because it seems to be “super duper sexist” (warning this link is written by someone pretending to be the Hulk and as such is written exclusively in caps which is really off-putting).



Even if the game turns out not to be so sexist, I know one site I won’t be reading about it on: Destructoid. I never really went to their site that often any way because I never liked them ever since they got their start at E3 back in the day by walking around while wearing a robot head and photobombing other people’s interviews.



So between this and reading that not only are some men who want to make videogames sexist but so are some of the people who make them, it has been a disheartening few weeks.

Is there any good news?

Poor, Poor, Pitfall, Me…

Warning, rant ahead.


You may not have heard this but the economy sucks.

You know what else? Being a grad student sucks, too.

I’m trying to finish my dissertation (got all the chapters written and a couple revised) and I’m sick of being poor. This is especially true now that it doesn’t look like I’ll be teaching in the fall and no teaching = no money.

This stinks but to make things worse, I’m going to a conference in a couple months and the student rate is over $200. The student rate??? WTF? Let’s just put that in perspective: In my department when I did have funding I made less than $13,000 a year. Then you add in airfare to the conference. Right now the cheapest flight I can find is $339. Then you add in a hotel. Of course the conference isn’t held in a Day’s Inn or some cheap hotel. The conference hotel’s “conference rate” with $447. Split 3 ways (I’m going with two other people) that’s $149 a person. Now we’re up to $688 and that’s if I don’t eat anything the whole time I’m there and somehow get to the airport and back for free. At the very least then this conference would take up over 5% of my year’s salary — assuming I had a salary.

Now obviously the conference can’t be held responsible for the cost of airfare but over $200 for students and being at an expensive hotel? Of course you can stay at another hotel and save some money but then have to walk all around a strange city. I did that at one conference and when I arrived in the city and got a taxi the driver said, “are you sure you really want to go there?” and I ended up making sure I was back in the hotel before dark every day. And of course there are travel grants and things that some conferences give but how many of those do they give? I’ve never seen a conference give out more than can be counted on one hand.

Then there is also the price of books. Recently a book came out that sounds like something I really need to read for my dissertation. The price? $99. For a book. Textbooks are often more expensive but often they can be resold. The good news is that this particular book is also available as an electronic version (only password protected pdf as far as I can tell and not on the kindle or nook). The bad news? The ebook is also $99. (ok, to be fair I found one site selling it for the rock bottom price of $89…). I know authors don’t really have any say in the price (which is why I’m not naming the book. I’m not here to shame a fellow academic by any means.) but $99 for an ebook seems a bit of a markup to me. I’ll try to get it through interlibrary loan but since the book just came out the library may say that it is too new to get that way (something I’ve been told before).

I can’t wait until I get tenure. Not only will I never wear pants again but I’ll go out to eat without checking my wallet first…


ok, rant over….

Supreme Court Causes Curious Comments.

In the days after the Supreme Court declared that videogames are entitled to First Amendment protection I spent a lot of time reading comments on major news websites. I know I shouldn’t have been but I was really shocked at how many comments were ignorant or the result of really poor literacy skills.

In addition to the usual comments implying that film ratings are legally enforced and people seeming to think they are First Amendment experts by claiming that this wasn’t a First Amendment issue, there were some that were so crazy or so hyperbolic that I really wanted to believe they were super sarcastic trolling but sadly I don’t think most of them were.

It is easy to judge people without giving them a chance to respond so as much as I want to I won’t make snarky comments about these. These come from major mainstream news sites, not some fringe extremist site. So here are some of the more “interesting” comments:

by adrenalin666 June 27, 2011 9:50 PM EDT
does anyone believe that the republican party is not just about money?

daddy bush and bush jr. made this supreme court and this is the crapola that comes out of these schmucks?????

what parent does not want control over what goes into their child’s head?
as a parent how do i influence my child to become the kind of person that i think they should become… to be a good person, be a good citizen, to see people as human beings and not as objects….



kiss my arse christian right wing taliban, teaparty…. a hols.

by nleeklee June 27, 2011 7:22 PM EDT
This is obviously wrong. We have no standards as a nation. It’s the evil business that can hire the “best” lawyers and cause its side to win. These store owners have no morals. It would be better if they believed in hell, because it is real, and they are going there. Sadly, though, if they relented and switched professions or jobs or careers, someone else would fill the gap. This shows that Christ’s words about few being saved are true. No matter how much evil is in this world, salvation is still real; those who choose to follow Satan will pay their dues in eternity, while those who follow Christ enjoy all the blessings of heaven forever. Nothing can cancel out the salvation believers have, are experiencing, and will receive when Christ returns. Praise the Lord!

by Canuck42 June 27, 2011 5:27 PM EDT are obviously one of the individuals who believes that it is all right to corrupt young minds and create criminals for the sake of extreme freedom of expression. There has to be limits to freedom of expression. When freedom of expression begins to corrupt society, it is not freedom of expression. It becomes propoganda. You are obviously one of those who love violent games. Do you allow your children to play them, too? By the way I live in the best country in the world and it’s not the USA.

by freeamerica31 June 27, 2011 5:55 PM EDT
Your right. How about the next time a pedophile sits down next to your kid and ask them “you wanna play house” and your kid says yes. We don’t want to violate their freedom of choice! If we don’t have limits on choices to protect our kids when parents or under adult supervision isn’t around, where does the freedom begin and stop? You have to have laws to safeguard children from those adults who would take advantage or keep them from content not suitable for their age.

by slatep June 27, 2011 2:43 PM EDT
Parents do not have much choice, because these are almost the only video games on the market.

Hoover dam got built because of the lack of opinions. Nothing is possible noadays; freedom this, freedom that…. where is common sense. what good does encouraging bad behavior do? stealing, killing ….. to the kids, taking a real gun and blowing people up is pretty numb after a while even if it’s for real.

A few video games are art. Most aren’t. Then again, most modern art isn’t art. Now that the average person is allowed a ‘valued’ opinion that must now be respected, society is dying in every way. Idiocracy all the way!

video gamers need to wake up to the fact that the violence in games is a tragic error from the 90ies:
Graphics card needed to be sold with visceral impact, while there was not money to develop actual content.
What’s easier than to populate the hi-res 3D world with targets you need to kill because they threaten you?
Why did the games never make as much progress as the graphics?
And why does it appear is if the only way to demo new graphics was to make another version of the +- same killing game?

Brooklyn, NY
June 27th, 2011
1:00 pm
My sense is that there are “Manchurian Candidates” placed on the Supreme Court by rogue regimes seeking to destroy the US from within. No other explanation to these latest rulings make sense.

Jersey City
June 27th, 2011
2:25 pm
Since the rise of violent gaming, too many children in all age groups under 18 have died by the hand of another young person known to them, using, most often, a gun, followed by knives and swords.

Westchester NY
June 27th, 2011
6:50 pm
Scalia has got rocks in his head. He is Pharisaic in his interpretation of the law straight by the book, no common sense. The right thing to do for society’s sake would be to limit children’s access to violent material. This is a no brainer. And of course the material that children see, and hear has an incluence on them! Another no brainer. Just look at how fashions, habits, and behavior has changed over the last few decades based on the kind of music and popular entertainment that was “in” at the time.
If you take Confucius, Plato, Aristotle and Buddha they all would agree on this that what people hear, and see will influence their minds and behavior. Scalia is on the other side of boat.

Long Beach
June 27th, 2011
10:12 pm
This is absurd. Those kinds of games should simply be banned altogether.

Supreme Court’s Video Game ruling

I’m working on a post about some of the more outrageous comments I’ve seen in reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling that video games are entitled to the same protections as films and music. I covered a lot of the more common misconceptions in a prior post where I discussed how film ratings are not legally enforced, how it actually is a first amendment issue, how violence is different than obscenity, and how media is different than regulations on alcohol and/or drugs. I’ve also discussed how there is no rape in Grand Theft Auto and how unless some store is still selling Custer’s Revenge or Rapelay then there aren’t any games that do feature rape. There is, however, one thing I don’t think I have covered: Tennessee.

When people try to correct the misconception that film ratings are legally enforced, occasionally someone will mention Tennessee. People will claim that Tennessee has a law which legally enforced film ratings. As far as I can tell this notion was started by a story appearing on a local Tennessee television’s website. In the story someone asked if film ratings were legally enforced and the television station replied:

In Tennessee, the legal age to buy a R-rated movie ticket — IS 18!

It’s not a new law, either.

Tennessee Code 39-17-907, enacted in 1989, states, “…viewing a motion picture designated “R” for restricted audiences, persons under eighteen (18) years of age not admitted unless accompanied by parent or adult guardian…”

Violating the law is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a $2,500 fine and/or 11 months and 29 days in jail.

It seems like this story has been picked up by a few people since it was posted online and quoted as the truth. The problem is that the tv station is only quoting half of the sentence. If you read what the tv station wrote it doesn’t even mean anything. Here is the full text of the pertinent section of the law:

2010 Tennessee Code
Title 39 – Criminal Offenses
Chapter 17 – Offenses Against Public Health, Safety and Welfare
Part 9 – Obscenity
39-17-907 – Restrictions on showings.

39-17-907. Restrictions on showings.

(a) It is unlawful for any person to exhibit for public consumption, whether or not the exhibition is for compensation, any motion picture, film, movie, or videotape that depicts sexual conduct as defined in § 39-17-901, unless the exhibition is within a theater auditorium or other enclosed area that effectively removes the exhibition from the view of members of the public who are not voluntarily engaged in viewing the motion picture, film, movie, or videotape.

(b) Each theater at which two (2) or more motion pictures are shown in the same building shall maintain adequate supervision of the customers to prevent minors from purchasing a ticket or admission pass to a motion picture designated by the rating board of the Motion Picture Association of America by the letter “G” for general audiences or “PG” for all ages, parental guidance advised, and then viewing a motion picture designated “R” for restricted audiences, persons under eighteen (18) years of age not admitted unless accompanied by parent or adult guardian, or “X,” persons under eighteen (18) years of age not admitted.

(c) A violation of this section is a Class A misdemeanor.

I’m no lawyer but as I read it the law is saying that theaters have to have people around to make sure kids don’t buy tickets for a G or PG rated movie and then go see and R rated movie. It doesn’t say anything about making it illegal to sell R rated material to minors.

Duke Nuke Them Four Forever

Back when Duken Nukem 3D came out there were lots of people pitting Duken Nukem 3D vs. Quake and arguing over which was better. Well, now that Duke Nukem Forever is out I don’t think there is really any game to compare it to.

Even if you ignore the storied history of the development of DN4, the game is really dated in lots of ways. The graphics look like they are about Doom 3 level. The humor is straight out of the previous game and the weapons are too. It also really feels pieced together from numerous different parts. There is a random strip club section which is just pointless. Perhaps weirdly, there is a whole section in an alien space ship that feels like it was taken from Prey complete with doors that look like vaginas. The physics are pretty weird too. For example, in one section you have to stack some barrels to tip over a shipping container and when the container begins to tip over one of the barrels floats in midair and if you get too close to them you bounce off weirdly. The most dated thing about it, however, is the gameplay. There are parts that feel very dated with basic physics puzzles and numerous boss fights.

The game it reminds me a lot of the original Half-Life for some reason. Oddly enough, Duke Nukem Forever was originally meant to come out back around the same time Half-Life came out. I wonder if it had came out back then if people would be pitting Duke Nukem Forever vs. Half-Life?

As it stands, Duke Nukem Forever is eminently forgettable. There is some juvenile and offensive misogyny in the game which might spark some controversy on slow news days. I think that Gearbox really just wanted to shove this out the door as quickly as possible so they could make their own Duke Nukem game. Maybe that one will be more memorable…

wordpress updated

Just a fyi, I updated wordpress and once again had some trouble with it so if anything is broke please let me know.

Upgrading the blog software makes me feel like I do when I have to take my vehicle into the mechanic. It should be easy but it never is. Whenever you change one thing it turns out there are other things broken.

Next time my hosting bill is due I’m going to bite the bullet and move to a host that automatically updates wordpress for you.

The Third Fallout of the Witcher

Thanks to the Steam holiday sale I’ve just finished playing Fallout 3 and The Witcher. I’ve been thinking about them and I find the depictions of sexuality in them to be interesting.

As anyone who has played The Witcher knows, The Witcher is overtly sexual and features Sex Cards that are given out when the player has sex with someone. Of course the player, who plays as the male Geralt, can only have sex with a woman. Moreover, the sex cards have no real impact on game play. They are just trophies or notches on the belt of the player.

On the other hand, Fallout 3 takes the opposite approach and allows you to pick your sex but doesn’t really have any sexuality at all (at least that I encountered as I played it). You can’t have sex with anyone. One could argue that sexuality wouldn’t really fit in with the kitschy 50s-influenced theme of the Fallout series but there is also the fact that the SPECIAL system and the gameplay includes other realistic elements such as having to sleep and drinking alcohol so why not include sex?

As a thought exercise it is interesting to think how each game might change with the addition of a more open and non-heteronormative sexuality in the games. In Fallout 3 you can use your charisma to try to influence people but what if you could also try to bed them?

In The Witcher, there are several female characters that you not only have sex with but also have quest-based interactions. So when you encounter a woman you can try to bed her and you can also interact with her to further the game. With men you can only interact with them to further quests. Imagine how different your interactions with the men would be if you were trying to have sex with them as well? It would be a very different game.

Another aspect of these sex cards is that they are drawings of naked women. I’ve written before about how I don’t really get the point of looking at drawings of naked women and I still don’t. (I mean besides Betty Rubble, of course…) They censored these in the initial North American release but the “enhanced edition” is uncensored. I wonder if they would have made these things with naked male characters?

Apparently there won’t be any sex cards in The Witcher 2 Maybe the eventual Fallout 4 can take a little of The Witcher‘s sex and The Witcher can take some of Fallout’s flexibility.

The Supreme Court Video Game Case

On November 2nd the Supreme Court of the USA will begin hearing Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association. This is the case regarding California’s law regulating the sale of “violent” videogames to minors. There’s a lot of talk going on online about this case and whether or not such a law is needed or is constitutional. I don’t think it is needed nor do I think it is constitutional. In reading several stories and comments about the case I’ve also seen a lot of incorrect and misguided statements and so I thought it might be a good idea to write up a post clarifying the case and explaining why it is important.
First off, what does the law actually say? The full text of the law can be found in a pdf. The summary of the law states:

Existing law regulates the sale of certain merchandise, such as political items and sports memorabilia.
This bill would require violent video games to be labeled as specified and would prohibit the sale or rental of those violent video games, as defined, to minors. The bill would provide that a person who violates the act shall be liable in an amount of up to $1,000 for each violation.

The law goes on to state:

(d)  (1)  “Violent video game” means a video game in which of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being, if those acts are depicted in the game in a manner that does either of the following:
(A)  Comes within all of the following
(i)  A reasonable person, considering the game as a whole, would find appeals to a deviant or morbid interest of minors.
(ii)  It is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the community as to what is suitable for minors.
(iii)  It causes the game, as a whole, to lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.
(B)  Enables the player to virtually inflict serious injury upon images human beings or characters with substantially human characteristics in a manner which is especially heinous, cruel, or depraved in that it involves torture or serious physical abuse to the victim.
(2)  For purposes of this subdivision, the following definitions apply:
(A)  “Cruel” means that the player intends to virtually inflict a high degree of pain by torture or serious physical abuse of the victim in addition to killing the victim.
(B)  “Depraved” means that the player relishes the virtual killing shows indifference to the suffering of the victim, as evidenced by torture or serious physical abuse of the victim.
(C)  “Heinous” means shockingly atrocious. For the killing depicted a video game to be heinous, it must involve additional acts of torture or serious physical abuse of the victim as set apart from other killings.
(D)  “Serious physical abuse” means a significant or amount of injury or damage to the victim’s body which involves a substantial risk of death, unconsciousness, extreme physical pain, substantial disfigurement, or substantial impairment of the function of a
bodily member, organ, or mental faculty. Serious physical abuse, unlike torture, does not require that the victim be conscious of the abuse at the time it is inflicted. However, the player must specifically intend the abuse apart from the killing.
(E)  “Torture” includes mental as well as physical abuse of the In either case, the virtual victim must be conscious of the abuse at the time it is inflicted; and the player must specifically intend to virtually inflict severe mental or physical pain or suffering upon the victim, apart from killing the victim.
(3)  Pertinent factors in determining whether a killing depicted in a video game is especially heinous, cruel, or depraved include infliction of gratuitous violence upon the victim beyond that necessary to commit the killing, needless mutilation of the victim’s body, and helplessness of the victim.

So what’s the problem? Do I think that kids should play M for Mature rated games? No. The problem is the First Amendment. …And that’s where a lot of people commenting online make mistakes.

First, every single time I’ve seen a post online about videogame violence laws there has been at least one post amounting to something like, “What’s the big deal? This would make videogames just like movies.” This is probably the biggest misconception. In the USA no medium has its ratings regulated by law. The website, a site ran by the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA) who actually give out the ratings, clearly states that film ratings in the USA are voluntary. The site does a good job of covering the history of ratings in the USA so if you aren’t familiar with the Hays Code and the creation of the ratings it is a worthwhile read.  The website also has a frequently asked questions section that contains the following question and answers:

Do all movies have to be rated?
No. Submitting a film for a rating is a voluntary decision made by filmmakers. However, each member of the Motion Picture Association of America has agreed to have all its theatrically released films rated, and the overwhelming majority of filmmakers have their film rated.

Is the rating system a law? If no, who enforces it?
No. The movie rating system is a voluntary system sponsored by the Motion Picture Association of America and the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO). The members of NATO enforce the system by asking for identification and refusing admission to R-rated movies by unaccompanied children or to NC-17 movies by children whether or not accompanied.  Retailers and rental stores also enforce the ratings for movies released on video. Some parents inquire about whether it is lawful for other parents to bring their very young children to R-rated films. The R rating contains the strict and explicit caution that “generally, it is not appropriate for parents to bring their young children with them to R-rated movies.”

Now, just because film ratings are voluntary in theory doesn’t mean that they aren’t more or less mandatory in practice. This is because, as their own FAQ states, “each member of the Motion Picture Association of America has agreed to have all its theatrically released films rated.” This means all the movie studios rate their films for theatrical release and if a film isn’t rated (or even if it is rated NC-17) then theaters basically won’t show it. However, just because a film basically has to be rated to be shown in theaters doesn’t mean that they don’t sell unrated films on dvd because the practice of releasing “unrated editions” of movies is very common.

Similarly the “Parental Advisory Explicit Content” stickers on some music was created by the RIAA and is also voluntary.

USA Broadcast television’s ratings were suggested by the government but according to the government:

In Section 551 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 Congress gave the broadcasting industry the first opportunity to establish voluntary ratings. The industry established a system for rating programming that contains sexual, violent or other material parents may deem inappropriate and committed to voluntarily broadcast signals containing these ratings.

Broadcast television and radio stations can and have been fined for inappropriate content but that is only broadcast and not cable or satellite. The government can regulate broadcast content because they use the airwaves which theoretically belong to the public. The only reasons cable channels censor programming is because they want to and because they don’t want advertisers to pull ads (and ad money) from their shows and cable and satellite companies to stop carrying their programming (or make it so that customers would have to specially subscribe to the channel or something which would cost the channel viewers).

Some people have claimed that because this law only applies to minors that it isn’t a First Amendment issue and we shouldn’t worry about it.  Now I’m no law talking guy and I’m guessing that most of the people writing these comments aren’t either so it doesn’t really matter if we think it is a First Amendment matter or not. What matters is what the judges think and judges both in deciding this particular law and over the years in deciding several other laws in several places including Illinois (pdfs of verdict in various appeals),   Louisiana, Oklahoma, Indianapolis, and St. Louis have all been ruled unconstitutional.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals verdict on the California case begins:

We hold that the Act, as a presumptively invalid content-based restriction on speech, is subject to strict scrutiny and not the “variable obscenity” standard from Ginsberg v. New York. Applying strict scrutiny, we hold that the Act violates rights protected by the First Amendment because the State has not demonstrated a compelling interest, has not tailored the restriction to its alleged compelling interest, and there exist less-restrictive means that would further the State’s expressed interests. Additionally, we hold that the Act’s labeling requirement is unconstitutionally compelled speech under the First Amendment because it does not require the disclosure of purely factual information;  but compels the carrying of the State’s controversial opinion.

From the verdict declaring the Oklahoma law unconstitutional:

Having viewed the portions of three games submitted by Defendants, the Court is inclined to agree. Whether the games are “suitable,” however, is not the applicable standard for the propriety of the government placing a content-based restriction on dissemination of protected speech, even dissemination to minors.

Because the Act applies only to video games and software containing “inappropriate violence,” its provisions constitute a content-based regulation on protected expression. See IDSA, 329 F.3d at 958; Blagojevich, 404 F. Supp. 2d at 1071. Hence, the attempted regulation is presumptively invalid and subject to the strictest scrutiny under the First Amendment. R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul. Under this  analysis, the Act will be upheld only if Defendants can show that the regulation is necessary to serve a compelling state interest. Strict scrutiny also requires that the Act be narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. Id. The fact that Defendants are attempting to regulate the flow of information to minors, rather than to adults, does not render the values protected by the First Amendment any less applicable. Erznoznik v. City of Jacksonville. To the best of the Court’s knowledge, the Supreme Court has not “suggest[ed] that the government’s role in helping parents to be the guardians of their children’s well-being is an unbridled license to governments to regulate what minors read and view.” IDSA, 329 F.3d at 959-60; see also Blagojevich, 404 F. Supp. 2d at 1076.

[….]Defendants submit that the standard of Ginsberg v. New York, 390 U.S. 629 (1968), should apply and allow the government to regulate objectionable depictions in the interest of helping parents with “protecting minors.” (See Defs.’ Resp. at 6, 10.) The Supreme Court in Ginsberg permitted enhanced regulation of distribution of sexually explicit material that is obscene as to minors but not obscene as to adults. Ginsberg, 390 U.S. at 636-40. The Ginsberg decision, however, concerned only sexually explicit or “obscene” material, which is unprotected by the First Amendment, rather than the protected expression at issue in this case. See Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15, 23 (1973). The Supreme Court has held that, when used in the context of the First Amendment, the word “obscenity” refers only to works that deal with sex. Maleng, 325 F. Supp. 2d at 1185 (citing Miller, 413 U.S. at 24 (“[W]e now confine the permissible scope of [regulation of obscene material] to works which depict or describe sexual conduct.”)). It is immaterial that the subject matter of the video games could be characterized as “disgusting or degrading.” (Defs.’ Resp. at 8). No court has expanded the definition of obscenity to include portrayals of violence, “inappropriate” or otherwise; each is a “distinct categor[y] of objectionable depiction.” Kendrick, 244 F.3d at 574; Maleng, 325 F. Supp. 2d at 1185. In contrast to Ginsberg, the Act in the instant case is attempting to regulate protected expression. Therefore, Defendants may not rely on Ginsberg as authorizing the enhanced restrictions of the Act on dissemination to minors.

Both of these cases as well as some of the others listed above focus around interpretations of obscenity and a case known as Ginsberg v. New York.   This brings up another common comment from people who do not see a problem with laws regulating the sales of videogames to minors. People will often write or say, “We don’t let kids buy alcohol, tobacco, guns, or pornography, so what’s wrong with not letting kids buy violent videogames?” The problem with this is, again, rooted in the First Amendment.

Alcohol and tobacco are drugs (or in the case of tobacco, a plant that contains a drug) and are not free speech. They are drugs that have clearly demonstrable negative effects on health. Even at that the tobacco companies fought strenuously against regulations of tobacco sales and advertising.

Guns are a Second Amendment issue and not a First Amendment issue. As little as I know about the First Amendment I know even less about the Second, so I won’t really discuss it here.

That leaves us with pornography. This is the category that violent videogames are most often compared to and with the advent of the phrase “torture porn” and similar phrases, the comparison is more muddled. Before getting to the First Amendment issues, let me point out that pornography is a genre and not a medium. Videogames are a medium. Pornographic videogames would already be subject to the same laws that regulate other forms of pornography. OK, on to the First Amendment…

As I said earlier, I’m no lawyer so all this comes from stuff I’ve read and searched for online. When you try to search for laws regulating children’s access to pornography you mainly come across articles about the legality of child porn which is not really the issue here (and of course searching for ‘children pornography -“child pornography”‘ can also get rid of articles that are relevant but also mention that phrase).

In searching, however, I’ve found that there’s not really any legal definition of “pornography.” Instead, what the federal government does define is “obscenity.” The problem with defining pornography and deciding what is and is not “pornographic” is that different people have different definitions. Are images of naked adults pornographic? What if they are in anatomy books or in art museums? What about depictions of intercourse? What if they are in sex education classes? In some societies a woman’s exposed ankle is pornographic. The Victorians were said to cover up tables so table legs wouldn’t be exposed.

Obscenity isn’t much easier to define but there is at least the Miller Test. Developed as a result of 1973’s Miller vs. California the test has three parts:

  • Whether “the average person, applying contemporary community standards”, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest,
  • Whether the work depicts/describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable state law,
  • Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

With phrases like “the average person,” “community standards,” and “patently offensive,” you can see that the Miller Test is not clear cut. There were numerous cases before 1973 over obscenity and there have been numerous cases since. You will also notice that the California law is modeled after this test as have been many of the other laws that have been ruled unconstitutional.

The case which established that something not obscene for adults may be found harmful for children and regulated is the previously mentioned 1968 case Ginsberg vs. New York. In the article, “On Protecting Children from Speech.” (Chicago-Kent Law Review, Vol. 79, No. 3 (2004), pp. 3-53), Amitai Etzioni does a good job of covering the history of regulating children’s access to pornography. He writes that Ginsberb vs. New York established, “that children should not be allowed the same access to certain types of materials as adults, and that the state is entitled to pass laws aiding parents in carrying out their duties” (6). Etzioni goes on to explain that subsequent cases such as 1978’s FCC v. Pacifica Foundation (which was about broadcasting George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words”) have reaffirmed this position.

Despite these clear rulings, as with defining obscenity, the problem still remains in determining what is and isn’t “unacceptable” and “harmful to minors.” Etzioni tells us that several laws designed to protect minors from “harmful material” have been found unconstitutional including federal laws such as the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (“CDA”) and the Child Online Protection Act of 1998 (“COPA”).

The Supreme Court ruled that the CDA’s prohibitions on “indecent transmission” and “patently offensive display” violated freedom of speech as protected by the First Amendment. Though it affirmed the compelling interest of the government in “protecting minors from potentially harmful materials” on the Internet, the Court found that “the CDA places an unacceptably heavy burden on protected speech, and that the defenses do not constitute the sort of `narrow tailoring’ that will save an otherwise patently invalid unconstitutional provision.” The Court ruled that the scope of the legislation was too broad, attempting to shield those under the age of eighteen from certain content at too great an expense to adults’ access to protected speech. (Etzioni 7-8).

Similarly COPA was found unconstitutional when the court found that “COPA [was] neither narrowly tailored nor the least restrictive means available to achieve the government’s goal of protecting children from harmful online materials, and also that it impermissibly encroache[d] on speech that is constitutionally protected for adults” (Etzioni 8). Etzioni goes on to examine five other cases where laws attempting to protect children from pornography were found to be too broad and ruled unconstitutional. (It should be noted that Etzioni’s ultimate point is that there is more evidence for regulating violence than there is pornography — something I strongly disagree with. Despite this I still find his article worth reading.)

Thus, while we tend to believe that laws protecting children from pornography are well established, the truth is that they are not. Moreover, the same argument that these laws are unconstitutional because they are two broad and would have a chilling effect on free speech is also the same argument that judges have used to rule laws regulating videogame sales unconstitutional.  It seems that if pornography laws which have a long history of legislation and court rulings are still highly contentious then videogame laws which have a much shorter legislative history would be at least as contentious.

To (finally) finish, I hope that I’ve clarified some aspects of videogame laws and done a decent job of explaining why these laws have been found unconstitutional. This case is important not only because it is the first time that the Supreme Court has ruled over whether or not videogames are even deserving of protection under the First Amendment (at least one ruling that was subsequently overturned stated that videogames were NOT speech) but also because it will be important in both subsequent legislation involving videogames and regulating content for children. If the Supreme Court rules California’s laws constitutional, there will be a flood of similar laws and the videogame industry may end up deciding that M-rated games just aren’t worth making thus limiting what game creators are able to make.

I don’t know what the Supreme Court will decide. With recent rulings like the Citizens United case and the case regarding videos depicting animal cruelty the court has taken a pretty strong pro-First Amendment stance but that’s no guarantee that they will do the same in this case. If anyone has any better insights into the legalities in this case I’d love to learn about it.

Scott Pilgrim is for Hipsters

Scott Pilgrim is a tough movie for me to review. I’m not sure if I liked it. I did like it better than the comic. I read the first issue and flipped through the second. There were some good things. I chuckled a couple times. However, there was a lot I didn’t like — a lot of things that were also in the film. The number one thing I hated was the art. I’ve been a comic book fan since before I could read and while art is subjective I find little redeeming about this art. There were times I couldn’t even tell the characters apart. But I’m writing about the movie not the comic…

I’ve seen Scott Pilgrim compared to films like Napoleon Dynamite (a film that I turned off after about 20 minutes), and Juno (a film I’ve avoided seeing because the clips I’ve seen make me want to run away). So basically movies for hipsters. Scott Pilgrim is pretty much a movie for hipsters too. Now I don’t mean that if you like the film you are a hipster. I may be judgmental but I’m not that judgmental.

Now of course there is the question of “what is a hipster?” Different people may mean different things but when I think of hipsters I think of style over substance. I think of superficial appropriation of things without any depth of knowledge about them. And fixed gear bikes. What is the deal with those?

And Scott Pilgrim is about style and not substance. Sure the whole message is about Scott confronting his past blaa blaa blaa. However, saying that in the last ten minutes doesn’t really make the rest of the superficial stuff ok. I liked the style of the fights. Those were fun. Those were in my opinion a good use of style. What wasn’t were the videogame references. Those were the most superficial thing in the film.

So many people have said and written that this is a film for gamers. But they are wrong. There is no depth to the videogame references. They are all references made by a someone who seems to have had a NES as a kid and hasn’t had any contact with gaming outside of Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero since then. The most obscure reference was to Clash at Demonhead. There are tons of references to Zelda and Final Fantasy but they aren’t that subtle or obscure that they would be known to gamers.

This does make me wonder if this is just my own bias or if this is a legitimate criticism. I’m not really that into Zelda and I don’t like Final Fantasy. To be honest I’m not a console gamer and don’t really like many Japanese games — which make up the majority of the videogame references in Scott Pilgrim. If there had been a first person segment in the film maybe I would have liked it more.

However, I still think that the videogame references are shallow even if they are from games I don’t love. Most of the references in the film consist of taking fonts, sounds, or status bars from games. Beyond “hey that’s a reference to X” there’s no much else to them. It doesn’t really even make any specific references to elements of the game beyond what someone would get from looking at them for five minutes. There’s no chickens that attack you, no Phoenix Down, no warp pipes (although I guess you could argue that the way Ramona gets around is similar to that). Heck, can a player get an All Your Base?

Originally I was probably going to end this post with this. I might have talked about how Ramona has no agency in the film, or how creepy it is that Scott is going out with a high school girl, or how there seems to be some fetishization of Asianness going on (and the fact that the author is partially of Asian ancestry doesn’t dismiss that argument). However, I recently ran across a post on NPR about Scott Pilgrim that included some links to reviewers hating the film because of its videogame references.

I think that the fact that one of the quoted reviewers felt the need to start his review with “First of all, I’m not a video gamer. I have discovered more appealing ways to not have a life” or with a definition of fan service (a professional writer thinks it is ok to do that? I tell my students they will fail if they start by defining a word) and by writing, “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World is Fan Service: The Movie, an insular, punishingly alienating experience preaching only to the faithful, devoted hearts of arrested 12-year-old boys. It’s singularly fixated on video games and shallow visions of women as one-dimensional objects to be either obtained or discarded and offers no possible point of entry to anybody over the age of 30.” shows just how large a chasm there is between videogame culture and those who don’t know anything at all about games (after all the vast majority of videogame references in the films are from games made in the 80s which means that pretty much the only people who would have a point of entry to it are people near the age of 30).

In these reviews one can see not only an ignorance of videogames but an actual distain for them. It may not hurt that the writer who claimed to have “more appealing ways to not have a life” (apparently trolling on the internet is more appealing to him. Check his responses in that reviews comments from some examples) was born in 1956 but it does show an astounding amount of willful ignorance and outright contempt for videogames. No wonder there are always news stories about “murder simulators” and the Supreme Court is going to hear a case on videogame laws .

I think this explains why Scott Pilgrim didn’t do well at the box office. If it is too hipster to appeal to the hardcore gamers and some non-gamers dismiss anything gaming related then all that leaves are the hipsters. …And they are probably too cool to actually go see any movie that anyone’s heard of any way.

The Pirate Academic in the Digital Age

Or maybe it should be the Digital Academic in the Pirate Age?

Anyway, I’m backing up my data including stuff I have on dvds since I’ve heard burned dvds might not last very long. I see that I have around 500 gigs of stuff including various videogame documentaries, news coverage, websites, interviews, youtube videos, and newspaper and magazine articles. Some of the stuff is pretty rare so I would hate to lose any of it. I bought two extra drives and my plan is to back up everything on both of them and take one to my parent’s house so I have off site backup (I’d love to set up something like a pogo plug at my parent’s house but I’m still a poor grad student.). I have the idea that this stuff will be useful as research one day but the truth is that I’m something of a low level hoarder (I don’t have a pet so there’s no danger of finding its dessicated remains under a pile of junk and there’s not much chance I’ll be burried alive by bits and bytes).

The problem with all of this is that, as you may have guessed from the title, is that while a large amount of that data has been obtained by using my dvd recorder to record stuff off of television probably just as much if not more of it has been downloaded from bittorent sites. So I’m a pirate. MPAA you can come and get me. There might be some illegally downloaded music on my computer so RIAA you can come and get me too.

I don’t deny the legality of it. What I do question is the morality. Let’s face it, the odds of my getting sued are pretty slim. Moreover, academia has a pretty long record of infringing on copyright anyway by making copies of articles for students without paying for them. Heck, I’ve even done it with a book that one of my advisers edited.

On the other hand, most people in the media are helpful to academics and I’ve actually gotten a free copy of an episode of a show from a cable network when I emailed them about it and I have had a couple indie documentary makers send me stuff when I inquired about it. So maybe I could get copies of some of this stuff through legal means. Does getting it through piracy make it less moral? I think so since I don’t have permission even though I doubt they would care since nearly all the stuff I’ve downloaded hasn’t been available for purchase (which is kind of weird since there is a demand for this stuff since I still get hits on the post I made about the video game documentary Tony Hawk hosted so there must be some people out there who want to see that stuff (although I guess in that instance they did make that available for purchase since it is listed on Amazon). Moreover, I haven’t uploaded the stuff that I was given by the cable channel or the documentary maker so I must feel like it is somehow a bad thing and a breach of trust (the cable company did make me sign a form promising I wouldn’t share the tape).

I do feel like being an academic does make a difference. I’m not downloading this stuff just because I want it. I like videogames and all but I’m not that fanatical that I would download every video I find related to computers or videogames. But is “it’s for research!” a valid reason? I’m sure that the judge wouldn’t think so but I’m not so sure what an ethicist would think.

So until I hear from an ethicist or the MPAA or RIAA brake down my door I’ll just wear my pirate hat with shame.

…And no I won’t send you a copy of my stuff.