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Videogame Ethnography Class Syllabus

The semester here at IUK has started and, with the exception of food poisoning, things have been going pretty well. I thought I might as well post my syllabus for the gaming class I’m teaching in case any one care.

The class is actually in a computer lab which is nice so that we can play games. Because my diss is about FPS games we are going to be playing FPS games in class. Valve has a special educational program that seems to be designed for game design classes because it gives access to the editors but it also gives students access to all the Half-Life 2 games including CS and TF2.

Because it is ethnographic in focus each week the students have a journal due which is just a one to two page reflection on their playing. It is especially interesting to watch the students that have never played a computer FPS try to navigate through the game. Eventually I hope we will be able to play TF2 in class to get some comparison between single and multiplayer gaming.

So here’s the syllabus:

  topic Assignments due that day
Tues Aug 26 Class intro
Will introduce course concepts and assignments. Topic: What is a game‌
What is ethnography‌
Begins an introduction of the concept of ethnography and the notion of participant observation.
 
Thurs Aug 28 Description
In class exercise on thick description and observation. describing versus telling involving the senses in the writing self-reflection
Horace Miner "Body Ritual among the Nacirema"
Pat Hughes "The Sacred Rac"
http://www.drabruzzi.com/sacred_rac.html

Boellstorff, Tom. "A Ludicrous Discipline‌ Ethnography and Game Studies." Games and Culture 1.1 (2006): 29-35.

For a background on the games we will be playing, also read:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mod_(computer_gaming)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Team_Fortress
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Team_Fortress_Classic
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Team_Fortress_2

Play Zork. available at http://www.inthe70s.com/games/adventure/zork.shtml
http://www.xs4all.nl/~pot/infocom/
http://www.csd.uwo.ca/Infocom/

Tues Sep 2 Thick Description Geertz, Thick Description
Gamespot history of video games, read up until 1992 and skim the rest http://www.gamespot.com/gamespot/features/video/hov/index.html
Pong story main page, http://www.pong-story.com/intro.htm

William Higinbotham article http://www.bnl.gov/bnlweb/history/higinbotham.asp

Play Spacewar http://spacewar.oversigma.com/

Videogame Explosion intro and part 1 pages xiii-28

Thurs Sep 4 Videogame History
Starting with the notion of "first" videogame we will examine the notions of building a canon of videogame landmarks. Who gets to be "first" and why‌ We will also examine the notion of what is a game, and what is a videogame.
Videogame Explosion part 2 p. 29-66, 75-80, 91-98, 103-106

Williams, Dmitri. "Why Game Studies Now‌ Gamers Don’t Bowl Alone." Games and Culture 1.1 (2006): 13-16.

Tues Sep 9 Videogame history 2
Videogame advertising through the ages will be discussed as wil the notions of building of an audience. Comparisons between early games and current games will be made and the reasons behind the changes will be discussed.
Game Over chapters 1-5
Thur Sep 11 Tetris and Casual Games
Play Tetris and go to games.yahoo.com and play a couple puzzle games.
Videogame Explosion 107-126, 151-193, 203-228

Watch Tetris – From Russia With Love — available on course website or bring a blank dvd and I will copy it for you.

Tues Sep 16 Test 1
Test one will be designed not only to ensure that students have a basic grasp of the history of videogames, as well as an understanding of ethnography. Moreover, the test will be intended to see if students are able to interrogate the process of canon creation and why the technological developments are of significance. Test format will consist of ten short answer and three essay questions.
 
Thur Sep 18 Game Studies — preliminary concepts
Now that we have established a common ground, we will move into the theories that make up game studies. Starting with Poole’s Trigger Happy, we will begin to explore soem of the fundamental concepts of videogame studies and explore issues of medium specificity.
Poole, Steven. Trigger Happy : Videogames and the Entertainment
Revolution. 1st U.S. ed. New York: Arcade Pub., 2000. Chapters 1, 3,
and 4.

"Are Games Art‌" Kuro5hin.org. Sep 10, 2002 http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2002/9/10/72851/0039
Read the main story and a few of the longer comments. Look for the commonalities among the responses.

Young, Bryan-Mitchell. "Why Does it Matter If They are Art‌" http://popularculturegaming.com/archives/000023.html

Tues Sep 23 Continuing introductory concepts Poole, Steven. Trigger Happy : Videogames and the Entertainment Revolution. 1st U.S. ed. New York: Arcade Pub., 2000. Chapters 5, 6, 8-10.
Thur Sep 25 Mods, Makers, and Movies
Discussing fandom and modding. Looking at videogames as a participatory medium. What is the role of the player and how does the community play a role in the popularity of videogames‌
Jenkins, Textual Poachers (selections).

Raessens, “Computer Games as Participatory Media Culture.” In: J. Raessens and J. Goldstein (eds). Handbook of Computer Game Studies. Cambridge Massachusetts: MIT Press

Olli Sotamaa, "Computer Game Modding, Intermediality and Participatory Culture." http://old.imv.au.dk/eng/academic/pdf_files/Sotamaa.pdf

Morris, S. (2003). WADs, Bots and Mods: Multiplayer FPS Games as Co-creative Media. Level Up Conference Proceedings. Utrecht, University of Utrecht.

Tues Sep 30 Defining Games, Defining Fun
Today we will discuss exactly what a game is and what fun is. We will attempt to gain an understanding of the concepts and develop a way of talking about these concepts in a scholarly fashion.
Pearce, C. (2004). Towards a game Theory of Game. First person: new media as story, performance, and game. N. Wardrip-Fruin and P. Harrigan. Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press: 143-153.

Juul, J. (2003). The game, the player, the world: looking for a heart of gameness. Level Up Conference Proceedings, Utrecht, University of Utrecht.

Thur Oct 2 Defining Games, Defining Game Studies
Continuing the defining of games. Begins to think about the foundational issues of game studies such as ludology vs. narratology.
Understanding Videogames chapter 6, 7

Eskelinen, M. (2004). Towards Computer Game Studies. First person: new media as story, performance, and game. N. Wardrip-Fruin and P. Harrigan. Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press: 36-44.

Tues Oct 7 Ludology vs. Narratology Frasca, G. (2003). Ludologists love stories, too: notes from a debate that never took place. Level Up Conference Proceedings. Utrecht, University of Utrecht.

King, G. and T. Krzywinska (2002). Computer Games / Cinema / Interfaces. Computer Games and Digital Cultures Conference Proceedings. Tampere, Tampere University Press.

Thur Oct 9 Ludology vs. Narratology 2 Moulthrop, S. (2004). From Work to Play: Molecular Culture in the Time of Deadly Games. First person: new media as story, performance, and game. N. Wardrip-Fruin and P. Harrigan. Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press: 56-69.

Zimmerman, E. (2004). Narrative, Interactivity, Play, and Games: Four Naughty Concepts in Need of Discipline. First person: new media as story, performance, and game. N. Wardrip-Fruin and P. Harrigan. Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press: 154-164.

Tues Oct 14 Gender
Today’s class will focus on depictions of men and women within videogames.
Schleiner, Anne-Marie. "Female-Bobs arrive at Dusk." http://www.opensorcery.net/Femalebob2.html

Henry Jenkins, "’Complete Freedom of Movement’: Video Games as Gendered Play Spaces." Available here: http://web.mit.edu/21fms/www/faculty/henry3/pub/complete.html.
http://web.mit.edu/cms/People/henry3/complete.html
Orig. published as pp. 262-297 in From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games, eds. Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins (Cambridge, MIT Press, 1998).

Thur Oct 16 Lara Croft
Today we will discuss the phenomenon of Tomb Raider and the appeals of the Lara Croft character. Is she a feminist‌ Or is she just a doll for men to control‌ (Or can she be both‌)
Schleiner, Anne-Marie "Does Lara Croft Wear Fake Polygons‌ Gender and Gender-Role Subversion in Computer Adventure Games." Leonardo – Volume 34, Number 3, June 2001, pp. 221-226 ( available at http://www.opensorcery.net/lara2.html or www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1162/002409401750286976)

Kennedy, Helen W. " Lara Croft: Feminist Icon or Cyberbimbo‌: On the Limits of Textual Analysis." Game Studies. 2(2): 2002. http://www.gamestudies.org/0202/kennedy/

Thompson, Clive. "How Lara Croft Steals Hearts." Wired. April 24, 2006. May 18

Tues Oct 21 Women –"Girl Games"
Last class discussed gender within games. Today will will begin to discuss the gender of those who actually play the gamesdiscuss games that attempt to market themselves towards women and some possible explanations why few women play videogames..
Rebecca L. Eisenberg, "Girl Games: Adventures in Lip Gloss." Orig. published in Ms. Magazine (Jan. 1998). Available here: http://www.gamasutra.com/features/19980213/girl_games.htm

Pinckard, Jane. "Genderplay: Successes and Failures in Character Designs for Videogames." GameGirlAdvance. April 16, 2003 http://is.gd/1Mr4

Thur Oct 23 Women Gaming Girls Case, Stevie. "Women in Gaming." Microsoft.com. January
12, 2004. May 18, 2006 . http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/games/learnmore/womeningames.mspx

Jenson, J., & de Castell, S. (June, 2005).
Her Own Boss: Gender and the Pursuit of Incompetent Play. Paper
presented at DIGRA 2005, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada.
Available at www.gamesconference.org/digra2005/viewabstract.php‌id=186

Carr, D. (June, 2005). Contexts, pleasures and preferences: girls playing computer games. Paper presented at DIGRA 2005, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada. Available at http://www.gamesconference.org/digra2005/viewabstract.php‌id=50

Tues Oct 28 Men
Moving on to the men who play videogames
Krotoski, Aleks. "Masculinity and online gaming." Guardian Games Blog.
March 29 2006. May 19, 2006 .
http://is.gd/1Mrq
Pay special attention to the comments at
the end.

Christensen, Natasha Chen. " Geeks at Play: Doing Masculinity in an Online Gaming Site." Reconstruction 6.1 (Winter 2006).
http://reconstruction.eserver.org/061/christensen.shtml

My article about masculinity in FPS games.

Thur Oct 30 Race Leonard, David. “Live in your World, Play in Ours”: Race, Video Games, and Consuming the Other.” Studies in Media & Information Literacy Education 3.4 (2003). http://www.utpjournals.com/jour.ihtml‌lp=simile/issue12/leonardX1.html

Dymek, M., & Lennerfors, T. (June, 2005). Among pasta-loving Mafiosos, drug-selling Columbians and noodle-eating Triads – Race, humour and interactive ethics in Grand Theft Auto III. Paper presented at DIGRA 2005, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada. Available at http://www.gamesconference.org/digra2005/viewabstract.php‌id=85

Tues Nov 4 Nationhood
Is videogames a way of expressing nationhood‌ Is there a reason why certain games are more popular in the USA and others in Japan or Europe‌
Budra, Paul Vincent. "American Justice and the First-Person Shooter" Canadian Review of American Studies. 34.1 (2004): 1-12.

Jeffords, Susan. Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1994. Chapters 1 and 2.

Thur Nov 6 Test 2
This test will be designed to make sure that we have a handle on videogame theory as a field and the issues within it. The format will be the same as the first test
 
Tues Nov 11 Culture Wars Adorno and Horkheimer, “Culture Industry” excerpt

Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Bourdieu, Pierre. “Distinction and The Aristocracy of Culture.” Reprinted in John Stony, ed., Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, 2nd edition, Pp. 431-441. University of Georgia Press, 1998.

Thur Nov 13 Media Effects
Are videogames TEH EVAL‌!‌
Underwood, Mick. "Mass Media Effects: Introduction." June 21, 2003. May 21, 2005 .
Read through all the different theories.
http://www.cultsock.ndirect.co.uk/MUHome/cshtml/media/effects.html

Media violence statistics. http://www.ripon.edu/faculty/petersikt/Media_stuff/TVThing.html

Understanding Videogames ch. 10

Tues Nov 18 Violence
Grrrrrr
From Videogames: At Issue:

Violence in Video Games May Harm Children9
Elisa Hae-Jung Song and Jane E. Anderson

The Problem of Video Game Violence Is Exaggerated 18
Greg Costikyan

Video Games Rated Appropriate for Children May Contain Violence27
Kimberly M. Thompson and Kevin Haninger

The Video Game Industry Regulates Itself Effectively35
Douglas Lowenstein

Irvine, Ian. "A History of Videogame Violence." Gamers With Jobs. http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/24510

Thur Nov 20 Moral Panics
Won’t someone think of the children‌!‌
Thompson, Kenneth. Moral Panics. New York: Routledge, 1998. Chapters 1 and 3.

Grossman, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill (Chapter 4).

Tues Nov 25 Addiction
Can you become addicted to videogames‌
Scheeres, Julia. "The Quest to End Game Addiction." Wired. Dec, 05, 2001. http://www.wired.com/news/holidays/0,1882,48479,00.html

Watch the documentary First-Person Shooter on the course website.

Tues Dec 2 Film Games and Game Films
What does it mean for a game to be "cinematic‌" Why do nearly all the films based on videogames fail‌ Why do so many videogames based on films also fail‌
Howells, Sacha A.. "Watching a Game, Playing a Movie: When Media Collide." Eds. Geoff King and Tanya Krzywinska. ScreenPlay: Cinema/Videogames/Interfaces. London and New York: Wallflower, 2002. 110-21.

King, Geoff. "Die Hard/Try Harder: Narrative, Spectacle and Beyond, from Hollywood to Videogame." Eds. Geoff King and Tanya Krzywinska. ScreenPlay: Cinema/Videogames/Interfaces. London and New York: Wallflower, 2002. 50-65.

Grieb, Margit. "Run Lola, Run." Eds. Geoff King and Tanya Krzywinska. ScreenPlay: Cinema/Videogames/Interfaces. London and New York: Wallflower, 2002. 157-171.

Thur Dec 4 Games to Teach‌
Can games teach us‌
Squire, K.D. (2005). Changing the game: What happens when videogames enter the classroom‌. Innovate 1(6).

Squire, K. (2003). Video games in education. International Journal of Intelligent Simulations and Gaming (2) 1. http://website.education.wisc.edu/kdsquire/manuscripts/IJIS.doc

Marc, Prensky. "Digital Game-Based Learning." Comput. Entertain. 1.1 (2003): 21-21. http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/950566.950596

Tues Dec 9 Videogame Advertising
What about those ads‌
Young, Bryan-Mitchell. “The Appearance, Disappearance, and Reapearance in Videogame Advertising.”
Thur Dec 11 Paper discussion and review PAPER DUE
  Final During Scheduled time  
     

Tetris From Russia and First-Person Shooter Documentary

As part of the class on videogames I’m teaching I am going to have my students watch a couple videogame documentaries. Instead of converting them myself I thought I would search for them online.

The first one, Tetris: From Russia With Love has been split into several parts and put on youtube. Because it is on youtube I’m not sure how long it will be before they take it down.

The other one is one called First Person Shooter that I don’t think ever aired anywhere besides Canada. I had a Canadian friend’s parents record it for me when it was on. Luckilly, it has been posted on video.google.ca. Unlike fellow Google site youtube, this video seems to have been up there for a couple years (so I’m not breaking any new ground here) so it doesn’t seem to be in as much danger of going away.

Regardless, I thought I would go ahead and post the links for them here so that others (besides my students) can watch them

Big Lots > Gamestop

I’m a lover of Big Lots which, despite its slogan, “Brand Name. Closeout Prices.” basically sells crap that other stores couldn’t sell. One of my most prized possessions is a can of Steven Segal Energy Drink that I got for 50¢.

I am moving so I need to make sure that all the lightbulbs in my old apartment work so that I don’t get charged for them. I figured that Big Lots would be a good place for cheap highly inefficient light bulbs. Well, I didn’t find light bulbs but I did find some sweet computer games. I got City of Villains for $4 and some random FPS game for $4 too. I also got the Species Trilogy for $7.

Gamestop and EB Games are dead to me. Big Lots is my videogame store now.

Moving Means Less Time for Blog Posts

I’m moving out of Bloomington and up to Kokomo in August so I’ve been pretty busy packing things, selling books I don’t want to move and generally recycling and throwing out things I don’t want. So I haven’t had much time to blog lately. I’ve been playing TF2 and a couple other things but nothing spectacular.

More posts in a couple weeks…

Spore is the new Black & White

I know I’m not the only one who doesn’t really get Spore but I have serious doubts as to whether or not this game is going to be any good. I fell fo rthe hype with Black & White but it was a better idea than a game. I’m not making the same mistake twice. I’m guessing that Spore is a better idea than game. I guess it will appeal to the same people who like the Sims but don’t see what is so great about it.

Once you create your creature then what? You set it loose and…? That is not my idea of a good time, baby…

There are different kinds of mods. Do we need more precise terms?

There are mods and then there are mods. Sure the general definition, say the wikipedia one, of the term mod fits a lot of them out there. Whether it is something like Counter-Strike which started off as a mod and introduces new gameplay styles or something like Minerva which is a single player mod for Half-Life 2 that could fairly easily fit into the world of Half-Life. Then there are unofficial patches like those for Vampire The Masquerade – Bloodlines. One one hand we have the creation of new content and on the other we have the fixing of content.

Recently, however, I ran into something that is somewhere in between. I bought Resident Evil 4 for PC a few months ago but only started playing it recently. I took so long to play it because I had heard that it was an inferior port from the console versions. However, then I ran across a website for Resident Evil 4 mods.

Now they call them mods but are they really? What I downloaded was a texture pack with textures from the Gamecube version but also a few newly made textures. Is it fixing the game like an unofficial patch? Is it creating new content? I don’t know.

I’m also curious as to why they go to this trouble. I’m glad they do so I can get a better experience playing the game but I’m just not sure what is in it for them?

I would write some more about it but I’ve got to go play some more…

Updated wordpress

I just went through the (at least for me) scary process of updating wordpress to the latest version. Luckily it worked pretty flawlessly. I’m hoping to get around to redesigning the template at some point in the next month or two. If anything seems wonky let me know.

Florida’s long history of anti-videogame violence advocates

Today is when we are all supposed to learn the fate of Jack Thompson as Judge Tunis is expected to issue her recommendation on penalties for Thompson’s professional misconduct. It seems somehow appropriate then that today we look back at another Florida personality who was also supported legislation against selling violent videogames to minors.
From pages 16-18 of the May 1998 issue of Next Generation magazine comes the story “Outlawed in Orlando?”

Two politicians in Florida, Representative Barry Silver (Dem.) and Senator John Grant (Rep.), are promoting two bills that would “prohibit the public display of … videogames displaying graphic violence” throughout the state of Florida. Although the bills have a long way to go before becoming law, the IDSA (Interactive Digital Software Association), the videogame industry’s Washington D.C.-based watchdog organization, warns that Florida garners face a “very real threat” of widespread restrictions and maybe even a total ban. And if one state successfully adopts such a policy, others may follow.
The bills are primarily targeted at coin-op games featuring violent content “including, but not limited to: decapitation; dismemberment; repeated instances of blood-letting; or grotesque cruelty.” Grant and Silver want all coin-ops that feature such “graphic violence” removed from public areas, including theater lobbies and family arcades. “We’re taking this very seriously,” says Elliott Portnoy, counsel to the AAMA (American Amusement Machine Association), the coin-op industry’s trade organization. But what makes these bills threatening to all gamers are their vague and loose wording. Gail Markels, the IDSA’s general counsel, warns that, if passed, the law could be used to remove boxed games from store shelves, outlaw titles such as Mario and Crash Bandicoot, and even ban anyone under the age of 18 from entering an Electronics Boutique store. “We are always concerned when legislation is proposed,” warns Markels, “but these Florida bills are especially troubling because they are not limited by any strict definitions of what the proposed new law could do.”
The bills, tentatively labeled the Children’s Protection from Violence Act, take two virtually identical forms: Senate Draft SB696 and Florida House Bill HB3341. To take a step closer to becoming law, the bills next have to be approved by committee, and this is where videogame trade bodies such as the IDSA, the AAMA, and the AMOA (Amusement & Music Operators Association) are targeting
their defense.
“On a lobbying level, our response to the bill is essentially two-fold,” explains Markels. “First, we would educate the committee about the industry’s efforts to self regulate. The videogame industry already adheres to a voluntary system of ratings and has been applauded by politicians such as Senator Lieberman, who called the ESRB rating system the most comprehensive rating system in the entertainment media, and child advocacy experts such as Peggy Charren. As a result, we don’t believe that legislation is necessary because the industry has already stepped up to the plate. Second, prior attempts to restrict the availability of violent content to minors or adults have been

H 3341 Violent Video Game/Public Exhibition
H 3341 GENERAL BILL by Silver, (CO-SPONSORS) Bloom; Frankel; Betancourt; Fischer; Murman
Violent Video Game/Public Exhibition; provides definitions; prohibits public showing, display, or other exhibition of video games containing graphic violence in specified places; prohibits person who operates place of business where video games containing graphic violence are shown, displayed, or exhibited from knowingly permitting or allowing any person under 18 years of age to patronize, visit, or loiter in such place of business; provides penalties; provides applicability, etc.
EFFECTIVE DATE: Contingent.

stricken by the Supreme Court, which ruled that such efforts are unconstitutional.” Supporting Markels, claim is the 1989 Missouri case of the VSDA (Video Software Dealers Association) versus Webster. In this instance the state of Missouri attempted to pass a law prohibiting minors from renting or buying videocassettes containing
violent content. The Federal Court ruled that the law was unconstitutional, it was rejected, and the state of Missouri was ordered to pay the plaintiff’s attorney fees of $200,000. It’s worth noting that the content guidelines found on videocassette packaging — and even the ratings allocated to movies playing in theaters — are not backed up by any kind of law. Stores and movie theaters choose to enforce these voluntary guidelines, but they don,t have to. In fact, legislative attempts to require the enforcement of the MPAA rating system have been declared unconstitutional.
“The only type of content that can be subject to across-the- board restrictions is that which is deemed sexually obscene or harmful to minors in a sexual context,” Markels explains. The AAMA’s Portnoy concurs with Markels’ legal analysis and concludes that the game industry’s first line of defense has to include “convincing the decision makers in Florida that there,s no way this bill can pass constitutional muster.”
Bolstering this line of defense, John Fithian, legal counsel for the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO), has pledged that his organization will help fight the bill with financial support, and Richard Holley, vice president of the AMOA, states, “We will offer every drop of support we have in .. doing whatever we have to do.” One of the first steps was commissioning 200 posters for Florida coin-op locations, aimed
at nurturing support and recognition for the parental guidance ratings that already accompany every title.
As Next Generation goes to press, the situation can be summarized as the game industry having effectively circled the wagons and established its defensive strategy. We’ll report developments as they happen — but for now, there seems little threat of any immediate action.
The proposition of the bill has been accompanied by the traditional huffing and puffing of politicians with honorable goals but a slender grip on the facts. Next Generation spoke to House Representative Barry Silver, co- proposer of the Florida bills, and the conversation went like this:
NG: Please can you explain the thinking behind your proposed Protection of Children from Violence bill?
Rep. Silver. Certainly. The bill is trying to allow our society to protect itself and its young people from the scourge of the rampant violence that permeates our society.
NG: A noble goal, I’m sure everyone would wish for less violence in our society. But how would your bill help achieve this?
[Pause]
Rep. Silver: The bill would prohibit the display of graphic video
violence in any public facility where children — people aged 17 or under — are allowed to congregate.
NG: OK, but how will this reduce the level of violence in society? [Pause]
Rep. Silver There’s a direct correlation between the viewing of violence and engagement in violence. This correlation is not 100%, in other words not everyone who views violence will act violently, but some will. Therefore, it is beyond dispute that because of the pervasiveness of violence in our media, it is transferring to our society, people are dying, and our communities are not as safe as they used to be.
NG: Do you have any proof of this? Rep. Silver What do you
mean, proof?
NG: Do you have any proof that people who are exposed to fictional violence in the media actually become more likely to commit acts of real violence in the real world? Rep. Silver There is plenty of proof. There is hard scientific evidence to support this. There are no researchers or experts who would dispute this.
NG: Um, I don’t think that this is actually the case. Can you cite any research or any experts who support your claim that your theory is, in fact, “hard scientific fact”?
[Pause]
Rep. Silver I don’t have anything in front of me or in my office. But I have professors and experts who will testify when the bill reaches the committee. You must have heard of all these studies that quite clearly show that when a group of children watch a violent movie, they behave in a more violent manner afterwards than a group of children who have watched a nonviolent movie.
NG: Um, no. I’ve heard of lots of studies that show that when watching violent movies children become excited and their adrenaline levels rise. This then, in the short term, leads them to become more physically active and “boisterous,” sure. But there’s a big difference between this and proof that they, in the long term, become more violent individuals. Besides, watching a football game or WWF has exactly the same effect.
[Pause]
Rep. Silver The real harm here isn’t that you get an adrenaline rush. The real harm is that gradually you get less and less of an adrenaline rush. Kids become desensitized. The real harm is that violence becomes more acceptable. The thrill that people might have one time experienced by watching violence becomes lessened with each exposure, and eventually, the only way to recapture this thrill is to engage in the real thing. And this means real violence in real life aimed against people or animals. NG: Again, do you have any proof? Rep. Silver Kids who play these games grow to feel that they are experts in this kind of violence. They then seek to test their skills in the real world. There’s lots of anecdotal evidence. Just recently there was the terrible case of a high-school kid who walked into a classroom with a gun and shot several of his classmates. Afterwards, he said that he had gotten the idea from a movie. There is too much of this kind of anecdotal evidence to ignore.
NG: That’s a terrible story. Professor Henry Jenkins of MIT believes that news footage or documentary footage of real-world violence is a lot more damaging to kids. And taking your argument to its logical extreme, can we take it that you would support banning the Bible or outlawing Disney movies? Both contain often extreme violence …

“Kids who play these games
grow to feel that they are experts in this kind of violence”
Barry Silver, House representative, Florida

[Pause]
Reps Silver: Merely because there may be many types of violence that might be dangerous to children doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t act in specific areas. But certainly, if it’s proven that exposure to nature documentaries and news footage is dangerous, then maybe we should be more cautious. But you must remember that news footage serves some public purpose, and videogames do not. Also, when a child watches news, he is just a passive observer. When he plays a videogame, he is a participant.
NG: Moving on, a couple of legal experts have told us that they believe your bill will prove to be unconstitutional. Something about the First Amendment …
Rep. Silver: No, this is not unconstitutional. I practice constitutional law, I am aware of the issues. I believe that the Constitution does not prevent society from protecting itself by taking reasonable measures against the scourge of violence.
NG: Have you sought the opinion of an attorney general to
confirm this?
Rep. Silver: No, I have not.
NG: Are you aware of the 1989 Missouri case of the VSDA versus Webster? The state was fined $200,000 after attempting to pass an unconstitutional law prohibiting the sale of violent videos
to minors.
Rep. Silver: Wow. That’s amazing. [Pause].
I don’t understand how that could have occurred. I don’t know Missouri law, but I do know this: In Florida and in every other state, it is constitutional and it is permissible for states to move against the exposure of sexual content to minors. I happen to believe that violence is equally, if not more damaging than sexually explicit material. Therefore, if it is permissible to act against one, surely it should be permissible to act against the other? If the studies indicate that children act out what they see in the media, which presents the greater danger to society? Children acting out acts of sexual explicity or extreme violence?
NG: It seems the focus of your bill is aimed at coin-op games in public
places. But the wording is a little ambiguous, and many people worry that the law could be extended to include home videogames for sale in stores. Is this your intention?
Rep. Silver. No, I hadn’t originally intended to do this. So no, I don’t think the law will stretch this far. If it’s just a box on a shelf, then I don’t see it being affected by this bill. But this is something for me to look into and something to consider.
NG: Have you anything else to add?
Rep. Silver: So far it seems that those who oppose this proposal are the people who believe that corporations have an absolute right to pervert and pollute the minds of young people for profit. I don’t happen to share this view.
Discussing this issue with such people as Mr. Silver is always disquieting because his intentions are, no doubt, honorable. Furthermore, most people in the videogame industry, Next Generation staff included, feel uncomfortable citing merely a “lack of hard evidence” as defense against accusations that violent videogames contribute to increasing violence in society. It’s a defensive stance, and it sounds worrying, similar to the, “There’s no unequivocal proof!” argument behind which the cigarette companies desperately hid for so many years. But whereas it’s long been obvious to anyone with a modicum of common sense that smoking cigarettes is bad for one’s health, the videogame/violence issue is a lot more complicated — and it’s up to magazines like Next Generation to make people aware of the broader questions:
Does violence in the media cause violence or merely reflect it?
Do human beings naturally have a certain amount of violence in their nature, violence that will always find an outlet no matter what society may do to suppress it?
Could videogames actually be a harmless, safe outlet for violent urges that otherwise may be directed at real people?
The fact of the matter is that no one knows for sure. Certainly, it’s obvious that the likes of House Representative Silver, while with noble intent, are simply offering knee-jerk reactions to a big, complicated problem they don’t fully understand. MIT Professor Henry Jenkins (interviewed
in NG 29) offers an alternative perspective. “The studies seem to suggest that children at an early age make meaningful distinctions between fiction and nonfiction,” he points out. “The violence that really disturbs them is the violence they can’t break down, the violence that they see as real. This means that the type of media violence that is worst for children is the nature documentaries in which predators eat their prey, or documentaries about [violent] historical events — and yet this is the stuff that teachers, educators, and media reformers think would be good TV for kids.”
“Besides, “Jenkins offers, “trying to stop children’s access to violent imagery in our culture is like trying to empty the Atlantic Ocean with a spoon. You just can’t do it. Violence is a part of who we are. Violence is so pervasive throughout childhood culture that it’s foolish to think you can stop it. If you are going to go down that path, then let’s get rid of all fairy stories, let’s get rid of Shakespeare. Why don’t we rewrite the Bible so Cain and Abel talk things out?”
He has a point, and it’s only reasonable to conclude that — ultimately — the jury’s still out on this one. And while we wait for concrete proof either way, shouldn’t individuals and parents have a right to choose for themselves? The videogame industry has already adopted a voluntary ratings system designed to give parents the opportunity to make informed choices. Congress is happy with it, child advocacy groups are happy with it, the industry itself is happy with it, and even good of Senator Lieberman’s happy with it — and we all know how hard he is to please.

“I happen to believe that violence is equally, if not more damaging than sexually explicit material”
Barry Silver, House representative, Florida
“Why don’t we rewrite the Bible so Cain and Abel work things out?”
Henry Jenkins, professor, MIT