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reposted from my old blog Friday, October 31, 2003

So I’m getting ready to go to a LAN party this weekend to do some ethnography as well as kick some ass. I figure that’s as good an excuse as any to catch up on some of the games I haven’t gotten around to buying yet. However installing these games reminds me of one of my greatest frustrations with installing games that come on multiple cd’s. I have more than one cd drive. Why won’t many (not all) games let me put install disk in one drive and disk two in the other? What is wrong with these people?

Dear Game Developers,
Stop pissing me off. Let me use both of my cd drives when I install your games.
Thank You.

Some games do this and I applaud them. However those that don’t piss me off. So stop it.

Also of note is that many many articles are publicizing the new lawsuit against the makers of grand theft auto due to the shooting without noting that Jack Thompson is a man with an anti-videogame agenda whose lawsuits have all done nothing but line his pockets thus far. That’s good journalism there boys.

Is it Art?

I’m reposting this from my old site as a test of the archives:

Since games and art is being discussed quite a bit lately I thought I might post an article I wrote a couple months ago, but never got around to posting.

But is it Art?

In recent years many advances have come to the world of videogames. The visuals have become ever more photorealistic and the gameplay has become more refined to name just two. However, there has been at least one area where videogames have not advanced, and that area is, as one may guess from the title is, “Are videogames art?”

The answer to this question really depends upon whom you ask. This,of course,is part of the problem in coming up with a definative answer to this question. Ask ten people to define art and you will get ten different answers. As one saying goes, “I can’t define art, but I know it when I see it.” Art is subjective and so each person has their own definition of what art is, and depending upon that definition, they will draw their own conclusion as to whether videogames are art. By looking at both sides of this question, it may be seen that it is not videogames that are flawed, but rather the question itself. Instead of asking, “Is it art?” perhaps we should ask ourselves, “Why do we care?” and “Why do they need to be?”

On one side of the “Is it art?” issue, there are those who would say, “No.” A person who claims that videogames are not art most likely has a narrow definition of art. A narrow definition of art typically includes only the most “high culture” and refined styles. Mona Lisa and Motzart are likely to be their standards of art. They are not interested in “art”,but “Art” with a capital “A,” the kind that has velvet ropes in front of it, and people with snooty accents.

Obviously, what such a narrow and stuffy definition of art does, however, is to clasify things. What is decreed as being Art is good and distinguished, what is not Art is trash, lower class and common. However, this attitude serves a broader purpose of classifying the classifier. If a person passes judgemnet on a work by decreeing that it is or is not art, what is really happening is not a passing of judgement on the work, but the classifyer is really attempting to prove that they have a more refined taste than others, that they are better than other people. So to say that something is not art really says more about the person who is making the distinction than the actual distinction itself. So to say that something is not art is an elitist move that only serves to reinforce the closed culture of old money and snobbery. Besides, do you think that the majority of people who regularly partake of high Art would ever acqnowledge the artistry of Quake?

To say that videogames are in fact art is to take a wider, more pragmatic view of the term art. It is to say that art is a term that is subjective. A wider definition of art implies that nearly anything can be art and that art is any creative human act. However, this definition still classifies beteen art and not art, even if only in broader manner. To call something art is still to pass judgement on it.

This is why it seems that the question, “Are videogames art?” should be thrown out. There are other questions that are more pertanant. Why does it matter if it is art? What does it get the gaming community? Who benefits from calling it art and why? All of these are questions that need to be asked when one tries to argue the “Is it Art?” question. It does not seem that much if anything is gained by videogames being classified as art. A bit of respect perhaps, but there are those that will never accept the form as art, because they are too narrow minded, and too entranched in the old ways of defining art.

If one feels strongly that videogames need to be considered art in order to gain respect, perhaps what is really going on is that someone feels a bit ashamed of their hobby and is in need of something to help raise their self esteeme. If that is the case, then there are more serious questions than whether or not videogames are art. And if it is true that one of the reasons that the gaming community wants to be considered art is for respect or a self esteme boost, then I sincerely doubt that being considered art will solve those problems. A question that needs to be asked then, is not “Is it Art?” but “Why do we care?”

What is “violent?” What isn’t “violent?” Who decides?

I posted this rant on joystick101.org as well as, in a slightly different form, at kuro5hin.org. But here is it again. My thoughts on a recent bill to outlaw the sale of “violent” videogames to minors.

On May 2, Congressman Joe Baca (D-California) introduced H.R. 4645, The Protect Children from Video Game Sex and Violence Act of 2002. The bill would penalize those who sell or rent “violent” video games to a minor. Some of their reasons for proposing this are: the video games aren’t free speech ruling, the Germany shooting (even though that man was 19 and thus not a minor as well as the fact that there is already a similar law in Germany) and a report that “found” that “violent” videogames cause violence (despite the fact that there other reports that found no link).

The language Baca used in the press release is pure moral panic. “I’m a parent and grandparent, and I’ve had enough of the violence we’re experiencing among our youth,” Baca said. “We saw it at Columbine High School, and we saw it last week in Germany.” “Do you really want your kids assuming the role of a mass murderer or car jacker while you are away at work?” And referencing the St. Louis decision he says, “The courts have finally decided what every parent already knows – that video games containing ultra violent depictions of murder, rape, and assault have no place in the hands of our children.”

The ignorance evident in the St. Louis decision as been discussed elsewhere. However, the ignorance of this proposed law bears discussion. Whether or not children should be allowed access to these games is not the issue I wish to discuss. The issues are whether or not the government should be the one to decide this debate and what is considered “violent” and why.

To the best of my knowledge (and I would be thrilled if anyone can prove me wrong) there is no federal law enforcing movie ratings. The movie ratings board is a self-imposed regulatory body. It is the movie theaters and video renters/sellers who decide who can see a “violent” film and who cannot, not the federal government. If this is true, the videogame industry already has ratings. The industry simply needs to enforce them. Why should the film industry be allowed to self-regulate and the videogame industry should not?

By outlawing the sales of “violent” videogames to minors, the government will nullify these ratings. What is “violent” and who gets to decide? Is Madden 2002 violent? How do we know if they consider that violent or not? According to the proposed law it might be considered violent under the “aggravated assault or battery” limitation. This law opens up the floodgates and makes it very hard for a game development company to make sure that they do not make a game that is considered “too violent.” With the industry regulated ratings board there is prior knowledge. The makers and retailers find out that the game is “violent” before it goes to the store, and therefore know what they are getting themselves into. With a law, the makers, and perhaps more importantly, the retailers will not know if a game is “too violent” until they get busted by some undercover police officer with nothing better to do.

This issue of violence gets to a deeper issue. In all likelihood, Madden 2002 would not be considered “too violent.” Why? Because it is “just football.” In American society (and probably in much of western society as well, although I am no expert on international culture), sports are naturalized. We consider them harmless. Even more than that, we encourage children to participate in them saying that they will be morale builders and the like. However, let us stop a moment and think about what actually happens during a contact, “masculine” sport like football (both kinds), basketball or hockey. How do players hype themselves up for the game, how to they refer to their opponents? “Let’s kill ’em! Let’s rip their heads off! Let’s destroy them!”

So here we have an activity that involves actual real violence, hitting one another and face to face trash talking and yet we do not seem concerned that this will lead to other acts of violence? But we have these mediated, virtual enactments and we are concerned? Real violence does not cause more violence, but virtual violence does? The worst injury I have ever heard of at a LAN party is carpal tunnel! How often do fights break out at LAN parties? How often do they break out at sporting events? Remind me again which one of these causes violence?

This is not to suggest that I think we should outlaw sports. Not at all. It is to show a point. Sports are considered part of our society. They have been since ancient times. So the thought that these may cause violence does not even occur to most people. However, these damn kids and their videogames. Now that is another story. Videogames are a new medium and they are a new entrant into our culture. Hence the moral panic surrounding them. Remember what rap was supposed to do to our kids? Remember what heavy metal was supposed to do? Remember rock and roll? There have been moral panics about technology dating all the way back to the popularization of the printing press. What is going on here is nothing different and as such we should try to see through the moralistic, “what about the children!?!” hype and see that the real issues here are not “should children be prevented from buying violent videogames?” but “Do we need a law to prevent children from buy violent videogames?” “Who decides what ‘violent’ is?” and “Why is that considered violent when there are so many other things in society that aren’t?”

st. louis gaming law

So there are some interesting issues going on with gaming. A judge in St. Louis decided that videogames don’t contain ideas and so aren’t provided free speech protection. According to one article Judge Limbaugh (yes he is related to Rush Limbaugh although I don’t think we should be punished for who we are related to) didn’t even play the games he just watched films of them. In his ruling he said that videogames showed, “no conveyance of ideas, expression or anything else that could possibly amount to free speech. … Video games have more in common with board games and sports than they do with motion pictures.”

Now anyone who knows my research should know that I totally agree with his observation that they don’t have much in common with films. However, the notion that videogames don’t contain ideas is silly. Similarly that board games don’t contain ideas and expressions is probably news to the makers of the Life As a Black Man Game. There are some interesting takes on this available at joystick101.org [edit added in Feb of 2009 — unfortunately it looks like that link is lost to the sands of time http://www.joystick101.org/?op=displaystory;sid=2002/4/26/11129/1665 ) and penny arcade’s Lawyer of Doom.

The second issue is the guy who killed 18 people in a school shooting. Notice I said guy, not kid. People are blaming counterstrike and saying that he was a kid. He wasn’t he was 19. He was a member of 2 gun clubs and his parents didn’t even know that he was kicked out of school. But its those damn videogames fault. WHo’s fault is it that people are calling him a kid? It looks like German media is palying the moral panic card and is placing the blame for the violence squarely on the shoulders of those awful videogames, allegedly calling counterstrike, “Software for a massacre.” So once again its those damn videogames to blame. They make people so violent. That’s why LAN parties always break out into violence and sporting events don’t, right? Oh wait… I don’t remember any fights at LAN parties. But I seem to remember Lots of fights at sporting evens. Can it be that the media is scaring us about the wrong thing????