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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 filmratings.com, 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.

Call for Papers and a Job Opening

Over at Frans Mäyrä’s blog Frans has posted a couple calls for papers:

Double CFP: Continuum Approaches to Digital Game Studies Book Series (Edited Collection on Digital Role-playing Games and Edited Collection on First Person Shooters)

These two collections will be the first two titles in a larger series of edited volumes, Approaches to Digital Game Studies, published by Continuum. Each book in the series will be organized around a thematic or functional genre of game. Although digital game genres and the criteria for defining such genres are contested and dynamic categories, exploring the promises and pitfalls of genre is precisely one of the goals the series hopes to accomplish. Additionally, the series will bring the insights of a variety of scholarly disciplines to bear on the analysis of digital games in order to better understand the nature of this medium, its role in reshaping civic life and its impact on the production, circulation and contestation of global and local cultures.

Potential chapter contributions will be vetted by the series Review Board and invited manuscripts will be reviewed by the series Editors and approved by the Review Board.

Series Review Board:

* Mia Conslavo, University of Ohio
* James Paul Gee, Arizona State University
* Helen Kennedy, University of the West of England*
* Frans Mayra, University of Tampere
* Toby Miller, University of California, Riverside*
* Torril Elvira Mortensen, University of Utrech*
* Lisa Nakamura, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
* Gareth Schott, University of Waikato
* Mark JP Wolf, Concordia University Wisconsin
(* indicates commitment still subject to final contract)

Series Editors:

* Gerald Voorhees, High Point University
* Joshua Call, Grand View University
* Katie Whitlock, California State University, Chico

Edited Collection on Digital Role-playing Games: “Dungeons, Dragons and Digital Denizens: Digital Role-playing Games”

One of the most popular and culturally significant game genres, digital role-playing games (RPGs) generate a rich tapestry of technologies, players, communities, cultures and commercial forces. This edited collection, provisionally titled, “Dungeons, Dragons and Digital Denizens: Digital Role-playing Games,” is designed for a broad academic audience and will feature essays that either examine specific games or consider the genre as a whole.

We invite scholars and critics to contribute to this edited collection of essays exploring the theory and criticism of digital RPGs. The collection will publish essays on digital RPGs that engage the theory and criticism of console, computer and/or massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). However, contributions not focused on MMORPGs are especially encouraged.

Contributions from all academic disciplines and geographic regions are invited. The collection and series aim to advance theory and criticism by bringing different voices and perspectives into conversation. However, critical inquiry is preferred.

All contributions must be the original work of the author and cannot be published elsewhere, unless author retains copyrights. For co-authored essays, all authors must agree to submission of work.

For consideration, please send an abstract to gamestudies.books@gmail.com by September 15, 2011. Abstracts should be 500 words and must outline a theoretically grounded approach to a specific game or set of games. Completed essays must be 7000 words (including notes and references) and Continuum uses Chicago Manual of Style for references. Reprints will be considered on a case by case basis.

Provisional Timeline:

* Abstracts will be accepted until September 15, 2010
* Abstracts will be evaluated and requests for manuscripts will be issued by October 15, 2010
* Completed manuscript will be required by January 15, 2010
* Revisions must be completed by March 1, 2011

Edited Collection on First Person Shooters: “Guns, Grenades and Grunts: First Person Shooter Games”

Known for their graphical extravagance and social recognition, first-person shooters have long held a highly visible position among digital games. This edited collection, provisionally titled, “Guns, Grenades, and Grunts: First-Person Shooter Games” is designed for a broad academic audience and will feature essays that either examine specific games or consider the genre as a whole.

We invite scholars and critics to contribute to this edited collection of essays exploring the theory and criticism of FPS games. The collection will publish essays on FPS games that engage the theory and criticism of console, computer and hand-held FPS games.

Contributions from all academic disciplines and geographic regions are invited. The collection and series aim to advance theory and criticism by bringing different voices and perspectives into conversation. However, critical inquiry is preferred.

All contributions must be the original work of the author and cannot be published elsewhere, unless author retains copyrights. For co-authored essays, all authors must agree to submission of work.

For consideration, please send an abstract to gamestudies.books@gmail.com by November 15, 2011. Abstracts should be 500 words and must outline a theoretically grounded approach to a specific game or set of games. Completed essays must be 7000 words (including notes and references) and Continuum uses Chicago Manual of Style for references. Reprints will be considered on a case by case basis.

Provisional Timeline:

* Abstracts will be accepted until November 15, 2010
* Abstracts will be evaluated and requests for manuscripts will be issued by January 1, 2011
* Completed manuscript will be required by April 1, 2011
* Revisions must be completed by July 15, 2011

Queries and questions may also be sent to gamestudies.books@gmail.com.

Gerald Voorhees, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Games and Interactive Media
Nido R. Qubein School of Communication
Drawer 33
High Point University
High Point, NC 27262-3598
Tel: 336.841.9174
Office: Qubein 356
http://www.communication.highpoint.edu
Co-Chair, Game Studies Area
Popular Culture Association National Conference

http://www.pcaaca.org/

Also potentially of interest is a job posting for my Department of Communication and Culture at Indiana University:

Indiana University
Department of Communication and Culture
Digital and Social Media

The Department of Communication and Culture at Indiana University invites applications for a tenure-track Assistant Professor position in Digital and Social Media to begin Fall 2011.

We seek a humanities-trained Ph.D. whose primary area of research expertise and training is in digital media studies focused specifically on the social dimensions and potentials of digital media. This applicant will be expected to interact productively with colleagues in one or more of the department?s three areas: Rhetoric and Public Culture; Film and Media Studies; and Performance and Ethnographic Studies. The applicant must have a well-developed research program and teaching experience in digital and social media. She or he will be responsible for developing an introductory lecture course and advanced undergraduate courses, as well as for actively shaping and teaching graduate offerings in this field of study.

We particularly encourage applicants whose research involves specialization in areas such as:

Social networking

New technologies of political advocacy

Ethnographies of new media

Convergence and participatory cultures

Digital video

Games and gaming

Candidates are expected to have a strong research agenda and a commitment to excellence in teaching. Preference will be given to those who have their Ph.D. in hand by the date of appointment. Applicants should send a letter of application, curriculum vitae, writing sample, and three letters of recommendation to: Professor Barbara Klinger, Chair, Digital/Social Media Search, Department of Communication and Culture, 800 E. 3rd Street, Indiana University, Bloomington IN 47405. Review of applications will begin December 1, 2010 and continue until the position is filled.

Indiana University is an equal opportunity and affirmative action employer. The university actively encourages applications and nominations of women, minorities, applicants with disabilities, and members of other underrepresented groups.

If anyone is thinking about applying for this job and have any questions about the department or IU, feel free to contact me. My contact info can be found at the About link at the top of the page.

Blog Post About Other Blog’s Blog Posts

I ran across a few interesting blog posts recently and I thought I would share them.

The first is an old post about Goffman and Portal. For a Goffman fan like myself this was a fun article looking at the ways in which Glados’ dialog moves between on-stage and back-stage. It is a bit long but still fun.

I found that post via a post from brainygamer.com where he discusses how he managed to get Portal as a required text for a class at Wabash College. I hope that he posts some updates on this once the semester starts. I’m curious as to how well a videogame was integrated into a class that isn’t about videogames. I’m especially interested to hear how some of the instructors of the course who might not have played a modern videogame before manage with Portal. I suspect their experience will reflect that of a writer for the New Yorker trying to play modern videogames for the first time. He found that “video games—especially the vivid, violent ones—are ridiculously hard to play. They’re humbling. They break you down. They kill you over and over.” I can see some of the faculty in my department having this same reaction and that really having a negative impact on how they teach the game.

Next, in the past I did some research early depictions of videogame players in advertising and early news coverage of videogames so I found this blog post about how back in 1983 OSHA got a game called Hard Hat Mack pulled off the shelves of a store to be particularly interesting.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I had found most of these stories from the Twitter feed of Game_reader. Finally, I find something useful on twitter!

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.

Jack Thompson Li(v)es!!!

I just noticed that Jack Thompson was on Eagle Forum Radio back on June 5th. Eagle Forum is a super right wing group created by Phyllis Schlafly who thinks that “By getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don’t think you can call it rape.” The show is also apparently co-hosted by her son, Andy Schlafly, who is the creator of Conservapedia and the effort to write a conservative translation of the Bible. With this group you know it would be an interesting show…

I took a couple hours of my life and listed to Jacko lie, lie, and lie again and I thought I would list the lies and omissions that were made on the show:

  1. Right off the bat they introduce Jack Thompson as a lawyer and neglect to mention that he has been permanently disbarred.
  2. Jack starts off trotting out the same old lies about studies having proved that video games are bad for you. His favorite is to mention some elusive Harvard study that did MRI scans of people but no one has ever found the study he is talking about. The closest studies I’ve found are a 2003 study and a 2009 study that were both done at IU Medical and were both sponsored by The Center for Successful Parenting.
  3. Jack said that a Kaiser Family Foundation found that kids play videogames 8 hours a day when what they really found was “8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes to using entertainment media across a typical day” and that they only played videogames approximately 1hour and 13 minutes a day (but watch tv nearly 4 and a half hours a day)
  4. He then blames the Columbine shootings on videogames but that isn’t enough for him. He then goes on to say that the reason the news media doesn’t cover school violence more is because the media (even Fox news) is in the pocket of the videogame industry!
  5. Then Jack cites Dave Grossman and claims that the military uses videogames to desensitize soldiers. In reality the military uses videogames to teach teamwork and hand-eye coordination.
  6. In the midst of all this Phyllis Schlafly claims she has never heard any of this before.  This is a funny claim since you would think she would learn something about someone before having them on her show, and since she mentions her son has been active in this area. Additionally, Jack has worked with various branches of the Eagle Forum for a while.
  7. Jack also claims that the videogame industry makes more money than the film industry.  While it may be true that the gaming industry makes more money than Hollywood does at the box office, movies also make a lot of money internationally, dvd sales, pay-per-view, and other sources.
  8. Jack does admit that the majority of videogames made are not violent but then he says that non-violent games don’t sell. …If that is the case then why do they make them?  Of course it is not true as a glance at this month’s sales chart will tell you.
  9. He also claims that Lee Malvo one of the Beltway Snipers trained by playing Halo. There’s no evidence of this ever happening.
  10. He talks about the FTC testing to see if children can buy M-rated games but neglected to mention that the video game industry did better than movies and music at shielding kids from violent content.
  11. Jack also claimed that the killer in the Virginia Tech killings was addicted to Counter-Strike. He claimed that the New York Times said this. This is wrong, too. The New York Times did a large article on the killer and the second page of the article does state that when he started college, “Perhaps he would no longer retreat to video games and playing basketball alone the way he did at home.” But the main source of Jacks claim here is a single post on the Washington Post’s website that claimed the killer played Counter-Strike but that post was quickly removed when the story’s writer was unable to verify that he ever played the game.
  12. The last statement from Jack that I’ll talk about is perhaps the weirdest: He claimed that the reason that more men than women are dropping out of college is that the men are playing too many videogames…

Of course I should be revising my dissertation and not fact checking Jack Thompson.  I guess that I can always blame Jack if I drop out of college…

Roger Ebert apologizes to the “kids”

As was the case the last time Roger Ebert wrote about videogames, the gaming websites are all talking about his latest post about gaming. He writes:

I was a fool for mentioning video games in the first place. I would never express an opinion on a movie I hadn’t seen. Yet I declared as an axiom that video games can never be Art. I still believe this, but I should never have said so. Some opinions are best kept to yourself.

Well that’s fine. I’m glad he saw the light at least a little bit. However, I have the same problem with this “apology” as I did with his last post about videogames. Let’s look at the title for his post: “Okay, kids, play on my lawn.” Just like the last post he is still implying that videogame players are children. Sure, in this case, he is using the old cliche about old people and responding to people who wrote that he only dislikes videogames because he is old. However, it is still the second post in a row that he has made a connection between videogame players and children.

One step forward. Two steps back.

(White) People Are Strange

I’m currently writing a dissertation chapter on whiteness at LAN parties. That makes it a kind of coincidence that there’s an article over at Kotaku about the fact that the characters in the movie Prince of Persia are mostly being played by white people.

What’s most interesting about that article isn’t the actual content of the article itself but the comments. Any bets on what race most of the people commenting about how race shouldn’t matter are?

video game ethnography video

I was procrastinating today and taking a look at my dismal google analytics and noted that one of the keywords used to get to my site was ‘video game ethnography.’ Curious, I put the phrase in google and looked around and then I decided to put the link into yahoo and this video showed up as the first result (I don’t show up on yahoo. Perhaps it is because I prefer videogame over the term video game?):

Video Games Ethnography at Bridgewater College
It is a pretty interesting video. I hope the person that did it got an A in the class!