Video games are nothing if not familiar with controversy. Cliff Bleszinski even pointed out recently that video games are the new rock and roll
. It’s a difficult position to argue since a ban was once put forth in the United States Congress to ban rock and roll and these days there are are calls to regulate video games on the state and federal level more often than John Boehner crying during speeches.
Actual anti-video game activists, though? They’re a thing of the past.
I’m talking about real
moral guardians, like that bored housewife, Ellie Rovella, who went out of her way to launch a grassroots campaign
when she discovered her 11-year old son playing Primal Rage
and subsequently found out about the infamous acidic pissing finishing move. Even organizational moral guardians like the Parents Television Council seem more interested in filing FCC complaints about episodes of Family Guy
. As a result of endless court defeats, expansion of video gaming as a medium, and the implosion of a certain attorney, most people who ten years ago would have crusaded against video games seem to have thrown in the towel.
What’s left behind is a small collection of politicians and media pundits who generally raise the issue of video game controversies without so much as a thought or care either out of a sense of throwing it in or just for ratings or political points. Don't take my word for it. Let's take a look at some of the evidence.
1. Joe Baca recycles press releases for game ratings acts
California Congressman Joe Baca may not have the anti-video game spotlight of Joe Lieberman or Leland Yee but he certainly has an axe to grind against the industry. Baca, who incidentally was named as one of the ten worst members of Congress
and has considerable ethical baggage
presumably not inspired by video games, recently introduced the Video Game Health Labeling Act of 2011
which would require all games rated T (Teen) or higher carry this label: "WARNING: Excessive exposure to violent videogames and other violent media has been linked to aggressive behavior."
Sound familiar? Baca introduced the exact same law
in 2009, right down to the name. The 2009 version had no cosponsors and never got off the ground, so Baca is out to try again (he has one cosponsor this time). Why has Joe Baca given up? As The Escapist points out for the 2011 edition the press release for the 2011 edition of this law is recycled virtually verbatim from the 2009 press release.
I feel more aggressive already.
In business and political settings (particularly in public relations) there are situations where it makes sense to use similar structures or formats in letters or press releases, but if Baca even remotely cared about the issue you’d think he’d make even a cursory effort to try making this new law distinct. This would be equivocal to Activision copy pasting the press release for Call of Duty 4
to announce Modern Warfare 2
while changing the game title where appropriate. It’s nothing but a footnote in his agenda and it shows.
2. California lawyer forgets case law in Supreme Court oral arguments
Zachery Morazzini has been the California attorney tasked with defending California's video game law up to and including the Supreme Court, which isn't an enviable job. I've heard people sound off about what a moron he is and how stupid his hair looks, but remember: This is his job, and he’s not necessarily doing it because he wants to. He could
be but a public defender charged with defending a serial rapist-murderer doesn't necessarily want to do it either. It's not easy being a state lawyer tasked with defending legislation that a first year law student could (and has, in my case) find a hundred holes in. Just listening to the audio transcripts of the Appeals and Supreme Court cases gives this writer the impression that Morazzini was just trying to use rhetoric to ensure he kept collecting paychecks.
Before I defend Morazzini too much I don't think it's too much to ask that he should actually cite the correct case if he wants to genuinely represent California's interests. As Gamespy columnist Eric Neigher points out on his fantastic Objection!
series, Morazzini made a huge mistake that could drive the final nail into the coffin of Leland Yee’s legislation. Fair enough, that's provided that the other
several thousand mistakes he made don't seal his loss first, but I digress.
Morazzini, in response to a question by Justice Scalia on whether or not anything with a plot wouldn’t be subject to regulation, says “No, Your Honor. As this Court held in the Jacobilus case, a single quotation from Voltaire on the fly leaf of an otherwise obscene work was not going to make that work non-obscene.”
Jacobellis v. Ohio (possibly a reporter’s typo with “Jacobilus”) is a landmark case
in which Nico Jacobellis was exonerated for showing a film deemed ‘obscene’ to audiences, which was ruled to be not obscene by the court. Notice a problem? This case has nothing to do with Voltaire on a fly leaf.
That case is Kois v. Wisconsin
, where someone included nude photographs with a poem and the newspaper was subsequently sued for violating obscenity laws. The Supreme Court held that since the poem and photographs were a real, genuine attempt at a work of art it wasn’t obscene, so Morazzini is wrong. What he’s thinking of is Justice White’s dissenting opinion that “A quotation from Voltaire in the flyleaf of a book will not constitutionally redeem an otherwise obscene publication.”
Let that sink in for a second. In front of the Supreme Court of the United States, California’s representative not only incorrectly cited the ruling, but cited the wrong case altogether
. I may not be a lawyer, but I know people whose presentations or essays in law school have lost entire letter grades due to incorrect case citations. How do you think that’s going to sound to the Supreme Court? “In return for giving me the chance to argue my case before the highest court in the land, I’m not even going to fact-check a case.”
Antonin Scalia is not pleased, Mr. Morazzini. Don’t make him verbally K.O. you again.
3. Eliot Spitzer cites spoof site as “evidence” of violent media harm
Before Eliot Spitzer became a universal punch line for prostitution jokes he was the governor of New York. He was generally known as the self-proclaimed sheriff of Wall Street but he also waded into the issue of video games. Like Baca, he wasn't as pronounced as Joe Lieberman or Jack Thompson on the issue but he made the occasional quip in a press release or statement about how prostitution in video games was amoral and scandalous. He even made an effort to educate parents about video game ratings. It's something I might
consider admirable were it not for a mistake that underscores his lack of caring for the subject.
During a video created by Spitzer and the New York Department of Justice to offer advice to parents about buying video games from their children, one of his sources was Mothers Against Videogame Addiction and Violence
, or MAVAV. If you aren't familiar with it take thirty seconds and look carefully at the website for MAVAV. Not getting it yet? Take a look at the Wikipedia page, or even put it into Google.
The site is a hoax.
MAVAV was launched in 2002 as a parody hoax
by then Parsons School of Design sophomore David Yoo and it immediately went viral. It was relaunched in 2006 to highlight the stereotypes and misconceptions about video games. That should illustrate just how poetic Spitzer's little mistake is. Don't assume that this was just an administrative mistake, either; Spitzer himself endorsed the presentation
before the error came to light (see the articles below).
Alright, fine, one prostitution reference.
One would think some fact checking would be warranted when giving a state-level presentation – from an Internet source, no less – but Spitzer cobbled this video together in about two minutes and it shows. The best part is that it would have taken him about 30 seconds to type MAVAV into Google and verify its legitimacy, or lack thereof. The Justice Department learned of its mishap only after GamePolitics ran a story about it since the source was quietly removed
, but the damage was done. Consider it a valuable lesson in Internet research, Mr. Spitzer.
4. Cooper Lawrence and Carole Lieberman as Fox News Figureheads
While poor coverage of video games is a bipartisan prospect as far as the news media, Fox News seems to have a knack for enjoying waves of publicity due to a curious trend they seem to be a developing. Whenever a segment on video games is aired, a so-claimed expert is put forth almost as a sacrifice when the irate gaming community retaliates. Not only does Fox get plenty of attention, but the outrage is directed to someone else; it’s a win-win.
We’re all familiar with the Bulletstorm
incident by now that probably has the Epic Games marketing team dancing in the streets. Carole Lieberman was quoted on Fox News
as an expert who used insulting language in relation to Bulletstorm
and was subsequently bookstormed on Amazon and flooded with hate mail by the irate gaming community. This is not to be confused with Cooper Lawrence from 2008
, who was quoted on Fox News as an expert who used insulting language in relation to Mass Effect
and was subsequently bookstormed on Amazon and flooded with hate mail by the irate gaming community. Is anyone getting deja vu?
We report, you flame, expert sheepishly backtracks.
It’s an open question just how involved Lawrence and Lieberman were with their respective games; whether or not they were briefed about them, and so on. I’ll even give Lieberman credit for being willing to do several interviews with Kotaku
among others. It’s important to remember that the Fox executives and anchors were the ones decided to cover Mass Effect
without a shred of coherent research or any signs of caring about the topic at hand. Not only that, but they were content to sit back and let both Lawrence and Lieberman face the gaming community’s outrage while they enjoyed the mileage they got. Whatever the intent was behind these segments hiring an expert to serve as a receiver to deflect angry reactions from yourselves is proof of just flat-out giving up.
5. Postal 2
How many of you heard of Postal 2
back when it came out in 2003? Even if you did, how many of you even gave it more than a glance? It was crass, poorly made, and deliberately intended to be incendiary and controversial. Its intent was such that when Computer Gaming World declared that “Postal 2 is the worst product ever foisted upon consumers” with a zero out of ten, this was put on the box
of the Postal Fudge Pack
It’s fitting to compare Postal 2
to some shock exploitation movie made by an obscure snuff filmmaker (and you have permission to use this quote, Running With Scissors), but that doesn’t stop an increasing number of anti-game activists from holding it up as somehow representative of violent video games. This is also something we can attribute to Leland Yee but it raises unfortunate implications about the state of California’s ability to argue a case.
You are gazing into the face of deviant video games.
In presenting a brief to the Supreme Court the best they can come up with in 2010 is a game from 2003 that nobody seemed to even care about back then? While it is true that Justices Roberts and Breyer were particularly irked by Postal 2
, so was Judge Ronald Whyte, and look how that ruling
turned out. During Morazzini’s arguments, the justices also seemed to expose the fact that games like Portal 2
and possibly Madworld
(brought up by Morazzini for literally one second) are the exception, not the rule.
When was the last time you even saw Postal 2
in a retail outlet? Is there even proof that kids want to play
games as terrible as this? It’s not just Yee, either. Column
specifically brings up Postal 2
, oblivious of its purposely offensive nature. Why is it only Postal 2
? Easy: People don’t do their research. By repeatedly sounding off about Postal 2
Yee has given like-minded supporters an example (albeit a poor one) that they can parrot without playing any games themselves. Why not? Nobody else on this list seems to be doing it.
If the laziness of Postal 2
as an example doesn’t work for you, consider another example brought forth by an anti-game activist. A Huffington Post writer advocating California’s law
brings up Doom
as an example. Not the series, the original Doom
. Released in 1993. That somehow has even less relevance than Postal 2
. Maybe Doom
was controversial when it first came out, but again, it’s been eighteen years
Is it aggravating to see these people arguing against video games despite clearly not caring? Maybe, but consider it relative to what we used
to deal with. Just think that there was a time when the legal community took this guy seriously.
Suddenly you feel a lot better knowing that's in the past, don't you?
Incidentally, if you live in the United States, consider joining the Video Game Voters Network
. Someone has to educate people on the merits of video games, and it might as well be us collectively. read