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MIT Prof. Henry Jenkins on Serious Games, Videogame Violence & More

Posted by on 13 Sep 2006 | Tagged as: Commentary

MIT Prof. Henry Jenkins takes a stab at a multitude of issues surrounding the game industry over at GameDaily Biz. It’s about 4 pages long, but well worth the read.



Posted by on 09 Sep 2006 | Tagged as: Commentary

A few weeks ago, I attended a discussion on censorship in animation. Mainly it was Marv Wolfman and Ken Pontac discussing their experiences regarding their respective titles. Mercifully, Happy Tree Friends had no involvement from BSP, which is the Bureau of Standards and Practices, which allowed them to make HTF as twisted and grotesque and deliciously dark as it is. However, Ken did have many other interactions with BSP, which he was more than happy to share with us.The requests from BSP usually border on the inane, fearing to avoid offending anyone, and in the process, pleasing no one. The group needs to think about the lowest common denominator in terms of sense of humor and appeal to that. Anything even mildly raunchy such as a burp is under scrutiny.

The thing is, forms of the BSP exist in every form of media. In film, it’s the MPAA. In comics, it’s the CCA, in video games, it’s the ESRB.

And trust me when I say that the requests from these guys really run the gamut.

Now the problem is three-fold. One, why do these guys form? And two, who gives them power? And three, what can be done to limit the stupidity?

Oddly enough, the answer to all three problems has something to do with the government.

These bodies form because they are self-governed forms of regulation. They have power because the people involved in the medium understand that if they don’t self-govern, then the government gets involved, which is infinitely worse. The third question is a bit leading. It’s actually not stupidity, it’s the level of granularity needed in order to subdivide content into accurate ratings. Given accurate ratings, the populace can then make informed decisions, thus negating the need for government intervention, which quite frankly, has better things to worry about *cough*war*cough*, instead of video games.

Let’s talk about accuracy for a second. Now, there’s been a scandal over the “Hot Coffee” mod and a scandal over Oblivion’s female skins. Let’s get something straight here. People had to MODIFY the original game in order to access these assets. These assets were never intended for public viewing. One was a scrapped sequence in the interest of good taste and it was cheaper and easier to avoid the sequence as opposed to ripping it out completely. The second was because the clothing system is extremely complicated and it’s easier to handle it with a minimum of fuss.

First off, my suggestion is that MODS should not affect the rating of the game once it has been rated. Special features on DVDs aren’t necessarily rated, why should aftermarket modifications be subject to rating? Second, given the creativity of the Oblivion and the depth that it takes, I applaud the innovation they used in doing the clothing system. They should not be penalized because someone outside of the company modified the game.

The problem about this is that Take 2, the publishers of Grand Theft Auto, handled the situation incorrectly. They tried to worm their way out of it, instead of standing up and saying, yes, we put that in there initially, and yes, we changed our minds because we thought the sequence was in poor taste. However, we cannot control the actions of our audience.

A poor analogy here would be gun manufacturers getting sued for the deaths of people just because one user went nuts. And that’s a device doing what it’s DESIGNED to do. Incidentally, gun manufacturers have been sued for that very reason, and they won.

So now here’s the new problem. Because people feel that the ESRB isn’t doing a good job, the government feels like it needs to get its big ham-fisted mitts into the mess. What will that lead to? Basically over-regulation over a first amendment right. Much of the government’s legislation seem to try to address the needs of the core individuals by stifling the actions of the outliers. And by doing so, they stifle the actions of the core individuals, hindering them in creativity, output and basic comforts.

The reality is that the government has limited powers and attempting to stifle these forms of media cannot bode well. If the government really is interested in freedom, then the best they can do is educate people so that they can make informed decisions.

Update: Since the writing of this article, I’ve been directed by Jessica to a 1986 episode of Crossfire where Frank Zappa defends the music industry against the knee-jerk conservatives. While I don’t agree with all of Zappa’s comments, this event continues to illustrate my opinion on the fight that media has to endure and how it echoes through each form.

Update 2: The movie has been removed from Youtube. Pity too since it was so perfect at illustrating the exact issue that exists today with video games

Update 3: Found another copy on youtube, let’s see how long this one lasts. Because I’m can’t figure out how to embed in wordpress, you’re getting a URL.

My Industry

Posted by on 02 Sep 2006 | Tagged as: Commentary

I’ve been pondering my industry for the past couple of weeks, trying to get my thoughts together in order to make a coherent post regarding it.

My industry, as I refer to it, is the video game industry.

What fascinates me about the industry is that it overlaps with so many other aspects of our society. It’s entertainment media, but it goes beyond passive entertainment into the realm of interactivity. As far as interactivity goes, some consider it a profession, categorizing it under a sport, but is still scoffed at, seeing as how sports imply some sort of physical exertion. They’ve been under fire politically, as many forms of media have endured. They have yet to transcend into the realm of art…or have they?

There’s the potential to teach, and the potential to harm. Like any form of technology, it doesn’t do anything new, it just lets us do things faster.

It follows the 4 rules of entertainment media that I’ve coined:

1. It’ll be heralded (incorrectly) as the savior of society.
2. It’ll be persecuted (incorrectly) as the downfall of society.
3. It’ll replace another form of media as the dominant form.
4. It’ll be replaced by another form in time.

Basically those four rules mean that no matter how cool or how evil or how impressive media is, it’s not the end all be all of everything. Each medium, and each corresponding technology for that matter, has its supporters, has its detractors. Each medium doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but along a continuum, where it fits in logically with other media.

The key thing to note is that since each medium is in the continuum and they all experience the same type of support and detraction, that we can learn and predict the trials and tribulations we’ll face. And in doing so, be better prepared to handle them.

I’m starting a weekly piece where I take a look at different mediums and their relationship with video games.