In Australia, as elsewhere in the world, a lot of people in charge of the nation or in a position to strongly influence the public opinion are pretty ignorant when it comes to video games. This YouTube clip, from ABC’s Q&A program, demonstrates that very well:
Gamepolitics.com already discusses this whole thing, but I’ve got an additional observation or two to throw in.
Isn’t it just so predictable that the people who are pushing for censorship are people who make it a point to say that they’re not for censorship? Almost without exception, hearing someone utter the words “I’m not advocating censorship, but…” is a guarantee that you’re going to hear an advocation of censorship. It’s a little like hearing someone say “Look, I’m not a racist, but…” — you know that the next words are going to express a racist point of view. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Of course, it’s all the more depressing that these people simply don’t know what they’re talking about — just the fact that they all believe that video games are not subject to a rating system in Australia makes that clear. And that’s another issue that interests me, because this kind of ignorance is hardly unique. People like this rarely understand video games at all; among most politicians (and, it seems, particularly among those who are most keen on censorship) there’s a fundamental level of ignorance of the subject.
They know that a lot of games are violent, sure, but they have no context for that information. They don’t understand the psychology of games, or their cultural impact, or the wide variety of content available, or how that content — even in violent games — is proportioned against other content, or how (or even whether) games have cultural significance, or any significance, period. Their understanding of the subject is largely limited to knowing that people get shot a lot in games and believing that people’s minds operate on a strict “monkey see, monkey do” basis. They have no real basis for making these judgment calls, so they fall back on hysteria and “think about the children/risks” rhetoric — even though the risks are largely imaginary (and even if they weren’t, they certainly couldn’t provide any facts about them, because they really just aren’t familiar with the subject) and certainly nowhere near comparable to the risks posed by other factors — say, smoking, for the sake of argument.
That particular combination of ignorance and hypocrisy is frustrating, obviously, but frankly, I think we assign a lot of the blame in the wrong place — it’s not just these people who are at fault. I think the games industry, in general, has to shoulder some of the responsibility of educating these people (as well as people in general) about these things. One of the reasons these people get any traction with this crap is that the majority of the people they talk to are just as ignorant about this stuff as anyone else, and, unfortunately, that includes the gamers. The people in the audience (one of whom wasn’t even a gamer, but anyway) were fairly articulate guys, and that’s a good thing, but the way most gamers — even supposedly mature adults — approach and talk about games isn’t exactly fostering a culture of intelligent and mature discussion. I don’t think most gamers know all that much more about games, and if they do, they’re incapable of articulating it. Repeating “games aren’t just for kids” over and over again is just a reiteration of a point of dogma. As far as convincing arguments go, it’s not that different from what these people are saying.
Most gamers eager to talk about games and gaming are given to annoying verbal ticks and random stupidity — thanks to them, the discourse on the subject is dominated by a never-ending torrent of juvenile bullshit along the lines of “u fag how dare u insult [game company’s name] by not giving [game’s name] a 10 like [another reviewer] did cus hes not a fag”. Throw in a little bit of lolcat, some fairly impenetrable slang, a man-sized portion of blind brand devotion that borders on religious, and a lot of completely unprovoked hostility motivated by low self-esteem, and the resulting steaming shit cocktail pretty much sums up most gaming discussions — certainly the ones that the casual observer most easily runs across. So is it any wonder that the general impression of gamers as childish and morally compromised idiots persists?
Movies have sparked much of the same controversy over the decades, but at least there are educated and intelligent people arguing for them. Sure, Roger Ebert doesn’t understand video games either, but when he writes about movies, it’s obvious he’s smart as a whip. He thinks about these movies a lot and often articulates things about them that resonate with the reader, even if the reader is completely unfamiliar with the movie. I certainly don’t agree with him all the time, but that’s completely irrelevant; the notion that all critics have to agree with each other and that everyone should agree with the critics is ridiculous. (Which doesn’t keep it from persisting among gamers — but then again, game criticism isn’t so much about critique as it is about providing product descriptions.)
The Roger Eberts of the games industry are kind of hard to come by — I’m not saying that there are none (N’Gai Croal, for one, has been writing about games to mainstream publications, such as Newsweek for a good while now), but they remain the exception rather than the norm. The video games industry is absolutely huge and constantly growing, but it largely exists somewhere below mainstream awareness. Sure, just about everyone and their mother has heard about Grand Theft Auto and World of Warcraft, but their understanding of what these games actually consist of tends to be weak at best. Video game journalism, as a rule, tends to be either pretty hostile to the casual reader or, when it finds its way to mainstream publications, too weak and meaningless to actually engage anyone, especially when compared to the torrent of stupidity the rest of the gaming culture tends to be full of.
There are exceptions, of course. Allow me to share two favorites of mine, both by Ian Shanahan. His phenomenal article, “Bow, Nigger”, discusses gaming in terms that strike a chord even with people who don’t have much prior understanding of the subject: you read that and tell me it doesn’t stir something in you. Another article of his, “Possessing Barbie”, is a fascinating piece that explores the meaning and implications of our actions in virtual worlds. Like Ebert’s best pieces, it articulates things I’ve thought about with almost sublime clarity, and it reveals something about the nature of these particular games and gaming overall to the reader. Personally, I enjoy it for explaining something about myself and my experiences, but an uninitiated reader can enjoy it for learning something fundamental about what may well have previously been an impenetrable subject.
Of course, whether someone uninitiated ever runs across these articles, or articles like them, is a good question; it’s not as if you can pick up your newspaper and read them. Is it any wonder they don’t understand what they’re dealing with? We don’t make it easy. That certainly doesn’t excuse their appalling stupidity and ignorance, but it’s not like we’re doing all we can to educate them.
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