Fox News ran another Special on Videogame Violence. Part one was uploaded just before Steam happened to put the Call of Duty series on a weekend special (no, I don’t think either party had any idea in advance- coincidences do happen).Yahtzee wrote a great poem about the degradation of the arts in favor of public safety. This topic has been going on for a long time, however. A lawsuit was filed (and eventually dismissed) over the involvement of Slayer lyrics in the tragic murder of a teenage girl in 1995. John Lennon’s shooter was a big fan of Catcher in the Rye. Oslo shooter Anders Breivik reportedly played Call of Duty. Columbine shooters were rumored to make Doom levels based on the layout of their high school (I believe this has been debunked). Fingers are pointed, blaming gun control policies, mental health care, media influence. Many of the violent people in history have consumed media. Many people have consumed media without committing violent acts.
The problem is broader than videogames, of course: does pornography influence rape or sexual crimes? Are televisions replacements for good parenting or quality time? Do we retreat to our phones, shows, and games and forego “old-fashioned” human interaction? Does media (and the technological developments that facilitate the media) make us better or worse individuals? Does all of this enhance or deteriorate our society and our civilization?
When I think of law and videogames, I expect more attention to EULAs and Terms of Service, copyright and trademark issues, licensing agreements, and so forth. Those are the issues I want to explore and work with, at least. But the public discussion I hear continually centers around the question of whether games and other media generally make our society better or worse, and what the law should do about it.
I don’t want to get all political about this topic. Law is messy enough, and I think politics is an extra layer of messiness heaped on top of law. I also think most of the blogs and news specials are covering this topic enough that I really dont need to belabor it. I hold that a proper, full discussion of any social ill requires a wide view of the society in its entirety, on the theory that all of the parts of a society are intricately interconnected (a bit like a living organism, but I don’t like to push that comparison too far). I think there is room for improvement in areas of gun control, mental health care, and cultural acceptance of violence. But what about videogames?
Brown v. Merchants Association gave videogames first amendment protection. In an NYT op-ed piece, Seth Schisel exhorted game developers to step up and earn that status. As videogames become increasingly realistic, I think the effects of gameplay on the mind become more serious and pressing. With absolutely 0 formal training in clinical psychology, I posit that there is a meaningful difference between a violent run-and-gun game (e.g., Serious Sam) and a horror-esque stalker game (e.g. Manhunt).
Under the law, a videogame would need to be truly recording-setting-ly horrific to be legally banned. (“Rapelay” is a recurring example of a videogame that would probably meet the Miller-test requirement to be outside first amendment protection.) But perhaps game developers should simply make better games- or games that better society. The “Call of Duty”/ “Battlefield” franchise and concept been completely overworked anyway, so I think there are multiple reasons to start looking at a wider range of games. I think the ever-popular framework promoted by Lawerance Lessig can apply here. Lessig asserts that there are 4 sorts of laws: legal laws, physical laws, economic laws, and cultural laws. One of the points this law professor tries to emphasize though this thesis is that there are ways of influcing, guiding, restircting, or directing the behavior of a population without passing traditional “laws.” Behavior can be influenced just as effectively when something is economically [un]feasible or is so culturally required or taboo that people respond to those forces.
To Conclude: I don’t think we need a law banning violent videogames. But I think that, as consumers, we can reward game studios that create the kind of games that we want to see in our society by buying, playing, and promoting those games. I even think those can be violent games at times- Spec Ops: The Line has violence, and it is a powerful message about violence. In typical virtue ethics and Kirkegaardian fashion, I think we can make better individual choices than the law can compel.
There are plenty of other issues to discuss here, and I’ll leave that to the others who wish to discuss them.