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Freedom, and What to Do With It

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Monsters, Aliens, and Holes in the Ground

If you haven’t already heard, the videogame industry is safe: the Supreme Court today struck down Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, a California law that would make it a crime to sell videogames to children.

That in itself wasn’t so bad – the ESRB has similar, voluntarily imposed standards. It was the vague wording that made the proposed law so frightening. A game would be in violation of the law that:

(A) Comes within all of the following descriptions:
(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 of 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.

Those are some nebulous sentences. Thankfully, free speech won out and videogames can be as violent as they want now.

Let’s get started on the first game from Unwinnable Studios – the working title is Rape Gun and you play a deranged sociopathic cyborg who, after being castrated in a car accident, falls under the drug-fueled delusion that a matriarchal conspiracy is responsible for his emasculation. You will be amazed at the socio-political commentary we are going to be able to slip in while you enact a reign of terror on the eastern seaboard with your homemade robotic penis canon.

You think I am joking? Well, OK, we aren’t getting into the game making business any time soon, I assure you, but I am actually concerned that this legal vindication will lead to a rash of childish games that idiotically test the boundaries of the industry’s new freedom. Just because we have freedom of speech doesn’t mean we have to use it, at least not like that. I would rather we not waste it on schlock.

So yeah, we won this round (narrowly, at that – Unwinnable contributor Brian Miller notes, “Thomas and Breyer were the only justices in dissent and they pretty much can’t even agree on what toppings to order for the weekly Supreme Court pizza lunch.”). The challenge now is to show the world the we deserved the victory. Let’s start amazing them instead of disgusting them. We know gaming isn’t something to be shunned and ridiculed, it is time the rest of the media-consuming public understood that as well.

Gus Mastrapa recently wrote an essay entitled “Videogames are Squandered on the Mundane” and I think his sentiments should serve as inspiration for the industry as a whole. He writes:

They say that in comic books the price of your special effects budget is the cost of ink. That, for me, was the appeal of reading novels and comics when I was a kid – these creative works offered doorways into worlds with limitless potential. They could take you to strange new places, introduce you to people and creatures beyond your imagination and the things that happened there could challenge your understanding of reality.

So answer me this: why don’t they say that about videogames?


Credit where credit is due: this piece is based on solid breaking news reportage by Ben Kuchera at Ars Technica (see the link in the opening paragraph) and Stephen Totilo on Kotaku. And, of course, I have to thank the inestimable Gus Mastrapa for making me think about the issues at hand before they are actually at hand. He is spooky like that.