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Jenkins’ take on Spencer Halpin’s Moral Kombat

December 3, 2007

I’ve just finished reading Henry Jenkins’ article Why You Should See Spencer Halpin’s Moral Kombat parts 1 and 2. I am really looking forward to seeing this film.

Since I have not seen it, I can’t add to what the good professor has to say regarding the film itself. I do, however, feel compelled to echo Jenkins summary of game coverage by the larger outlets:

Mainstream media coverage of the debate about video games keeps getting framed as if everyone who was concerned about media violence believed playing games would instantly turn a normal child into a psychokiller or as if everyone who argues against the censorship of this emerging medium was insisting that they had no potential influence on the people who consume them.

Amen.

As someone who has studied adult content in video games extensively and written a book on the subject, I am regularly quoted in the media and asked to participate in various interviews where censorship is the topic. Sometimes, I am asked why I want there to be sexual content in video games. The interviewer surprised when I answer the question this way: “I don’t want there to be sexual content in games.”

Rather, I want to preserve the possibility of telling stories and recreating worlds using the full range of the human experience. Use what you need, and leave the rest — and we rarely need things at the extremes. Similar to those who discuss violence, though, the argument gets reframed and leads as it did in the interviewer’s initial question.

I see the potential of games, and want for it to be on the palette, just as it is for films, books and other artforms. I consider brilliant dramas like The Sopranos and hope that we, as game developers, may soon have our own “game that changed games” just as The Sopranos was the show that changed television.

“As an artform, games deserve constitutional protection, but as artists, game designers have a responsibility to take seriously what they are saying through their work and how that message is being received by their audience.”

This quote is particularly relevant, and it’s the best I’ve heard on the concept of “self-regulation”. I struggle to find words that say what I want them to say here — “self-censorship” isn’t quite right. The latter is usually done not out of an artist’s desire but out of fear of what might happen if. What Jenkins is saying here is deeper than that. Do we really know what we’re saying? Do we take it seriously? These questions leave me thinking about my own place in this debate.

If you haven’t read the article already, please read it. If you’ve seen the film, I’d enjoy your comments on it.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. fanciest45 permalink
    December 5, 2007 1:31 pm

    Brenda, I just finished reading Raph Koster’s “Theory of Fun” and in it he talks about just this topic. I’d have to agree with his point, for the most part, in saying that if we, as game designers, want to be taken seriously, there needs to be a whole lot of maturing in the game industry, which means a lot of different things, but within this context specifically; “self-regulation.” No one, in any medium, can be taken for anything more than a “little radical” by putting in the gratuitous explicit content. Think of slam poetry where every other word is f**k. Did they ever achieve the status of Whitman, Frost or Dickinson? The simple answer is no. Did they cause a stir? A little.

    I suppose this goes along with your last post in saying that games can have a great meaning, it’s just that most games may not have it yet. Wow, that went a little all over, but thanks for listening.

  2. December 5, 2007 1:56 pm

    So true.

    Raph’s book is a favorite of mine. I try to read it once a year whether I need it or not. It frames my head right for working on new projects.

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