Video Game Fiction Leads to Censorship Dispute at Art Institute of California

A censorship debate is churning at San Francisco’s Art Institute of California, where a piece of student-penned fiction led to the school administration’s confiscation of a small magazine which published the work. As reported by the Los Angeles Times:

(Author Simone) Mitchell’s essay, titled “Homicide,” centers on three African American males who address each other in vulgar street slang and go on a rape and killing spree. At the story’s end, it’s revealed that they are characters in a video game played by three white suburban boys.

School officials pulled the magazine, Mute/Off, from distribution within hours of its publication. When Mitchell’s teacher, Robert Ovetz (left), protested, he was fired. Ovetz said:

The library was told they couldn’t even have a copy for its archives. I was shocked. How could this happen at an art institute?

For his part, Mitchell, who is African-American, explained that he was trying to make a point about racial stereotypes and violence within video games:

There are so many stereotypes in games, of African Americans as thugs, for example. Video gamers are exposed to this kind of violence and offensive language all the time and need to think about what they are doing.

State Senator Leland Yee was quick to support Mitchell and Ovitz. In a press release issued on Friday, Yee said:

I’m dismayed that an institution of higher learning, especially here in San Francisco, would think it is acceptable to exercise prior restraint on a student publication. Equally appalling is that they have fired an instructor who stood up for the students and their free speech rights.

In 2006, Yee sponsored legislation which made California the first state to outlaw censorship of college newspapers, broadcast journalism, and magazines.

Allowing a school administration to censor is contrary to the democratic process and contrary to one of the main goals of higher education, fostering an environment that allows for meaningful discussion.

While Yee’s legislation does not cover private schools such as the Art Institute, he vowed to look into the issue further. Yee is best known to gamers as the architect of California’s contested video game law. 

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  1. 0
    Benjee says:

    Actually, Shaded Spriter, court rulings have basically been unanimous that even private institutions can’t censor. I was an editor of the student newspaper at Temple University, which operates like a private school, and we always operated with the knowledge nothing we printed could be restricted by the university.

    Freedom of speech is freedom of speech, especially under the header of “the press.” Even private institutions can’t suppress that.

  2. 0
    PlayfulPuppy ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    This piece shouldn’t have been censored. Regardless of whether it was because it was of the violence, rape or it’s game-centric twist, the author has a right to be able to publish what he wishes to express.

    Doesn’t stop him from being completly uninformed and a puppet of third-rate ventriloquists. Rape in a video game pops it’s head up again, and apparently it’s something we gamers are exposed to this ‘all the time’. This seems to ignore the fact that very few games even include sex in any form (I can only think of Leuisure Suit Larry, Mafia, Farenheit/Indigo Prophecy and GTA:SA off the top of my head, and certainly none of them includes rape), certainly far less than movies at any rate.

    And I’m not buying this whole ‘racial stereotype’ thing, either. In this category we have GTA:SA, 25 to Life, Saints Row and 50 cent. I believe 50 Cent should be excused from racial stereotyping in games, because it’s not the game that does so. It’s 50 Cents ‘franchise’, which he also spreads through other media. 25 to Life and Saints Row were a cash-in on the other two games, and GTA:SA is popular, but not a common thread through all games.

    Did this guy just read about GTA:SA and assume there were many games like this? That’s the only way I can conclude that he he believes that racial stereotyping and rape are common occurances in gaming, when any real gamer would know that the exact opposite is true.

  3. 0
    Jim says:

    Wish they’d post a copy of the story online . . . I’m wondering why the school decided to pull it in the first place.

    But oh well. It’s a private institution, so the writer doesn’t have a right to publish anything on campus . . . Yee is the only real funny part of this story.

  4. 0
    squigs says:

    To be fair to Senator Yee, – and correct me if I’m wrong – it appears that he believes in censorship for minors, not adults. It’s not a position I agree with but I don’t consider it hypocritical.

  5. 0
    ash2dust says:

    It is a clever concept, and I’ve kind of seen it before. The most recent Twilight Zone series from I think the mid nineties, had an episode where this woman’s family and house kept changing, but she was the only one who noticed, until she became a completely different person herself, and it turned out they were characters in a sims-style game.

  6. 0
    Robb ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    That’s a clever concept for a story! I wished I had read it, first. It has multiple interpretations as a commentary on racism. It makes you think. Isn’t that the goal of art? To evoke a response? Maybe they should re-read their own tenets once in awhile. And for the record, it’s a STORY, it’s NOT REAL. Though, it happens in real life plenty.

    Which of these is not like the others:

    1) San Francisco 2) Art Academy 3) Higher Education 4) Censorship

  7. 0

    Just stupid… » Blog Archive » Video Game Fiction Leads to Censorship Dispute at Art Institute of California
    One win for censorship, one loss for fiction. One victory for pro video game censoring, but anti lit. censoring politician, a point the …

  8. 0
    illspirit ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    So what happens if a student publication is made in the form of a violent video game? Would Yee be able to (in spin only or otherwise) reconcile his contradictory positions? Or would his brain just shut down as it went into an infinite recursive logical loop?

  9. 0
    Bigman-K ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    This just shows what a contradictionary and two-faced asshole Leland Yee is. Free Speech only applies in certain situations (student papers) otherwise the government should play nanny state and censor what’s offensive (violent video games). God i hate that guy.

  10. 0
    Mortium ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Actually this just highlights the point about the MAJOR problem video games have is the generation gap. Education and engagement is key to solving this problem.

  11. 0
    gs2005 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Leland Yee talks out of both sides of his mouth. Censorship is okay when it comes to video games, but not okay with student publications.

    Unfortunately for him, the U.S. Constitution doesn’t discriminate…

  12. 0
    Jabrwock ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I’m dismayed that an institution of higher learning, especially here in San Francisco, would think it is acceptable to exercise prior restraint on a student publication.

    *sigh* So it’s ok to exercise prior restraint on video games, but not on student publications?

  13. 0
    Jatone says:

    The story is about violence in video games and their use of stereotypes. If anything this lends Lee a hand with using it for his efforts to censor video games. Then you have to ask yourself if Lee even considers games a form of art/speech (I doubt it). If he doesn’t then he is not really flip-flopping.

  14. 0
    JohnnyQDoe says:

    Legally, freedom of the press only protects from the government. Being a private institution means they can basically do whatever they please.

    Personally, the censoring and firing were completed in poor taste.

  15. 0

    It is a private institute so it is there right as publishers of the material to be able to censor it if they want – I believe the libary should be allowed to get one of the copies which are currently out in circulation.

    I heard something funny about someone wanting to Censor some words in the book Fahrenheit 451…

  16. 0
    Gil ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Sounds like a good story.

    …ruined the ended, though, haha.

    It being removed is almost as funny (ironic funny) as Fahrenheit 451 being censored.

  17. 0
    DoggySpew ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Whatever happened to the freedom of the press ?
    And how is it that a ART school of all sakes needs to censor ? (And since this a PRIBATE school, they can. If this is however a public school, then it would be even worse)

  18. 0
    Tom says:

    Huh. I used to go there, actually. I left partially because it was a moneygrubbing corporate entity that handed out cookiecutter diplomas. Or at least that was the vibe. The game design teachers weren’t bad. You actually did learn how to model, animate, etc, but they made you take a lot of BS classes too. Cartooning for a game designer? I guess, but at over $363 per credit, it just felt like they were milking me.

    They they went all PC about this isnt surprising at all.

  19. 0
    MarkD says:

    Just because one is against offensive video games does not mean that one is in favor of censoring them; hence, there is no inherent hypocracy here.

    @Benjee: Temple is part of the University System of PA.

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