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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