Opinion: Industry to Blame for Schwarzenegger v. EMA

In an opinion piece written by John Teti for Eurogamer, the former Crispy Gamer staff writer gives his opinion on Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association and why it is the industry’s fault that games are not seen as the "art" that many developers claim that it is in the eyes of the political class.

"My biggest fear is that the EMA will lose this case. My second biggest fear is that they will win. "

In their celebration, they’re liable to miss the real lesson: they brought this near-disaster on themselves. It’s the studios’ own craven, short-sighted management of their image that makes it possible for opportunistic politicians to bring the heat.

In an astute opinion piece last month, Rob Fahey argued that the stated intent of the law – to keep kids from buying games meant for adults – did not seem so onerous, even if the actual language of the California statute was "hasty" and "ill-considered."

I don’t agree with the need for a legislated age requirement, but I sympathise with Fahey’s point that the immediate practical impact could be minimal. It’s the long-term, symbolic effects of Schwarzenegger v. EMA that upset me.

Even his opponents concede Leland Yee is a reasonable man with good intentions – not a Jack Thompson type."

Teti goes on to talk about how the California law ignores the existing ratings system, how the game industry is a favorite target of politicians across party lines, and how having an exception to the first amendment for video games similar to what was carved out for pornography years ago would affect the industry as a whole. Here is an excerpt on how video game regulation is a popular political football across party lines:

"There would be less cause for concern if the legislative movement against games was an extremist effort. It’s not. Trashing the games industry is one of the few pastimes that attracts statesmen from across the ideological spectrum. They pile on because the political points are there for the taking. And their constituents don’t protest because they don’t view videogames as an art form worthy of protection. "

Read the whole thing at Eurogamerimage credit

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  1. hellfire7885 says:

    That’s pretty much the same mentality that makes some assume anime and children’s cartoons are all the same.


    Remember one story of a mother who actually purchsed La blue girl[a pretty damned extreme pornographic anime from what i hear, never seen it personally] and was expressing her outrage at the cartoon industry. She got pretty well torn up by commenters.

  2. Thad says:

    I’ll agree with you that the industry shouldn’t HAVE to defend itself as protected under the First Amendment, but it certainly should have known challenges would come, just like they have with every new form of expression since time immemorial.

    When you say it shouldn’t be "expected", well, that depends on which definition for the word you’re using — if you’re using it to mean "reasonable and due", then I agree; if you’re using it to mean "likely", then I don’t.  Ethics aside, this was absolutely foreseeable.

  3. E. Zachary Knight says:

    Part of the disposable mentality found in the games industry is teh console cycle itself. The console manufacturers have created a finite life for the games for their system. As soon as a new console comes out, the previous console is dead and so are all the games for it. We have no method of preservation of gaming within the industry itself and any effort to that effect is not done by the creators themselves, but by 3rd parties.

    Look at GoG.com. They have to work to convince publishers to let GoG do the updating of ancient PC games and sell them with the majority of the profit going back to the publisher. It requires no effort on the publisher’s part other than signing a contract and providing the source for the game, yet many publishers have not signed on and many games wilt and rot in the piles of abandon ware. If the publishers don’t care about the long term preservation of their games, why should customers?

    E. Zachary Knight
    Oklahoma City Chapter of the ECA

    E. Zachary Knight
    Divine Knight Gaming
    Oklahoma Game Development
    Rusty Outlook
    Random Tower
    My Patreon

  4. CraigB says:

     The cause and effect argument in this article has some holes, I think. As a young medium for expression, gaming was always going to be targeted by these sorts of groups.  It’s the same thing that happened with movies and with comics. Heck, it happened with pulp novels, too. I’m sure we could find records of some curmudgeon that was complaining about how DICKENS is ruining the youth. 

    That said, the problems mentioned in the article are real. Games ARE treated as products. There is too much focus on the corporate producers and the people who run them, and not enough on the actual creators themselves. There are ten stories about what Bobby Kotick said in the gaming media for every single story about a creator and his creation. Creators aren’t brought out in front enough, and when they are, they aren’t allowed to speak as freely as people would like. Game designers should be in the same class as television showrunners or movie directors, since they’re doing fundamentally similar work; but they’re largely anonymous. Even the development houses tend to be treated as interchangeable and disposable. 

    The problem with "games as product" is very real, too. A bit of a quote, here: 

    The communications officers who control the information flow at major studios – those companies who form the public’s perception of gaming’s craft, whether we like it or not – operate a machine built on short-term thinking. Their primary goal is to sell as many copies of Game X on release day before moving on, immediately, to Game Y.


    This mentality leads to the cycle of information you all know well. A game is announced with a splashy trailer. The press sees the game in bite-sized preview sessions where every other sentence we hear is, "We’re not talking about that yet." A big advertising push drums a bullet-point list of new "features" into everybody’s skulls.


    Then the game comes out. The Metascore is tabulated, the sales figures are tallied and the marketing machine marches forward, ever forward, to the next conquest.


    (Sure, on occasion, you’ll see an interview with the developers of a game after the initial launch frenzy has passed. When I got into games writing, I was bemused to learn that the industry term for such a piece is a "postmortem". Because, I guess, to the people controlling the information flow, a title that has been on the market for more than a week is already dead.)



    The publishers’ treadmill of stultified pseudo-discussion promotes games the same way that slash-and-burn cultivation promotes agriculture. You’re going to get diminishing returns, while destroying something of real value. In the case of games, the price we pay for the Eternal Assembly Line of Pre-Packaged Bullshit is the erosion of games’ perception as an art form.


    Look at the American film studios. The signature event of their year is the Academy Awards. It’s an overblown festival of self-congratulation. But it gets everyone talking about artistry in the movies as people revisit the works of the past 12 months and of decades before.


    The trophy ceremony promotes the industry as a producer of meaningful, essential cultural artefacts. This perception provides political cover for those summer months when they’re turning out less high-minded entertainment.


    The focal point of the games industry’s annual routine is E3, an event where corporations pimp games that may not be available for years – or ever – in an effort to convince players that what they’re playing now is garbage by comparison.


    While motion-picture studios position their art as timeless, game studios positions theirs as disposable. Why are we shocked that politicians react accordingly?



     Can anybody honestly deny that this is the case? That unlike the "long tail" of other forms of expression like movies or books or television, games are treated as utterly disposable product by both the people that distribute them and the people who write about them? Any given game magazine or website will have reams of previews, press releases, and "sneak peeks" at what’s coming up; but the nanosecond it’s out, it’s already dead. Teti is absolute right: how can ANYBODY take the industry seriously when it treats its "artistic products" like that?

    (And, for that matter, its creators. I’m sure that developers would like to be seen as artistic creators, instead of widget-makers churning out disposable product.)

    Teti’s wrong about the cause and effect. But I think he IS right in showing that the industry needs to take its claim to expression more seriously. If what they create matters, then they should treat it that way. If they don’t, then they shouldn’t be surprised if other people follow their lead.

  5. Joe_Sixpack says:

    This Teti fellow operates from a fundamentally flawed premise: that developers deserve the legal challenges against them because they didn’t do enough to convince the public at large that games are art. A massive, sustained PR fluff campaign (and make no mistake – that’s all it would be) should never be required or expected just so someone can maintain his/her basic rights. If I write a book or paint a picture, am I somehow obligated to prove its artistic worth before I can be allowed to publish it? Of course not. He’s basically just blaming the victim – "It’s your fault they’re trying to take your rights away! You failed to convince everyone that you deserve them!" That’s not how rights work, chief.

    Yes, businesses of all kinds can operate short-sightedly, and it can harm their long term interests, but that doesn’t even come close to justifying a denial of their (and our) basic rights. Nor does it justify the intentionally misinformed hysetria campaign against gaming.

  6. Chris W says:

    "Even his opponents concede Leland Yee is a reasonable man with good intentions"

    I could not disagree more.  His intentions are machiavellian.  And I think the industry has missed this angle from day one.

    Yee’s law has the vendor liable for fines, etc.  for sales of videogames to minors.  Yee knows that the biggest vendors are those like Walmart, Target, etc.  They have 10000s of employees and will not be able to control them.

    Keep that in mind.

    Now if the law were to pass, the first ‘prosecutions’ would be against the biggest vendors.  To a vendor like Walmart, a video game is a video game.  They don’t care about titles so much as they care about selling games and not paying fines.  After the first fines and press – Yee hopes that a vendor like Walmart will simply stop selling ‘mature’ games.  Losing the Walmarts, Targets, etc is a huge blow to a developer.

    So – if the biggest vendors simply stop selling these games, Yee hopes that developers will simply stop making them and focus their efforts on games for ‘everyone’

    This is where the ‘good intentions’ mantra has to stop.  This man is very clever and manipulative – and should be treated as such.  Government should not be drafting legislation with the intent to shut down a part of an industry that has not harmed anyone. 

  7. BearDogg-X says:

    Comparing Jack "Metropolitian Moron of Miami" Thompson to Leland "Metropolitian Moron of San Francisco and Sacramento" Yee is like comparing the fecal matter of a dog and a horse.

    While the two deal with people differently as others have mentioned, that’s pretty much the only difference between the two. Both are liars who have made fraudulent comments about the industry and have participated in anti-American attacks on the First Amendment rights on a branch of the entertainment industry(Thompson moreso than Yee, as Thompson had gone after rap music in the past).

    Yee being a "reasonable man with good intentions" doesn’t matter much when he hurts his own cause by voting against legislation that would have banned toxic lead in children’s toys, just as Thompson hurt his own cause with his obnoxious behavior that ultimately got him disbarred by the state of Florida. Besides that, there’s a saying about the road to Hell being paved with good intentions.

    As for the SCOTUS case somehow being the industry’s fault, that is among the biggest pile of horsecrap I have ever heard. The industry is only guilty of providing an entertainment option to the masses. Think of it like a circus(for lack of a better example), you have the clowns, the trapeze artists, the animals, the freak show, etc. There are different types of games to choose from. Just because Postal 2 was made 7 years ago doesn’t mean everyone bought the game(or would even want to). Is it the industry’s fault that the tabloid trash mainstream news media only lives by the rule "if it bleeds, it leads" and only focuses on the GTA’s, the Gears of War’s, the Doom’s, the Quake’s, and the Mortal Kombat’s instead of the Kingdom Hearts series, the Final Fantasy series, and the BioShocks?

    Geaux Saints, Geaux Tigers, Geaux Hornets, Jack Thompson can geaux chase a chupacabra. Hell will stay frozen over for quite a while since the Saints won the Super Bowl.

    Proud supporter of the New Orleans Saints, LSU, 1st Amendment; Real American; Hound of Justice; Even through the darkest days, this fire burns always

    Saints(3-4), LSU(7-0)

  8. hellfire7885 says:

    I know in the Left 4 Dead commentary one of the developers said it’s a bit heartbreaking to work hard on part of a map or a section of a game and no one sees it.

  9. Vake Xeacons says:

    Well, he’s right and he’s wrong. He’s wrong by making the same mistake that most politicians do: by generalizing the entire industry as one unit when it comes to mistakes.

    Many developers do care about the art of their games, and want to create good games, whether they’re for adults or not. Then there are those who just want to create trash to boil the pot. In that, he’s right. There are those who brought this on all of us, Not just themselves. And I doubt they’ll learn, and he’s right in that as well.

    And there’s more he has to consider from the politician side as well: the ambiguity of the "violence" definition in the Bill prevents the sale of not just adult (or rather 17+) rated games, but also those meant for teens and adulecents as well.

    Remember how long this controversy has been going on: before many of us were born (remember Death Race? Yeah, me neither). There have, and always will, be those out to attack us for their own glory.

  10. hellfire7885 says:

    And the thing about artistic merit is there is no arbitrary way to determine as each person percieves something as artistic while another might not

    I mean if they had some sort of comitte, members of it coudl see some games as having artistic merit, most, or even none, as there are people who see games as havign zero artistic merit whatsoever.

  11. Thad says:

    I think an industry win is very likely in the SCOTUS case, and even in the worst-case scenario of a loss, we’re living in a different world than the 1950’s.  Where retailers refused to sell comics without the Code seal, I really don’t see even Wal-Mart refusing to stock games with California’s 18 stamp on them, let alone GameStop or Amazon.  Likewise, the terms for the 18 stamp are a hell of a lot less restrictive than the "no vampires" rules of the original Code (and indeed they may be unenforceable — by what standard do you determine whether a game has "no artistic merit"?).

    The comics industry never recovered from the purge of the 1950’s — we’re still seeing the effects today of an entire medium reduced to superheroes and Archie.

  12. hellfire7885 says:

    Well, not only is the notion of harm shot down more often, but those that do find harm are usually done with finding that in mind, and when you go int oa nexperimenty/study with pre-concieved notions then the result you want to see will be what you get.

    Or at the very least the study said something entirely different and the person quoting the study was purposefully leaving parts out.

  13. Avalongod says:

    I have to agree with Andrew here.  Lee is no Thompson, but that doesn’t make him reasonable.  that he would use such a selective and misrepresentative review of the current literature on video games to support his law pretty much separates him from reasonable.

    The issue is not that children *should* have access to grand theft auto (even if the reasoning is moral rather than practical)…I think many of us here would agree M games are intended for adults.  The issues are two…that the foundation of this law rests on a faulty premise that violent games "harm" minors…an idea increasingly being shot down in the scholarly community (although not without debate in fairness)…and that the government should have a unique role in regulating video games. 

    That said, I certainly feel some aspects of the industry (Running with Scissors for sure) have been a part of the problem.

  14. hellfire7885 says:

    There’s also the VGAs that Spike began hosting every year.

    G4 once had Gphoria, but, well, you know.

  15. -Jes- says:

    The second that mentally inept politicians seeking nothing else but political power stop screaming about the evils of vidyagaemz (which have been proven physically time and time again to be in no way different to movies, books, comics, music etc), the second I will concede that the ‘videogame industry’ might have something worth being blamed for.

  16. Avalongod says:

    Yeah, I’m really not sure where that comment came from.  I haven’t seen a lot of warmth for Yee.  He’s done a lot of damage and spouted a lot of nonsense.

  17. Rodrigo Ybáñez García says:

    Even his opponents concede Leland Yee is a reasonable man with good intentions

    I greatly disagree. Leland Yee IS like Jack Thompson, just more nicer and with real political power. He still needs to lie to archieve his goals and is willingly ignorant about the games he keeps mention every 5 minutes.

    Is not better than Thompson, he is actually worst.

    ———————————————————— My DeviantArt Page (aka DeviantCensorship): http://www.darkknightstrikes.deviantart.com

  18. Mr.Tastix says:

    Jack Thompson and Leland Yee are very much alike, they just deal with people a lot differently.

    I would say Yee is a lot more subtle than Thompson, whereas Thompson can be rather hot-headed and argumentative. Yee is worse because, unlike Thompson, he is actually in a position to change things. Thompson never got that far.

    — Randi Tastix

  19. Zerodash says:

     The only real difference so far is that the games industry didn’t roll over to government pressure like the comics industry did.  However, until we see how the SCOTUS case pans out, it may yet be premature to say the games industry weathered anything- the comics industry isn’t regulated by the government whereas the games industry may very well be.

    As for Yee, the man is only reasonable so far as he knows how to act like an adult and be civil.  He still is guilty of just as much dishonesty and hyperbole as Jack Thompson.  The only difference is maturity, civility, and perhaps a dash of sanity.  However, he is still a liar and he knows this. 

  20. Andrew Eisen says:

    He’s certainly not a Jack Thompson type but I don’t see him as a reasonable person or having good intentions (which is not to say I think his intentions are devious or evil).

    I would agree that the industry has not been proactive enough in the face of such anti-game silliness but I don’t agree with the notion that game laws like the one before the Supreme Court are the fault of the industry.


    Andrew Eisen

  21. Thad says:

    In before Yee’s opponents refuse to concede that he is a reasonable man with good intentions and not a Jack Thompson type.

    Don’t have access to the whole article from work, but I think it’s harsh to blame the industry for the scapegoating that all new media experience.  They’ve weathered the storm a lot better than the comics industry did.

  22. Neeneko says:

    I was originally skeptical, but I really see this article’s point… though I doubt the game industry could pull off anything similar to the academy awards since those really depend on beautiful people with known faces parading around. Though some kind of centralized industry back-padding would probably be a good thing. Maybe it is just philly.. but I know here at least it just doesn’t feel like a community… just companies that happen to be near each other.

  23. Left4Dead says:

    Any time lawyers get involved, something went seriously wrong somewhere that didn’t need to.  We should step back and figure out what really went wrong and fix that instead of passing laws that violate Constitutional rights.

    – Left4Dead

    Why are zombies always eating brains? I want to see zombies that eat toes for a living. Undead-related pun intended.

    -- Left4Dead --

  24. ecco6t9 says:

    It’s true when Activision has a Call of Duty every year but then one of it’s divsions has Artistic Games that they take years to make.

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