Wednesday, April 26, 2006

I found two new online articles that discuss racism and violence in video games, though both of them are a little old. One is from Mother Jones, an article by Paul Keegan titled "Culture Quake," and it describes the move toward violence after the success of two nonviolent games, Myst and Riven, and how Duke Nukem became the hot item. It's from 1999, November/December.

The other is an article from, titled "VIDEO GAMES: Playing Against Racism." It's from June 8, 2005 -- "Seeking to wipe out the video game industry's use of racial and gender stereotypes, a new program teaches students of color how to make their own games." It's by Carrie Kilman.

There's also a film called "Game Over: Gender, Race, and Violence in Video Games," a film by Nina Huntemannfrom Media Education Foundation, 2000. It's got a segment on race, though the whole thing is only 41 minutes long.

A game called "Ethnic Cleansing" is described here, on The Anti-Defamation League spoke out against it.

Colonization was one of the games by MicroProse and Sid Meier, who created the Civilization success. Coming in 1995, after the raves of the first iteration of Civilization, it didn't last long, mostly because it duplicated the colonizing problems that occured when the Europeans came to the "New World" and settled on the land where Native Americans were living outside the knowledge of western thinkers.

So the game play requires and rewards wiping out Native American peoples. Once you have some success, it becomes clear that cooperation with the NA people isn't going to win you the game. You've got to destroy Indians.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

More stuff on controversies over whether games encourage violent behavior and stances on both sides here:
Another article there describes the efforts of some legislators to restrict games. There's mention of a game called Office Massacre that got cancelled.

Both of these sites are focused on game industry news and advertise video games.

A guy writing about games at seems to have a good handle on the industry.

Another article links up some of the violence and "cultural sensitivity" here:

There's an article on Wikipedia about Activision and it mentions the GUN controversy. Also, that article has a link to an article on the controversy, particularly Activision's response to the accusations of racism.

There might be more to find on the website.

I discussed the topic with Dr. B today and with students in my class. One student had played the game GUN and another spoke up for the right to free speech. I think I listened. All three pointed out what a failure it is to try and legislate against video games that are overly violent or even racist. I have to agree to some degree, but I don't know that it's always possible to let the marketplace decide what is right and what isn't.

Dr. B pointed out that I should make sure that I try to look at the game before commenting on it. That would be best. He said that many people who commented on the GTA game hadn't actually seen it before they came out against it.

But I've also been thinking about the other things that are related to the restrictions on such games. There are some kinds of speech that are regulated by the law; it's not legal to say anything you want to say. An incite to riot, for example, is restricted, and you can't, for example, speak for the assassination of the president. So some forms of speech are understood to be out of bounds.

How far would a violent or racist game have to go to be so objectionable that most people would agree it should be banned or restricted?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Judge nixes Michigan law aimed at 'violent' games

Published: April 3, 2006
A federal judge has overturned a Michigan law restricting the sale of violent video games, the most recent in a series of decisions that have gutted similar laws on free-speech grounds.

U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh ruled on Friday that a state law criminalizing the sale of violent video games to anyone under 17 years of age is unconstitutional because those forms of entertainment are protected by the First Amendment's freedom of expression clause.

"Video games are a form of creative expression that are constitutionally protected under the First Amendment," Steeh ruled. "They contain original artwork, graphics, music, story lines and characters similar to movies and television shows, both of which are considered protected free speech."

There's some discussion on Rockstar and scalping in GUN at another blog, here. Josh and Tony discuss an issue with the Rockstar game, The Warriors, where the player gets points in one scene for kicking a prone woman, probably a corpse. Dave Beck, an art student, installed this scene to run repeatedly on a website as points counted up, primarily as a commentary on the violence. He put up a site showing the scene, but Rockstar lawyers got a cease and desist order. The site is gone now.

At another point Josh describes his attempt to use the knife he could get in GUN. He says,"Gun is actually pretty fun and in many ways a fairly well-designed title."

However, he is puzzled by the aspect of scalping: "One aspect, though, just seems odd. You can scalp people ... for just no good reason at all. When I first started the practice of scalping my kills, The Girl poked up from her book and asked about the noise. I told her I was scalping people. She asked if they had to scream when I did it and it turns out ... they do. You apparently can only scalp victims while they are still partially kicking. Which is obviously the meanest way to scalp just about anything. I defended my barbarism by saying that I thought you could trade scalps for money (thank god my Mom doesn't read this blog).

However, you can't. There's no purpose to scalping people other than just getting them to scream. At least in GTA, you're beating your hooker for cash. You can rob people. In Gun, there is no robbing. You can test the town's patience by attacking innocent people, but other than that ... it's cheating at cards or torture. A very odd spectrum to give to the player. Especially when those are the only two points in the spectrum."

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

I was in the library's website to the MLA Bibliography database. I used that this evening because this paper is in the Humanities, so that's a key database for me to use. I found ten articles that are about video games and how people play them, primarily. Some are about gender or masculinity or about narrativity, but I did find one that's about Indians in particular: You Have Unleashed a Horde of Barbarians!': Fighting Indians, Playing Games, Forming Disciplines. Douglas, Christopher. Postmodern Culture: An Electronic Journal of Interdisciplinary Criticism, 13:1 (2002 Sept), p. 28 paragraphs. It's exactly the sort of thing I need. Maybe I should write to Mr. Douglas. The text of his article, with sound and images, is here.

I had the information about the articles sent to me via email, but none are full text. I may have to request them through interlibrary loan.

A philosophical article about the role of time and death in video games is here: It mentions Douglas, who apparently won a 2003 NEH grant for $40,000.

Here are two images from the Activision website, as of April 4, 2006. They really appear to be pushing the game, with this description: "Experience the Brutality, Greed, and Lust that Was the West.
When life robs Colton White of all that matters, the only thing left he can trust is his GUN. From award-winning developer, Neversoft, and accomplished screenwriter, Randall Jahnson (The Mask of Zorro, The Doors), GUN follows Colton on his quest for discovery as he seeks to exact vengeful justice on those who have wronged him."

There's a video of the game there that I would like to see, and there's a further description of the game. :
New and savage ways to punish: Stealthily sneak up and attack your enemies, use them as cover, stab and shoot them. Blast away and watch the aftermath, shoot guns out of enemy hands, or destroy with dynamite.
Extensive variety of missions and game play: Wage war on horseback, commandeer trains, protect prostitutes, collect bounties, play poker, hunt buffalo, and more. Multiple game play styles include: precision shooting, stealth tactics, and use of explosives.
Embark on numerous side missions that allow you to master gun slinging and horse riding. Unlock secret weapons and upgrade your skills and abilities to improve your weapon and equipment performance.
Brutal realism: Act as a gunslinger protecting righteousness, or seek retribution as you face corrupt lawmen, warring tribes, cold-blooded outlaws, and ruthless renegades. Encounter legendary gunfighters such as JJ Webb. Employ a multitude of authentic weapons including: Six shooters, shotguns, Gatling guns, flaming arrows, hatchets, dynamite, and more.
Expansive interactive world: Play an extensive variety of exciting missions as you journey west across the new frontier. Ride on horseback through the scenic, yet dangerous Western terrain of canyons, mountains, plains, forests, gold mines and towns."
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Another resource is a film, Game Over: Gender, Race, and Violence in Video Games
a film by Nina Hunteman from Media Education Foundation, 2000. It's described here.

The Washington State Humanities Commission weighs in on the Gun contoversy here. Executive Director Marc Brenman seeks to ban the game from being sold in Washington, describing it as follows: "The game features a character action hero, Colton White, who slaughters and scalps Apache Indians, in order to advance in the game. A scalping knife is one of the tools that can be purchased for Colton White. Although at the end of the game the hero discovers his Native American heritage and changes teams, this does not mitigate the violence against Indians that is portrayed and encouraged."

Brenman goes on to quote another view: "Jose Barreiro, senior advisor, American Indian Policy and Media Initiative, has stated, 'In the increasingly organized anti-Indian climate, a focus on media attitudes and content is crucial.'"

This letter appeared February 14, 2006.

GamerGod has another article--by Beth Dillon in January 06--on the Gun controversy, with a clear reference to a game that most poeple had probably forgotten about, Custer's Revenge. That's not a comparison that Activision probably wants made. This article even has two references.

There is also discussion in blogworld of a controversy over the Activision game Gun, which Native American groups have brought lawsuits against. There's a blog entry and a lot of commentary here.
With links to other appropriate sites. Posting is by Aleks Krotoski. It's especially amazing that some people respond to his entry by claiming that the complaint about the game makes them want to go out and get it.

I found a review of Age of Empires III today that described the role of Native Americans in that game, something more than having them be the ones that get run over. Usually the NA's are simply an obstacle for the colonizing or settling forces, but here they can play a slightly different role, Giles Bird says: "The Native Americans, who are scattered around the map, add unique troops to your armies and minor tweaks. At first, it seems like this could be an important element of the gameplay, but they play out like minor asides rather than anything substantive.

Ironically, the Native Americans don't come into prominence until the later ages, when everyone's army is maxxed out and you can take advantage of the fact that Native troops don't require population support. Otherwise, they're mainly cool for the visuals of seeing Comanches charging across a plain or Tupi archers slaughtering villagers."

The article is at Yahoo's game review site, here.