Video games have been a huge go to when it comes to needing something to blame – even if there’s no facts to support it. At one point, it was books then movies/TV then comics then rock and roll… it was only a matter of time until video games got their turn.
In addition, we find ourselves in a new landscape where more games are made by independent developers and both small and large developers have employees on the ‘front lines’ when interacting with consumers – Twitter, Facebook, forums, conventions, etc.
All this leads to a world where we developers are constantly faced with accusations that our games are turning our kids violent or we’re getting threats of violence put on ourselves just for not making a game the way someone wanted to.
As I spoke up before on this blog, part of the mission of the IGDA is to speak up and advocate on behalf of developers on issues affecting the industry – something I still firmly believe that the organization needs to highlight and take action on more frequently. I also believe, however, it’s important to a) speak up yourself and b) take time occasionally to highlight those who are speaking up as well.
So I’d love to talk about three major items that have come up in the past few months:
UN Cyberviolence Report
The United Nations released a report on Cyberviolence that tossed in the old, outdated, and debunked notion linking video games to the cause of real-world violence.
This is one great example of an issue where both small and large folks stood up and spoke out. There is a great piece on Motherboard filled with numerous individuals speaking out as well as links to all the places where the studies have been widely debunked.
In addition, the Electronic Software Association (ESA) put out an official statement criticizing the report thus adding the large weight of the association and their members behind it. They not only tackled the claims of a link between video game playing and violence but also saying we should encourage and empower women and minorities by creating inclusive environments!
There was SO much backlash on this report from the above folks and around the world that I’m happy to report they had to backtrack, apologize, and retract the report. Currently, if you click on the link to the report it’ll show you a one page PDF that says “This report is currently in revision and will be re-posted as soon as all relevant inputs have been taken onboard.” Well done all!
In August the APA published a new report updating their old 2005 report that once again tried to claim that video games made kids violent. Although I’m not an academic/researcher, the way they went about creating the results for this study were probably were as flawed as the studies they looked at that purport this claim – as shown by the open letter from two years ago from over 230 media researchers, academics, criminologists, etc. all taking the APA to task about their flawed task force, something that would prove true in 2015. Game Politics covered this issue pulling in multiple sources.
Besides many developers and researchers speaking up, one of the main large organizations to criticize the report was, again, the ESA who spoke to Polygon about the matter. They wasted no time bringing to light the truth about the matter and pointing to the research and status of video games as an art form.
Although the global IGDA organization did not publicly speak out against the report, the all-volunteer IGDA Anti-Censorship and Social Issues Committee did issue two tweets pointing to the 2013 letter.
The APA has not put out any official statements since then admitting to the flawed report/study, but we need to recognize how important it is for all major trade bodies, professional associations, and companies to put out an official statement with each new development to make sure the good gets shown with the bad. Otherwise, all the public sees are the reports linking video games to violence versus amazing things like the US Supreme Court’s brief stating that the studies were debunked and for good reason.
ICANN Working Group On Privacy/Proxy Services
The ICANN/GNSO Working Group’s report caused a huge stir in the online community, most notably around the recommendations from some of the members of the working group who were recommending that privacy/proxy services be prohibited from anyone running a website for ‘commercial’ purposes. Privacy/proxy services are what keep people’s personal and private information safe and the definitions were so broad/vague and the recommendations so all-encompassing that it would be putting people’s lives in real danger.
ICANN set up a comment system for anyone to put in an official ‘statement’ into their system to be used when they reviewed the recommendations and decided how to move forward. This is a big issue I spoke up about and will continue to do so as things change as I recognized what this could mean to my fellow developers – especially indies, women, and minorities.
Luckily, I was not alone as heavyweight Electronic Frontier Foundation joined forces with numerous groups and individuals to release a letter they then put into the system along with over 11,000 others to speak out against the recommendations. This global issue affects everyone and, in an industry where more and more developers are going freelance or forming small studios, this becomes a critical one for our sector as well.
Locally, our board here at IGDA Chicago was blocked from putting in an official comment to ICANN (the global org did not put one in either), but I’m proud to say that I was able to work with another local group, the Indie City Collective, who stepped up to make a statement and let their voice be heard. We also had other game dev groups here in the Chicago area that provided their communities with instructions and sample messaging for their members to use to put in their own comments as well.
Side Note: I’d be remiss to not mention and thank my colleagues on the IGDA Chicago board who believed it was part of our mission and role as a chapter to make an official comment and who had worked with me on preparing and approving the position statement right up until the red tape got in our way!
The local industry here is filled with a lot of indie developers, contractors/freelancers, etc. and so the possibility of the privacy/proxy rules being changed was a serious concern to many here. I’m glad to see people were seeing something that didn’t directly mention video games but understanding the impact it would have and taking a stand to ensure we continue our ability to safely maintain a livelihood. This is just a great example of a) people getting involved on a local level and b) folks realizing that problems can crop up in places your standard video game advocacy issues show up in.
[Yes, technically the ESA spoke up on this as well, but we definitely stand on opposite sides of this issue!]
Obviously these weren’t the only issues that cropped up over the past few months, but I use them here as an example of three large issues that represent what we face on a constant basis. The video game industry continues to see itself under attack as bills pop-up all over the world.
All of us individual game developers need to get more involved before something slips through that harms the entire industry. As individuals, though, we can’t possibly keep up and speak up on every single item but we should at least try to stay aware and signal boost where possible. It’s also why it is up to the major organizations like IGDA, ESA, AIAS, the large publishers and studios to use their resources, credibility, and weight to help move the needle on these issues.
So when an issue comes up please make sure you reach out to these organizations and ask them to say something, and it’s also why we need to do a better job thanking the organizations when they do speak up. I hope to get better at that latter part myself, starting with a thank you in this post to the ESA for speaking up on the UN and APA reports and the ICANN issue – even if we disagree on the last one!
So next time you see an issue consider speaking out as well as asking your local chapters/development groups, online SIGs or communities, and national/global organizations to join the fight too. Together we can make sure this industry stays healthy and sustainable and is not hampered down by bad laws or harmed by inaccurate reports that incite moral panic. We can do this!
- Sheri Rubin joined the IGDA in 1999 which inspired her to become the advocate and community builder for the global video game industry that she is today.