Where Have All the Critics Gone?

December 3, 2008 -

When President-elect Barack Obama announced this week that Sen. Hillary Clinton was his choice for Secretary of State, we noted that the diplomatic nature of her new job would distance the former First Lady from domestic social issues, including those relating to video game content.

And, as Hillary moves away from the video game arena, one thing becomes clear: The video game industry no longer faces any high-profile political opposition in the United States. Sounds crazy, I know. But consider that, in 2008:

  • Jack Thompson self-destructed. Sure, Thompson will still be a critic, but his recent lifetime disbarment flushed whatever mainstream credibility he had left.
  • The National Institute on Media and the Family was co-opted by the video game industry. Earlier this year NIMF accepted a $50,000 grant from the ESA, a mind-bogglingly bad decision. How does a watchdog organization justify taking money from the people it is supposed to be watching? Not surprisingly, NIMF's 2008 Annual Video Game Report Card was a valentine to the game biz.
  • Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has, for some time, been preoccupied by internecine battles with his former friends in the Democratic Party. He hasn't been heard from as a game industry critic since he stood with David Walsh during the release of NIMF's 2007 report card. In fact, most recently, Lieberman (and Clinton) offered their support for the ESRB's new game rating summaries.
  • Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), as mentioned, will be focused on foreign affairs.

There are remaining critics, to be sure, but they are fragmented and most lack the national profile of Thompson, Walsh, Lieberman and Clinton. Will one of these emerge to fill the void? Hit the jump to see...

 

  • Mitt Romney - the former Massachusetts governor is a likely contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. In his 2008 bid he was a strong critic of content in games and other media. Lately, however, he has been keeping a low profile. It's likely that his team is strategizing for Romney's next run. Will games be a focus? That's hard to say, but far-right Republicanism is out of fashion these days and Romney is known to go with prevailing winds.
  • Lt. Col David Grossman (US Army, ret.) - Grossman has been in the national spotlight in the past, but in recent years he seems content to stick to the lecture circuit where he address law enforcement and education groups, primarily. He is a srident game violence critic, however.
  • State Sen. Leland Yee (D) - Having pushed California's video game law through the legislative process, Yee is definitely a player. But at this point there is little for him to do except await the ruling of the 9th US Circuit Court on the California law. And, whatever happens at that level, many observers expect the California law to wind up before the US Supreme Court. Beyond that, Yee is an active legislator who works hard to serve his San Francisco-area constituency. Games are far from the only issue he needs to concern himself with.
  • Parents Television Council - The Los Angeles-based morality group has been a harsh, albeit occasional, critic of game issues. As their name implies, they seem much more focused on TV content.
  • Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood - the Boston-area group generally seems to tackle game issues when one of Rockstar's high-profile titles comes along. They lobbied successfully to get GTA Vice City Stories ads removed from Boston's transit system and called for an AO rating for Manhunt 2 (which the ESRB had already decided). Although the group is active on other issues, games do not seem much on their radar these days.
  • Lyndon LaRouche - the fringe LaRouche political cult was all over the game violence issue after Virginia Tech, but seems to have dropped it in favor its traditional economic and political conspiracy theories. In any case, credibility is nil.

There are, of couse, other critics, among them, politicians. Bills targeting the ESRB rating process are currently active in the House and Senate. But these are viewed - at least from here - at election year posturing. They are expected to die when the 110th Congress closes up shop on January 3rd.

At the state level there hasn't been a significant law passed since 2006. This year's New York statute is toothless political fluff. How can we tell? Note that the game industry hasn't moved against it in federal court.

There are academic critics as well, most notable Brad Bushman of the University of Michigan, Craig Anderson of Iowa State and Karen Dill of North Carolina's Lenoir-Rhyne College. But while the academics occasionally author a book, pen an article or testify before Congress, they do not appear well-suited to the advocate's role.

To be sure, the industry deserves credit for making its own path less difficult. Patricia Vance and the ESRB, in particular, have achieved a remarkable transformation since the 2005 Hot Coffee fiasco rocked the game biz to its core. Over the last 18 months, however, the rating organization has conducted a tireless outreach campaign in an effort to win over key state-level politicians. ESRB has also added useful educational and content evaluation tools for parents.

At the sharp end, Mike Gallagher's Entertainment Software Association has pursued the traditional lobbying route. The ESA has spread cash around via political campaign contributions as well as its newly-purchased friendship with NIMF.

At the state level, legislators who might once have been giving thought to proposing game legislation are now beginning to pay attention to costly legal defeats in places like Louisiana, Illinois and Minnesota.

Thus, a combination of serendipity and legal success leaves the U.S. game industry without a high-level watchdog - at least for now.


Comments

Re: Where Have All the Critics Gone?

How about Reality TV?

Re: Where Have All the Critics Gone?

I'd agree with you, if I didn't like ABC's 'The Mole' so damn much. :P

300 Episodes and counting: http://www.orangeloungeradio.com/

400 Episodes, TEN YEARS and counting: http://www.orangeloungeradio.com/ | Voice of Geeks Network - http://www.vognetwork.com

Re: Where Have All the Critics Gone?

It's too broad.  Not to mention the shows come and go.  Even the popular ones.  I think the world got too drowned in them for them to make decent scapegoats.

VR never made it as a scapegoat because it didn't become popular enough, partly because of the technology.  Even sensory suits aren't popular enough and are still in the infancy stages.

You see where some of the specialized controlers were bashed for a short time.  But no where to the degree of overall video games.  They just aren't widespread enough.  The scapegoating of them was as much a fad as the controllers themselves.

Nightwng2000

NW2K Software

Nightwng2000 has also updated his MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/nightwing2000 Nightwng2000 is now admin to the group "Parents For Education, Not Legislation" on MySpace as http://groups.myspace.com/pfenl

Nightwng2000 NW2K Software http://www.facebook.com/nightwing2000 Nightwng2000 is now admin to the group "Parents For Education, Not Legislation" on MySpace as http://groups.myspace.com/pfenl

Re: Where Have All the Critics Gone?

Where have all the critics gone and where are all the gods?
Where's the raving lunatic to fight the rising odds?
Isn't there a laywer upon a fiery steed?
Late at night I toss and turn and dream of what I need...

I need Jack Thompson!
I'm holding out for Jack Thompson 'til the end of the night
He's gotta be strong and he's gotta be fast 
And he's gotta be fresh from the fight
I need Jack Thompson!
I'm holding out for Jack Thompson 'til the morning light
He's gotta be sure and it's gotta be soon
And he's gotta be larger than life.

Re: Where Have All the Critics Gone?

(Posted in over 36-point for full effect. My apologies in advance, EZK. Please don't resize this, anyone.)

WIN.

That was hilarious!

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"Game on, brothers and sisters." -Leet Gamer Jargon

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"A Chrono Trigger is anything that unleashes its will or desire to change history!" -Gaspar

Re: Where Have All the Critics Gone?

This is the first time I laughed out loud and threw up a little in my mouth at the same time.

Re: Where Have All the Critics Gone?

You forgot to add to JT's dot that he currently "works" for Human Events and a blogger.

You know he's going to come on here ranting and raving about that...

Sortableturnip's Law: As an online discussion of video game violence grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Jack Thompson approaches 1

Re: Where Have All the Critics Gone?

That's funny, I was going through GamePolitics' LiveJournal archive just this week. I really recommend doing that for perspective. Back then it was new presented legislation every week or so, critics from all over the place every day. Nowadays it's just a handful of people making noise. Good to see the moral panic is over, and a real discussion (because there is room for that) is possible.

Re: Where Have All the Critics Gone?

Any bets on one or more of these critics showing up here to make pointless comments?

Re: Where Have All the Critics Gone?

I hope this means video games can come out uncut like movies can. :) Games should be treated as art and allowed to come out uncensored like a movie is.

Re: Where Have All the Critics Gone?

Jennifer Granholm maybe?

Video game critics will just die out soon enough just like Dr. Frederic Wertham did. 

Re: Where Have All the Critics Gone?

I don't know. With the especially heavy economic issues my state (Michigan) is facing, I don't think games would be a top concern. We're in a massive deficit, we have the second-highest unemployment in all of US (Rhode Island is 1st, and this was only a few months ago; before then, WE were 1st), and there's the failing of the auto-industry, which holds great influence over Michigan's economy.

Re: Where Have All the Critics Gone?

During the last ECA meeting on ventrilo, I commented that it seemed the concern over video games has turned a corner; at least here in the U.S. (it came up during a discussion over the Brandon Crisp incident and how the Canadian authorities were reacting to it).

I attribute this to three things: 1) More pressing issues like the economy and the war in Iraq have given us bigger, more legitimate things to worry about.  2) The growing acceptance of video games into popular mainstream entertainment.  And 3) In relation to this as more and more people are coming to realize there's nothing to fear from games, the subsequent implosion and discrediting of gaming's leading critics, with both Lieberman and Thompson having been marginalized (Sorry, Jack.  You have, even if you refuse to acknowledge it and regardless what you say to the contrary.)

So I think that for the most part, we've won the battle over the public perception of video games (Again, sorry Jack.  We did win this one.)  At the very least, the tide has turned.  And while I think the ECA should still be active in being vigilant on that aspect, it no longer feels like we're fighting an uphill battle and we can also now focus on the issues of consumer rights such as DRM and IP.

 

Re: Where Have All the Critics Gone?

Hey, it's the holiday season. They'll be back.

Re: Where Have All the Critics Gone?

Don't relax just yet.  Most of these critics can turn around and start attacking games at any time.  And we don't know if  more critics will come along.

Oh, and the second to last line for Leland Yee you spelled issue wrong.

--- Official Protector of Videoland!

--- Official Protector of Videoland!

Re: Where Have All the Critics Gone?

Not shooting down that New York bill is, at least in my opinion, the worst thing they could have done. It may be toothless political fluff, but now that there is a game bill on the law, there could be PRECEDENT. More and more intense legislation could become law because "Hey, there's a game bill in New York."

---You are likely to be eaten by a Grue.

---You are likely to be eaten by a Grue.

Re: Where Have All the Critics Gone?

Let's face it, most of these critics didn't have that much credibility to begin with.

And, of course, the most annoying one has been relegated from making insults and threatening companies with lawsuits to just insulting people like a child.

 
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