Acting, Kinect and Protected Speech

December 10, 2010 -

Is acting protected speech, and if so, is acting in a video game - especially in the age of motion sensing console devices - protected speech as well? This is the theory thrown out in a thought provoking post called "Is Playing a Video Game Conduct or Speech? Lessons from Microsoft Kinect" over at Law Law Land Blog.

Steven Smith kicks that idea around a bit, comparing the acting kids do in video games to the actions in a school play. The idea begins at GameStop, where Smith is buying a game for his daughter:

I was drawn to the display of the Microsoft Kinect, the new hands-free controller that is designed to allow the ultra-interactivity of the Nintendo Wii, but without any controller at all. You (and, apparently, one million of your likeminded early adopter friends) stand in front of a 3D camera system, which translates your movements in real life into the movement of your avatar on the screen.

Which leads him to a thought about video games and free speech:

I immediately thought of it as acting in a play. The real you is performing the movements from the gallery, while the virtual you is acting them out, in costume and on set, on the stage of your TV. It is like playing cops-and-robbers in the playground, except no one else need be present and no playground is required.

This brings it back to the oral arguments that took place on November 2 before the Supreme Court and a question from Justice Elena Kagan. She asked: "Do you think video games are speech in the first instance? Because you could look at these games and say they are the modern-day equivalent of monopoly sets. They are games. They are things that people use to compete. You know, when you think about some of them — the first video game was Pong. It was playing tennis on your TV. How is that speech at all?"

Smith talks about how the EMA handled the question:

The Entertainment Merchants Association and the State of California both assumed that the games were speech, in the sense of the creative expression of the artists and programmers who made the games. Where they differed was simply over the issue of whether the state had a compelling basis to regulate this assumed speech. But Kagan was challenging the underlying assumption, asking the more fundamental question, are these games speech at all? And does it depend on the nature of the game (Monopoly and Pong, with little or no storyline, versus Dungeons and Dragons and Grand Theft Auto, which are all about the story — and, in the case of D&D, the basement black lights, Cheetos, and Sprite).

Which leads to a series of important points:

To his credit, Paul Smith, counsel for the Entertainment Merchants Association, handled the question with aplomb. He argued that the definitions in the law contain an underlying presumption that the games at issue contain a narrative structure, i.e., a plot of some kind. He then argued that the players of such plot-driven games are like actors, “helping to make the plot, determine what happens in the events that appear on the screen, just as an actor helps determine what happens in a play. You are acting out certain elements of the play and you are contributing to the events that occur and adding a creative element of your own. That’s what makes them different and in many ways wonderful.”

That is, in my humble opinion, the real point about video games and why they deserve First Amendment protection, no matter how violent some of them may be. We allow minors to act in very violent plays, movies and television shows. As far as I am aware, no state has sought to prohibit children from acting in such creative works. (They may need parental permission under labor laws or for private, contractual liability reasons; but no one says that the kids themselves cannot get together and act out whatever horrors their minds can conjure up.) Video games simply expand the relevant stage on which these games of pretend may be acted out.

Smith goes on to say that anyone can be a virtual actor thanks to video games. Sometimes players have to follow a script and sometimes they engage in violent acts, but no more than a child actor playing a role in a violent movie or an adult-themed TV show. This closing thought says it best:

The First Amendment not only protects the William Shakespeares, Alfred Hitchcocks, Mario Puzos and Take Twos of the world — it also protects the actors (including child actors) who wish to play Brutus, Norman Bates, Michael Corleone, or CJ Johnson.

 
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PHX CorpI'm going to do a test stream later today, if anyone is intrested07/31/2014 - 2:40pm
Andrew EisenYes, I'm such a big Nintendo dork that I read Nintendo's quarterly financial reports.07/31/2014 - 2:09pm
Andrew EisenCool tidbit - Mario Kart 8 sales account for more than half of total Wii U software sales for the last quarter even though it was only available for the last third.07/31/2014 - 2:09pm
Andrew EisenStill a pretty cool promotion. Unfortunately for me, I'm not interested in purchasing Mario Kart 8 and I already owned or didn't want any of the free games on offer.07/31/2014 - 1:43pm
Andrew EisenInteresting that EU had 10 games to choose from while North America only had four.07/31/2014 - 1:41pm
MaskedPixelanteIt certainly worked, I probably would never have bought Mario Kart 8 if it didn't come with a free copy of Wind Waker HD.07/31/2014 - 1:14pm
Andrew EisenI imagine will see similar promotions like "Buy Mario Kart 8 get a download code for one of these specific games" but almost certainly not for all of its (however you would define) biggest releases.07/31/2014 - 11:24am
MaskedPixelanteI wonder if Nintendo is going to be doing "buy one get one free" promos for all their biggest releases going forward.07/31/2014 - 10:48am
MaskedPixelantehttp://www.mcvuk.com/news/read/special-report-retail-revolt-over-pc-code-strippers/013614007/31/2014 - 8:27am
ZippyDSMleeWouldn't they be able to afford and get done in a timely manner a general gba emluator for the 3DS? It seems to me if they want to make money off sales they need to do it.07/31/2014 - 7:25am
Sora-ChanAmbassador program, that's what I was looking for. Anyway the other games that have been made no longer exclusive to the early adopters got updates in their software. It'll only be a matter of time more than likely for the GBA to get the same treatment.07/31/2014 - 5:35am
Sora-ChanI might be naming it incorrectly when I say "founder" i mean the program for earlier adopters.07/31/2014 - 5:34am
Sora-Chanthe 3DS's GBA emulator was a rush job due to the founder program. No other GBA titles have been released on the 3DS yet. If/When they do get around to it, they'll more than likely update the emulation software.07/31/2014 - 5:32am
Zenemulator...it's not just a slap job that makes "some" work..they do it for each which is why they work so well. I would rather have the quality over just a slap job.07/30/2014 - 5:48pm
ZenMatthew there is a difference between "worked" and "accurate". You play the Nintendo VC titles they play as damn close to the original as possible. The PSP would just run them as best they could, issues and all. And Masked...EACH VC title has their own07/30/2014 - 5:48pm
MaskedPixelanteOnce again, the 3DS already HAS a GBA emulator, it just can't run at the same time as the 3DS OS.07/30/2014 - 4:54pm
Matthew Wilsonyou cant street pass in ds mode ether, and if moders can make a gba emulator that runs very well on the psp as I understand it. you are telling me that Nintendo devs are not as good as moders?07/30/2014 - 4:49pm
Zenperformance. Halo 1 and 2 worked great because they actually did custom work on each of them...just like Nintendo does now lol07/30/2014 - 4:08pm
Zenexisting hardware while the GBA has to be emulated completely. Same reason the 360 couldn't run most Original Xbox games correctly, or had issues because they just did "blanket approach" for their emulation which led to game killing bugs or horrible07/30/2014 - 4:07pm
ZenSora/Matthew: It's not just Miiverse, but the whole idea of streetpass and things like that would be affected if the OS is not running. And just because a 3DS game can be downloaded and run does not mean that GBA can as easily. Those 3DS games use the07/30/2014 - 4:06pm
 

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