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 Corp@Adam802 We'll break out the popcorn in June12/19/2014 - 9:23pm
ZippyDSMleeMaskedPixelante: I'm itching to start it too but I will wait till the patch goes live. >>12/19/2014 - 7:52pm
Adam802Leland Yee and Jackson get trial date: http://sfbay.ca/2014/12/18/leland-yee-keith-jackson-get-trial-date/12/19/2014 - 5:24pm
MaskedPixelanteNevermind. Turns out when they said "the patch is now live", they meant "it's still in beta".12/19/2014 - 5:07pm
MaskedPixelanteSo I bought Dark Souls PC, and it's forcing me to log into GFWL. Did I miss something?12/19/2014 - 5:00pm
Matthew Wilsonhttp://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/12/republicans-may-have-plan-to-save-internet-providers-from-utility-rules/ this is intreasting. congress may put net nutrality in to law to avoid title 2 classification12/19/2014 - 2:45pm
Matthew Wilsonhttp://www.polygon.com/2014/12/19/7421953/bullshit-cards-against-humanity-donated-250k-sunlight-foundation I have to admit I like the choice o organization. congrats to CAH.12/19/2014 - 1:51pm
E. Zachary KnightIf you are downloading a copy in order to bypass the DRM, then you are legally in the wrong. Ethically, if you bought the game, it doesn't matter where you download it in the future.12/19/2014 - 12:06pm
InfophileEZK: Certainly better that way, though not foolproof. Makes me think though: does it count as piracy if you download a game you already paid for, just not from the place you paid for it at? Ethically, I'd say no, but legally, probably yes.12/19/2014 - 11:20am
ZippyDSMleeAnd I still spent 200$ in the last month on steam/GOG stuff sales get me nearly every time ><12/19/2014 - 10:55am
ZippyDSMleeMaskedPixelante:And this is why I'm a one legged bandit.12/19/2014 - 10:51am
ZippyDSMleeE. Zachary Knight: I buy what I can as long as I can get cracks for it...then again it I could have gotton Lords of the Fallen for 30 with DLC I would have ><12/19/2014 - 10:50am
MaskedPixelantehttp://www.joystiq.com/2014/12/19/marvel-vs-capcom-origins-leaving-online-storefronts-soon/ Speaking of "last chance to buy", Marvel vs. Capcom Origins is getting delisted from all major storefronts. Behold the wonders of the all digital future.12/19/2014 - 9:59am
MaskedPixelanteSeriously, the so-called "Last Chance" sale was up to 80% off, while this one time only return sale goes for a flat 85% off with a 90% off upgrade if you buy the whole catalogue.12/19/2014 - 9:37am
E. Zachary KnightInfophile, Tha is why I buy only DRM-free games.12/19/2014 - 9:37am
MaskedPixelanteNordic is back on GOG for one weekend only. And at 85% off no less, which is kind of a slap in the face to people who paid more during the "NORDIC IS LEAVING FOREVER BUY NOW OR FOREVER HOLD YOUR PEACE" sale, but whatever...12/19/2014 - 9:28am
InfophileRe PHX's link: This is one of the reasons the digital revolution isn't all it's cracked up to be. There's also the flip side where Sony can block access to games you've bought if they ban your account for unrelated reasons. All power is theirs.12/19/2014 - 8:52am
MaskedPixelantehttp://uplay.ubi.com/#!/en-US/events/uplay-15-days You can win FREE GAMES FOR A YEAR! Unfortunately, they're Ubisoft games.12/18/2014 - 6:29pm
Papa MidnightAh, so it was downtime. I've been seeing post appear in my RSS feed, but I was unable to access GamePolitics today across several ISPs.12/18/2014 - 6:06pm
james_fudgeSorry for the downtime today, folks.12/18/2014 - 5:54pm
 

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