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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Mattsworknamei I hope there is, I love that series.04/25/2015 - 5:59pm
Matthew Wilson@matt I am sure there will never be a armored core game04/25/2015 - 5:24pm
Mattsworknameof From softwares recent games, bloodborne is the best work they have done yet, though they really need to get to work on armored core 604/25/2015 - 5:10pm
Matthew WilsonLost Kingdoms came out in 2002 this day. I played that game. I did not relize it was made by From Software. Lost Kingdoms was a good unique hard game.04/25/2015 - 4:56pm
MattsworknameOff topic, but, who heres playing Bloodborne, and if so, is it mercillesly murdering you every chance it gets?04/25/2015 - 7:35am
Matthew WilsonI think its a good article, and devs can take some lessons from life is strange.04/24/2015 - 10:24pm
Andrew EisenI tinyURL'd it. The world is safe!04/24/2015 - 10:23pm
Matthew Wilson@AE my bad there is nothing I can do about that.04/24/2015 - 10:21pm
Andrew EisenLooks like the spoiler is right there in the URL.04/24/2015 - 10:20pm
Matthew Wilsonhttp://tinyurl.com/ok9pf6b a interesting opinion piece on the life is strange episode 2, and a dark event that happens in it. full warning major spoilers.04/24/2015 - 10:11pm
Matthew Wilson@mech no just she, nor her co workers have not. she never said it is not real.04/24/2015 - 8:58pm
MechaCrashWas she saying "I haven't experienced it," or "I haven't experienced it therefore it does not exist"?04/24/2015 - 8:31pm
ZippyDSMleeoy the skyrim paid mod thing is going over well. My 2 lints, I would not mind if Skyrim had a full SDK and not a crappy lil editor....04/24/2015 - 6:46pm
Andrew EisenWell, that is indeed crappy and nonsensical.04/24/2015 - 3:45pm
Matthew Wilsonshe got attacked for saying that she personaly has not experienced the harassment some other female devs have, and she got acused of defending GG and ignoring harassment. she ended up getting dog piled because of it.04/24/2015 - 3:43pm
Andrew EisenFine but do you recall ANY details at all?04/24/2015 - 3:38pm
Matthew Wilsonit was several weeks ago now, and I will admit to not saving it.04/24/2015 - 3:36pm
Andrew EisenAttacked HOW and by WHOM for not writing off WHO as evil? Do you have a link or anything?04/24/2015 - 3:31pm
Matthew Wilsonthat is the whole point she was not attacked for saying anything. she was attacked for being willing to debate in the first place, and not just write them off as evil.04/24/2015 - 3:28pm
Andrew EisenI know there's not a lot of room in the Shout box but goodness you're being vague.04/24/2015 - 3:26pm
 

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