Solo Mission – Why Gamers Don’t Have Congressional Allies
*Solo Mission – Why Gamers Don’t Have Congressional Allies is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect those of the editors of ScreenInvasion.com. You know it’s going to be juicy now!
Rep, Mike Rogers (R-MI) recently stated that opponents to his draconian, anti-privacy bill named CISPA, were “14 year old Tweeters in their basements”, casting an appalling lack of serious concern for how many people oppose this piece of legislation. If you’re not familiar with CISPA, go here for a quick recap. If you’re wondering how this effects you as a gamer, think about all the personal information that’s on your Steam Account, your Xbox Live account, or your PSN account. Those companies can give up your personal information, without a warrant, if you’re even suspected of any sort of “cyber-crime” in dangerously vague language. Technically, borrowing someone’s Steam password to try out a game they own is a “cyber-crime” by the bill’s definition. By the way, this passed the House of Representatives. It passed. The White House is promising a veto on the bill right out of the gate if it passes the Senate. But consider the Senate couldn’t pass a pro-kitten-anti-Sharia bill at this point, don’t expect it to go anywhere.
This bill is another example of Congress wanting to punish the online community, and by extension, gamers. Despite the fact the gaming industry pulled in $13.26 billion last year, the gamer themselves have few allies in the legislative sphere. Normally (and depressingly), Congress will almost immediately come to the aid of any industry that provides thousands of jobs and billions in revenue, such as the “Monsanto Protection Act” and the disheartening defeat of insanely popular background checks for gun show purchases. Games are quickly becoming a mainstay of culture and entertainment, yet almost all of the attitudes coming from Capitol Hill are either punitive, negative, or just plain condescending. Why do gamers have so few allies in Congress?
It’s the “parents just don’t understand” argument. Boomers run both houses of Congress. The oldest and most hilariously politically paralyzed Congress in history, the 111th Congress, the average age of a Congressmen is 57 with a Senator’s average age being 63. The average age of a gamer is 31. When the average Senator was born, the most popular video game was… nothing. The first coin-op arcade game was Galaxy Game released in 1971, so they would’ve been the right age to be part of that experience, right?
Nope. Coin-op arcades didn’t really take off until, you guessed it, the early to mid-1980’s, when the average gamer now was of the right age to bum quarters from Mom and try their hand at Donkey Kong. The video game market didn’t even really take off until the home console became a staple, and by then, Congressman were busy studying law or political science (the most common major for Congress). A lot of them went to yuppie Ivy League school, such as Harvard and Yale, far from the poors and their grimy console fun. You can boil it down to a simple phrase: they don’t get it.
Some game companies are starting to reverse this trend, with the explosive popularity of the Wii and mobile gaming aimed at a more casual, demographically generous audience. The previous Boomers are learning to game (sort of), which is part of the reason video games are kind of starting to break through that generational barrier. But those aren’t the games Congress goes after. No one has ever written a piece of legislation citing Bejeweled as a threat to American children, despite casual games being a huge time sink for kids.
Technology Changes Quickly
This goes hand in hand with the generational gap. Technology, like PC hardware and mobile software, moves at a mile a minute. The Congress is designed to act painfully slowly to avoid passing dangerous legislation too quickly. The continual leap-frogging of software and Internet technology simply moves too quickly for the Congress to keep up with it in an effective way. This isn’t a Robert’s Rules of Order problem, it’s that Congressional officials either don’t understand how quickly this stuff moves, or they don’t care enough to understand the nuances of it. A few reps have done some Reddit AMA’s, which is a positive move, but they often come off like Grandpa explaining how rad and cool the Virtual Boy is going to be.
Games Make A Good Scapegoat
Almost immediately after Columbine, Gabby Gifford’s attempted assassination in Arizona, and even the Newtown massacre, the dread spectre of violent video games reared its digital carcass one more. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) successfully got a pointless piece of legislation to study violent video games only 5 days after the Newtown Shooting. Before any gun control legislation. Before mental health legislation. Violent video games, everyone. We’ve found our problem.
Games make for a good scapegoat because the older generation, you know, the ones in Congress and voters, don’t play games. They’re stuck in this archaic and continually disproved myth that digital violence directly translates to real violence. Most of the games they mention, like Mortal Kombat, the Call of Duty series, and Grand Theft Auto, tend to be goofy, hyper-violent and over the top, similar to blockbuster action movies. That unstable player is better served with meaningful mental health services and lack of access to any sort of firearm.
Games are scapegoats because Americans don’t want to seriously examine the causes of social violence: poverty, lack of education, easy access to guns, and an overly militarized society at home and abroad. That’s not profitable to those industries that make bank off of people’s suffering and fear, and since our Congress gets rented from time to time by these lobbies, very little meaningful legislation gets sent to address them. Since the most regular voters don’t play video games, and their candidates have pre-conceived notions about games, there’s almost no political penalty for calling video games the major source of social violence. Imagine if a congressman stood up and said a major source of our social violence was the fact our country glorifies the use of industrial violence in any way it pleases without international repercussions? In fact, games like Call of Duty and Battlefield celebrate the superiority of military power through a warped sense of “realism” (visual but not experiential), so it’s actually not in the Congress’ best interest to threaten an industry that does nothing but tell them American military power is the best thing ever, or that violence solves every problem.
But oh no! It’s digital bullets that kill! It’s just something to say to television cameras to fill the time until the next inevitable tragedy. They don’t buy or play games, so why would they care if those publishers get run over the coals in the press? The video game industry doesn’t pump millions into lobbying, except in terms of media conglomeration and FCC regulations, and game content doesn’t factor into those decisions. The First Amendment, precedents like Brown vs. Entertainment Merchants Association protects digital entertainment creatively, while the ESRB deftly avoids government censorship. Publishers and developers don’t take the brunt of this criticism, gamers themselves do.
Neither having a Congress that condemns video games for falsely being the source of violence, nor a Congress that embraces video games because they dangerously endorse military supremacy is a good thing. There hasn’t been a single Congressional resolution praising video games for their positive benefits, such as cognitive therapy, socialization of autistic children, educational gaming, etc. It’s always more restrictions, more bogus studies, more marginalization of gamers as lonely nerds planning their next massacre. We don’t have any Congressional support of any stripe. I guess we need our first gamer Congressman from the Internet Generation, someone who enjoys video games. Jared Polis (D-CO), an avid LOL (League of Legends) player, is an encouraging step in the right direction. He was a Congressman who made waves during last year’s SOPA debate by actually acknowledging he played video games. He’s the exception to the rule though, and I foresee this cloud of negativity lifting as more Congressman and Senator retire, and a new generation of more tech-savvy Internet natives take their place.
Advocacy groups like the Video Game Voters Network and the Electronic Consumers Association are doing their part on the ground, and their efforts are amazing at mobilizing efforts against video game censorship, but that’s only part of it. We need elected leaders who understand how important this stuff is. We need allies.
Upon hearing that, I happily accept your nomination for Congressman from the Great State of Internet.