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About this Author
Andrew Phelps Andrew Phelps is an assistant professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, in Rochester, NY. He is the founding faculty member of the Game Programming Concentration within the Department of Information Technology and his work in games programming education has been featured in The New York Times, CNN.com, USA Today, National Public Radio, and other publications. Email: amp-at-it.rit.edu
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November 30, 2004

Oh We Got Trouble

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Posted by Andrew Phelps

That starts with “T” and that rhymes with “G” and that stands for GAME.

It doesn’t seem like a year ago that I was harping on violence in holiday game adds with ‘Ho Ho Boom’. But apparently time flies. This year, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility has published (and used the press machine to promote) the Ten Most Violent Video Games for the holiday season, trying to sway holiday shoppers away from the violence that corrupts the minds of children. More interestingly, they are pointing at some scientific “proof” (in the form of AAP studies) that violence in videogames is more harmful than violence in television or movies. An interesting study, although I might say that a lot of work needs to be done in this area before anything can be considered proven, to my minid anyway. You can read their mission statement and a bit about their work here.

In a response statement the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association (IEMA) says that in fact violent “M-Rated” games are not being sold to children anyway. They point out that the rating system is still rather new, and that 2 years ago merchants began to really tighten up the system, but that most of the studies conducted as ‘sting operations’ selling M-rated games to minors were conducted before this date. I remember as a child seeing ‘R-rated’ movies as a 13 or 14 year old without parental consent, because the movie theatre didn’t care a whit. I doubt that would fly today (at least in my home town) so there very well may be some truth to this. I don’t know. It’s an interesting tit-for-tat going on though. You can read the IEMA’s arguments here in PDF form.

So with all of that in the background, with the industry having perception problems and the now-standard holiday violence woes, we turn to two ongoing battles in California, the first of which is over CA AB1793, which is discussed at GameSpot, but which was actually more interesting in its original form as it classified M-rated games as matter “harmful to children” (in the same way as, say, pornogrophy). This was backed, in part, by members of the California Psychiatric Association as shown here. You can read the IEMA’s response here. Whatever side you take on the issue, the war is definitely getting interesting, and a lot hotter than it used to be.

The second battle is one internal to the games industry, and I am betting that they are wishing now they kept it private. But the now infamous “spouse letter” has sparked serious debate about Quality of Life issues in the games industry (in fact, there was debate before, this has simply thrown it all over the press). It also set in motion a class-action lawsuit against EA, the result of which will be very interesting, but also possibly very damaging to the industry in terms of public appeal. The IGDA has posted an open letter to the industry calling for reform, but just as importantly documenting that many of the smaller studios that don’t treat employees like this are producing hit games and succeeding in the industry, and calling for more communication and study at GDC and like places (Great Job to Jason Della Rocca, the IGDA Board, and the entire team over at the IGDA-QoL group!).

As an educator, I have good students that are highly skilled in making games, willing to turn away from that career over stuff like this, preparing instead to work at small studios or in related fields because they can’t justify to themselves the lifestyle demanded by some pockets of the games industry. How sad is that? This was first noted by Jesse Schell at CMU, in the November Newsletter for the IGDA, and as I read his words I found myself just nodding along.

NOTE to my friends at Many-2-Many: How interesting that this should all come from a blog, which can be anonymous? How interesting that when employees had to talk to one another, for fear of being traces they used public blogs with IP logging turned off? There is something to that - public communication without identification has some value, it seems.

And so, another holiday season, and another holiday bru-ha-ha. The growing pangs of the games industry continue to reverberate across everything it touches, a gawking teen-ager with enormous strength and potential, wildly swingly its limbs in a china shop. One can hope that soon it gets back to the business of making games, and making them well. Some good stuff came out recently and more is on the horizon: but the key to continued success may be in moderation, both in public relations, employee matters, and in content conveyance.

The game of pool is the Devil’s own, and we are all liars, sinners, and cheats.

-A

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COMMENTS

1. gonk on December 10, 2004 11:06 PM writes...

I have to say that after reading that and hearing the subsequent press I'm glad I decided against going into game development. Sad, really. I'm also glad I wasn't as far along as your students. But I guess what the worst thing is, is that it all happened in the first place, that talented people let themself be bullied around like this. When people say "quality of life" in relation to these 80 hour work weeks, I ask, what quality? My father works 50-60 hour weeks and I hardly see him as it is.

I guess as a gamer, when I buy the newest game, I'd like to know that the people making it didn't kill themselves in the process. If it means I'm waiting a month or two extra.. so be it.

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