The Gamer Bloc

Topmast_hillaryIn response to anti-game legislation, some of it ridiculous, the Entertainment Software Association has established a Video Game Voters Network. Members are encouraged to advocate for sound policies regarding the medium. I've been thinking quite a bit lately about policy issues as regards synthetic worlds. Some questions, below the fold.

Once formed and self-conscious, how will the gamer bloc vote on other issues?

Is the gamer bloc an extension of the discussion board gaming community into real world politics?

Will the gamer bloc speak out about real-world policies only, or will it try to affect game development as well?

Presuming that it is incredibly useful and important to maintain a distinction between the policies imposed by real-world governments and the rules imposed by game designers, how can such a distinction be sustained when, for example, real-world governments impose laws that affect game development, and there is a self-conscious gamer bloc prepared to act in both domains?


Comments on The Gamer Bloc:

illovich says:

I would think that politicians should be a bit wary about going after video games in general, given the numbers of gamers combined with the major game companies being able to contact those gamers directly in a number of ways.

My hope is that Hillary Clinton's Hot Coffee escapade was loud enough to show that she's really not a great choice for a Presidential candidate--she certainly convinced me not to vote for her.

But we'll see. A problem with video games as a voting block, is that they're not a strong enough motivator I think to make people break with their traditional party. I know that Hillary Clinton and Lieberman have not dissuaded me from generally voting democratic (although the Gore-Lieberman ticket was atrocious enough to push me to vote for Nader), even though I find their socially repressive views to be out of step with the Democratic mainstream.

And in kind, there are many Republicans in my guild who I'm sure would not vote Democrat just because they didn't like bad Republican legislation on video games, like the one linked in the article. It would take a whole lot of crazy legislation, like the outlawing of video games, which I'm sure is impossible at this point.

I think as far as rights in video game though, the courts are going to be the real engine of change in the USA, at least. In a way, I'm sad that Lambda v. Blizzard never happened, because it would have been interesting to see which way the courts would go on personal rights versus software companies in virtual worlds. I'm glad that Blizzard came to their senses of course, but I still was sort of curious about the possible outcomes of the trial.

Posted Mar 15, 2006 4:22:44 PM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

I don't think the gamer bloc is on legislators' radar at all. It'll need to make some splash to get noticed and/or prove that it has some pull/clout/membership. The demographics of who plays certainly suggest that the legislators are picking a fight with a larger group than they realize. Or, perhaps they are simply fighting the good fight and don't really care how many people play.

nb The Senate Judicial Subcommittee on Constitutional Law will convene March 29 to examine the social science and how it has or hasn't hindered the legal efforts in IL, MI and CA.

Posted Mar 15, 2006 4:42:56 PM | link

Morat20 says:

I don't think politicians actually realize -- with their guts, at least -- how many adults play video games.

They're of my father's generation, for the most part. My dad -- through constant exposure -- has at least grasped that I'm not ever "putting aside" video games. I'll be playing them at 80. (I'm 30 now, btw). I don't know if he understands that everyone about my age and younger is the exact same.

Hillary, Lieberman (God I loathe that sanctamonious ass), and the rest on this particular bandwagon think this issue is great -- they can claim it's "For the kids" (parents like it) and think they only people they're really screwing are a handful of comic-book store owners that don't vote anyways.

No matter how many times you tell them how MUCH the videogame industry makes, or that gamers are growing older because [i]they don't outgrow it[p/i] -- the games mature to match -- they won't believe it.

Their guts say "Video games are for kids". So they think it's a nice safe pander to the morality crowd, that won't have an electoral sting.

Me? I'd be a bit leery of pissing off a large -- if routinely non-voting -- block that has a large disposable income. Gamers who spend hundreds or thousands of dollars a year on games and hardware WILL get off their butts to vote you out -- but more importantly, they'll send the price of a few games to your opponent. And he'll use that money to hammer you.

Posted Mar 15, 2006 6:11:37 PM | link

BridgetAG says:

"Is the gamer bloc an extension of the discussion board gaming community into real world politics?"

I remember having an email exchange with EQ's then community manager after he complained long and hard in the forums about receiving petitions for change, signed by large numbers of players. His view - "None of this has any effect, it is a waste of my time, stop it".

My take was that it was a FANTASTIC way for people below voting age to come together passionately and create a mock "political movement". Sure, it is a pain in the ass to read "We demand you unnerf the Mace of Unrulyness!!1!", but what a great training ground for issues that ultimately will affect them. The experience of raging against the Sony Machine, albeit futile and not a little silly, gives them that much more experience when it comes to rallying people over RL serious issues.

I thought it was a great breeding ground for democratic engagement and ultimately better for the country. He said it was still a waste of his time. And now here they are.

Be very interesting to see how the gamer's bloc would deal with a military draft. Would there be MYST/Katamary vs. Halo/Full Spectrum Warrior schisms?

Posted Mar 16, 2006 12:54:51 PM | link

Franek says:

There is no gamer block.

There is a nascent lobbying effort on the part of the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) through the Video Game Voters Network (VGVN) to advance an industry position of legislative non-interference. That is not the same as a Gamer block.

Money and votes buy legislative action. The ESA clearly thinks their money will not ensure legislative support of their position. So they are attempting to rally votes. For that to work, industry must convince legislators that constituents’ votes and contributions will turn on their attitudes toward games. That is a difficult sell. Do we know of any legislator that has been voted out or into office on their position regarding any kind of game issue? Gambling – with important consequences for local economies – is an example. Perhaps baseball or football – when placement of a team or stadium is at stake – is another. But those phenomena have consequences in the real world somewhat separate from the games themselves. The direct connection with the gamer is access. But the central questions for voters are economic. Is there any legislator that has won or lost their job on the basis of fans attitudes on violence in football or hockey?

Money and votes come from a group's solidarity of purpose – their political will. Can a gamer block be solid? If game message boards are any example, a consistent view about games amongst gamers is hard to come by. Is it likely that the same variety of opinion will extend to laws about games? We might expect some support for “no laws”, but if there are laws (and other constituencies will insure that) will the “gamer block” be able to come to a consensus? If guided by industry perhaps – but on its own? That seems less likely.

There’s another aspect to solidarity: the relative importance of games compared to other issues. Even if one feels strongly about game legislation, will it outweigh one’s opinions about war, security, fiscal policy, immigration? Do football or baseball fans share other kinds of attitudes or are they diverse? I suspect diversity. As a result, the potential for gaming issues to be pivotal in their selection of a candidate seem low.

Initial conclusion: the Video Game Voters Network is a non-starter as an exemplar of a gamers block. It may well give cover for legislators who want to justify a stand in support of ESA positions and financial support. But only the most gullible would believe that real votes would tip on either VGVN membership or mail-in campaigns.

How could there be a gamer block? If social movements around other issues are any example it would need a committed core of advocates who believe that game issues are more important than any others. They would have to be willing to give up gaming in order to advocate their position. Cindy Sheehan isn’t spending much time cleaning her house and fixing dinner when she is on the road. They would have to throw their support behind people who hold positions they might not agree with – like supporters of on-line gambling or ESA and stand apart from them when they could not come to agreement. They would have to raise money to run operations and influence legislation. They would have to get out the vote. When exit polls in New York show people saying “I voted against Hillary Clinton because of her stand on video games” there may be a game industry block. When the polls say “I voted for John Smith because he advocates mandatory game industry standards for avatar transfer between games” there will be a gamer block. Who reading this forum will step up?

Posted Mar 16, 2006 1:44:33 PM | link

Tom Hunter says:

Another reason why there is no gamer block, there is no party advocating a position in support of games.

As a gamer and game designer I cannot find anyone to vote for because at the moment politicians are (understandably) running against some of the less attractive aspects of games, or at least the aspects that are percieved as less attractive.

They are also looking for issues that scare people, and the idea that a major form of entertainment contains hidden pornography is pretty scary, even to me. Now I happen to be well informed enough to know that this is not really the case, but the generation identified by Franek does not know this.

Hillary Clinton may upset some libertarians who happen to be gamers, but she ought to ring libertarian alarm bells anyway. The same is true of Republican candidates who take positions against art or freedom of expression.

We may see people take up positions on the game debate similar to existing positions on freedom of expression, people opposed to censorship of film may also be opposed to censorship of games. But I doubt we will see a "game block" develop.

Blocks tend to develop around moral or economic issues, not around forms of entertainment. There is no "film block" even though lots of people like movies and have opinions, both pro and con about regulating their content. Games are likely to follow the same path, and in fact are already on it.

Posted Mar 17, 2006 10:21:09 AM | link