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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Open Letter to Senator Demuzio

Quick recap for those new to the program.

I just sent an e-mail to Senator Demuzio outlining my distaste for her public comments about video games as art ... a copy to follow. Humorously, I accidentally left the subject "Rough Draft". Ah caffiene. I later resent with a proper subject line, better to have her get two than to have someone delete it thinking it's spam. Actually, what's funny is that "Rough Draft" would probably mean more to here, since her actions and words show that she'll probably simply ignore the more meaningful subject "Video Games Are Art".

Oh well. The real purpose is to let people know what the Illinois assembly thinks of new media. Their narrow view means has wide ranging effects here. Can't flash movies be video games? Are they art? Will they be censored from the net for fear of raising an army of Manchurian children?

In theory, I don't have a huge problem with this bill. I don't think a boy or girl of ten should be playing Grand Theft Auto. In practice, it doesn't make much sense though. First - where is the epidemic? There hasn't been any string of youth-related violence in Illinois and overall, crime has actually been down. And in spirit, I object earnestly to labelling video games as nothing more than watered down military simulators.

Basically the bill says that any clerk renting or selling a game which is not rated EC, E10+, E, or T faces a $5,000 fine (Edit: I had misread one of the revisions as changing this to $1,000 previously. It is actuallly "a Class A misdemeanor for which a fine of $5,000 may be imposed"). I'm having trouble hunting down the Illinois codes for selling pornography, alcohol or tobacco to a minor, but Gamespot had great rundown of California's similar legislation and points out that it's stiffer than selling smokes to a ten year old there. Update: Still looking for "harmful" material, like tobacco, that the violent games are more akin to, but pornography and sexually explicit games are on about equal footing here.

Fact is - our governor hasn't been doing well in the polls and he's looking for an easy target to win some brownie points. However, Demuzio has now framed this as a free speech battle. She wants to sideline interactive media, which is a horrible presumption to make.

So if you're a gamer and you believe that video games can be an expression of art and that they should be protected and treated as such, then please forward this on to others you know that may feel the same. A link at the bottom of this points to the bill in question to let you know who is supporting this.

Letter follows:

Senator Demuzio,

Recently on the Senate floor you made the interesting declaration that
video games are neither art nor media and therefore cannot be
protected an expression of free speech.

I wonder by what basis you would make such a statement. Perhaps
you've decided that nothing interactive can be art. That seems a very
shallow and outdated view of art. I believe I've even participated in
such artwork at the Art Institute here in Chicago. Perhaps you've
decided that anything which attempts to depict a realistic setting
isn't art? That make sense only if you want to ignore countless of
photographers which have seen their work framed on walls. I've played
many games which are simply a testament to artistic ability, so I fail
to see your logic here.

You said video games were simulations, not unlike those simulations
used in preparations for war. I'll have to say, Senator ... I've seen
the simulations that we've used to prepare for war and they would make
horrible video games. I also wonder what it is about a simulation
that you feel makes it devoid of art? Is not any still life a
simulation? Is there not a multitude of art which attempts to
simulate life?

What appears to be taking place is that you've decided to accept the
misinformed opinion that video games are little but training materials
for violent behavior. On your website you quote a study which says
that children who play video games may act out more in school. I've
read that study, Senator, and I find it interesting that you leave out
the section which says that there is no indication that video games
could be determined to be a deciding factor. I suppose politics
in this country has come to the point where a careful selection of
details passes as truth ... but I assure that it's still isn't true
for the rest of us.

Instead of worrying about the real factors of cultural violence - like
drug addiction and poverty - you and your cohorts have chosen a
scapegoat. Unfortunately, your words frame this action for what it is
- an attack on the freedom of speech in new and emergent media.
Perhaps this media is evolving quickly and needs to be studied and
discussed - but you cannot simply declare that it is not an expression
of speech when it so surely is.

I've just read the latest amendment to this bill. I also find it
interesting that our last line of defense will be the underpaid clerk.
Is that realistic? Why is a retail clerk more responsible for the
actions of a child than the parent who should be standing next to the
child? What precisely is the social blight you are trying to fix
here? That retail clerks do not take enough responsibility for
another person's child? Because they are in line for a $1,000 fine
... while the parent gets away for free. Now our culture has decided
that not only will television raise our child, but Blockbuster will be
our babysitter.

Are stories not a form of art you are familiar with? Well, let me
tell you another story. This is a story of the new communication. It
begins with me sending you this email and then forwarding it onward to
several of my friends. I will inform them of you and the Illinois
Democratic Party's view on free speech and how you care to define
them. I will keep this information posted on my website for other
people to reference. They will continue to pass that along to those
they see fit.

The story will end on election day, Senator. I will be thinking of
you, the Governor, and your friends on that day. Of course, you get
to take part in this story. How you view new media and it's rights of
free speech and protection under the law can help determine the

Think of it as an interactive tale.

Good day,

Joshua Birk


The bill itself on

1 comment:

A. LaMosca said...

That's an excellent letter on an important issue. I'll be emailing the senator as well. Thanks for the heads-up.