Science Fiction Problems: Video Games (The When’s, Why’s, Do’s, and Don’ts)

Hello everyone, this week I’ll be moving on a bit to a subject that’s been in the back of my mind for a while now. Movies and books often try to add impressive looking/sounding video games to add to the futuristic flavor of their world, but they often leave me with a wry grin on my face. Since the dawn of the idea of virtual reality, spacey holograms and simulations = future, and everyone’s more or less gotten on board with the idea, whether they actually know anything about video games or not.

Just like its predecessors of radio and movies, this newest medium is likely here to stay, residing on the bleeding edge of our technological progress (and often pushing it even further). If your world is set in the future, as in the case of the Technological Singularity and Robots, you should answer what their role is. In the next few posts I will discuss how video games can be used effectively, clichés and problems you should avoid, and when they should be addressed at all. But first, I would like to address a current event, and its possible implications and considerations.

The Cultural Bugbear of an Unfamiliar Medium

I would like to preface this discussion with the admission that, being a college-age male that resides precisely within most media marketing sweetspots, I frequently enjoy the entertainment of video games. I like to think that I have better taste than most in this area, and balance this hobby with a healthy diversity of interests and academic pursuits (Dostoevsky, anyone?), but just so you know, I am a tad biased in this area. Moving on…

Many people would call video games an irrelevant distraction (and in many cases they would be right), however, recently a major case was deciding in the United States Supreme Court regarding (you guessed it) video games. The issue, as some of you may be aware of, is that of Mature-rated video games being sold to minors. California, in the case of Governor Brown vs. The Entertainment Merchants Association, attempted to pass a law that would make illegal to sell these games  to children under the age of 18.

While it is a universal practice among retailers to restrict sales of M-rated games to minors, it is not actually illegal in any state, and so California’s bill would be the first legislation to enforce this practice with a heavy fine. The EMA challenged the bill, claiming that it violated their First Amendment rights (free speech), saying that:

Video games qualify for First Amendment protection. Like protected books, plays, and movies, they communicate ideas through familiar literary devices and features distinctive to the medium. And “the basic principles of freedom of speech… do not vary” with a new and different communication medium. (http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/10pdf/08-1448.pdf)

The decision was made against the bill, 7 to 2, and it was declared unconstitutional.

Why This Matters To You

Regardless of what you think about this decision, this event frames an increasing debate regarding the place of video games in American culture, which begs the question, beyond what games will look like in the future:

  • What place will they have as a medium of expression?
  • With family game systems like the Nintendo Wii bringing much larger age demographics into the discussion, where will this issue be down the road as more and more people become “gamers”?
  • Do you think this element of our culture will develop into a net positive or net negative influence?

Before I start giving my thoughts on this subject, I would like to know what you all think! Also, what examples of video games (lame or otherwise) have you seen in science fiction books or movies? Let me know in the comments below!

Sources: supremecourt.gov, Escapist Magazine, Entertainment Software Rating Board