The National Summit on Video Games, Youth and Public Policy was both down to earth and informative. Contrary to my expectation that it might be hostile to a member of the pro-gaming community, its participants were open-minded, informed, and not nearly as oblivious to the concerns of the game industry as many seem to believe. Whether or not I agree with everything that was said, each speaker was well intentioned; I honestly believe that the gaming industry by and large could have benefited from attending.
Which is why the first article I'm writing about the summit has very little to do with what happened there, and everything to do with my disappointment in the lack of interest the event generated amongst the mainstream game media. In a time when legislative bills in the House and the Senate threaten to drastically change the game industry, I was the only member of the gaming press to attend a summit hosted by one of the most influential players in the video game arena. How often do I read editorials that elegantly speak of the injustices of an industry under attack by legislators, of unfair treatment by the mainstream press, and of our victimization for political interests? And yet when there's an invitation to sit down, roll up our sleeves, and discuss the views that are potentially contrary to our own, the pro-gaming press seems uninterested in even showing up to cover the fight.
The summit was a joint effort between Iowa State University and the National Institute on Media and the Family, one of the game industry's most influential commentators. In regards to the ESRB and government regulation, this was ground zero this weekend. Minneapolis, Minnesota. And no one from the game media camp showed up. Are we to give the impression that our industry is fighting a battle with opponents we're not willing to meet, but are very willing to write about through secondhand experience?
Shame on the game news outlets like GameSpy, IGN, and GameSpot, among others; outlets with the resources to send a reporter to the conference, but chose not to. There are times in this industry when unsexy news is the important news
, when disagreement deserves coverage, and our presence is simply required if we want our readers to have realistic perspective.
When bills such as the "Truth in Video Game Ratings Act" appear, we write passionate discourses on feasibility. We publish editorials about out-of-touch politicians. "They don't know what they're talking about," we say, and then we stop listening. Yet people outside the gaming culture keep
listening. Our industry is uniquely shielded from outside opinion by a fan base that is both passionately defensive of our benefactors and blindly vengeful to its detractors. As a result, we're rarely called out for injustly setting up complex issues as battles between good and evil. Our readers rely on us to present a fair and accurate representation of the argument, and we can't do that without hearing and judging arguments for ourselves. Just as the industry tends to be critical of others for being ignorant about games before discussing them publicly, we seem eager to dismiss outside criticism without taking the time to listen.
The gaming media is in a perfect position to bring knowledgeable commentary to an area of the news that desperately needs knowledgeable reporters, reporters capable of putting events like this summit in perspective with a wider industry. We cannot rely on mainstream press to cover the discussion with a substantial level of depth; we have to do it ourselves.
Within the last few months, bills have been put forth in both the House and the Senate that have the potential to drastically affect the game industry. Depending on how it's handled, it could lead to everything from substantial delays in game releases to major financial consequences for companies developing time intensive games like Oblivion. Serious discussions about the affect of violent video games on child development are actively underway in sectors of the political arena with far more public sway than the game industry itself, and the mainstream game media isn't even paying attention enough to attend.
Somewhere in our industry are the CNNs, ABCs, and Fox News, and their apparent lack of interest in this sort of discussion ? for whatever reason ? is disappointing. I don't agree with everything said in the conference. Nor do I disagree with everything. But at least I know what was said and with accurate intent; every other editorial from the game media that references what happened at this summit, or the recommendations that result from it, are going to be written on best guesses.
The problem is, that's considered the normal way of doing business when it comes to reporting on this topic in the game industry. From my experience, the most prominent critics of the game industry tend to be very reasonable when given a chance to clearly express their views. If we listened more before we spoke, we might find there's less disagreement than we tend to assume there is. We might be less hasty to assign over-generalized labels, and as a consequence, we might actually get something accomplished.
I often read editorials about how the gaming public craves more hard-hitting gaming coverage, coverage that asks and answers tough questions. We should start here, at events that don't greet us as the focus of the show, that don't greet us with booth babes, free meals, and worthless game swag. Perhaps we should start by sending people to cover gaming news that reaches beyond simply what is and isn't fun in the industry, and focus instead on what is consequential to the industry of fun.
The video game media owes it to our readers to come to events like this and listen, come here and think, and come here and base our editorials on the reality of what's being said instead of an interpretation of the talking points that are published afterwards. Too many of the people discussing these issues in forums do so based on the works of the game media, and too few in the gaming media are spending the time to make it justified.
Whether we like it or not, people like Dr. David Walsh carry the ear of the policy maker. They carry more credibility with the serious minds of officials in Washington than nearly anyone directly involved with the industry. Because even though recent reports show that there are over 100 million gamers in the United States, people are far more willing to vote based on what's good for their children compared to what's good for their entertainment. Washington listens to them, and while we in the game industry might disagree for a wide variety of reasons, might wish to pretend they don't exist, ignoring them won't work.
Simply, there was no excuse for me being the only member of the gaming media at this event, and it's the ability of the game industry and the game player to defend themselves in the public arena that's going to pay for it.