A Challenge to the Press
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Yesterday an article appeared on a popular games website (which has since been picked up by other sites) with the headline “We’re Best on PS3 Insomniac Boasts”. The website reprinted an erroneous story that extracted two sentences from a seven-page interview I had done with Tom Russo for EGM, conveying a false sense of Insomniac’s (and my) self-superiority.
Not only were my comments taken completely out of context, I was misquoted (the website in question subsequently corrected the quote.)
The article used an answer I gave Tom while he was asking me about Insomniac’s history. The question leading to my answer was “Many people consider Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction the first game that really showed the potential power of the PS3. Any insights into the development of tech that helped achieve this?”
The answer I gave referred to our engine team’s focus AT THE TIME on heavily using the Cell’s SPUs. We were fortunate to be on the PS3 very early and also fortunate to be releasing our second PS3 game in the second year of the console’s existence. At that point in 2007 we were very public proponents of using the SPUs because we wanted to share our positive experiences on the PS3. However the writer of the web article decided that somehow I was saying Insomniac is better than any other developer on the PS3.
The original headline and the revised headline (“We Aim to Be Best on PS3”) are not statements that I or anyone at Insomniac would ever say or would want implied. While we’re proud of our games, we also have the greatest respect for our peers in this industry and are always grateful when our games are supported by our fans and media alike. Our goal is to make games people love, not to crow about how awesome we think we are. We’re also particularly harsh self-critics and are always looking for ways to improve ourselves, our processes and our games. As a result the web article really struck a nerve for me because it was so far off in describing who I am and who we are at Insomniac.
But after my initial negative reaction I realized that stories like this are a necessary byproduct of the wonderful right those of us in the free world have to express ourselves. In America, Europe and in many places across the globe we can say what we want without fear of persecution.
Unfortunately for those of us who develop games, our right to express ourselves is hanging in the balance. If you’re not aware of it, today there is a California law sitting at the US Supreme Court which, if upheld, could completely change the game business. The law would make it illegal to sell games with content “inappropriate” for minors to anyone under 18. The law would ignore ESRB ratings and use completely arbitrary and vague definitions to describe what is allowed and isn’t allowed. Ultimately games would be treated as restricted substances – similar to cigarettes, alcohol and drugs.
It’s very important to note that no other form of media has to contend with this kind of restriction. It’s not illegal for those under 17 to attend a R rated movie, to read a Stephen King book or to listen to Howard Stern. But if the Supreme Court rules against the game industry, it could be illegal for someone under 18 to buy Resistance if the game is deemed inappropriate for minors under the new law. And as content creators, if there is a chance that our games will appear in an “Adults Only” section of game stores we will have to restrict what we create to avoid going out of business. To me such a situation is tantamount to government censorship.
If this law is upheld it could have a ripple effect across all other forms of media. Those who have sought to censor films, television, books, talk radio, and music will now have precedent to renew their fight against freedom of expression. In other words, this case is a very, very big deal.
What I’d love to see are more game news outlets focusing on big issues like this. Game sites can encourage gamers to take a stand and tell their representatives that games deserve the same protection as other art forms. We have the numbers on our side. We need to take advantage of that to make it crystal clear to our government that a law like this cannot stand.
And one article doesn’t do it. Those who are reporting the news should be treating this case with the gravity it deserves – giving us frequent updates, interviewing those involved, opining on the outcome and explaining the consequences of a decision that goes against gamers.
But the time is now. The US Supreme Court hears oral arguments beginning November 2nd and a decision will probably follow quickly. There are a few short weeks for gamers to be heard before it’s too late.
I challenge the news sites to carry the flag on this issue, to make it a key and ongoing story. Because ultimately whatever decision is made will affect them too.
Who’s going to rise to that challenge?