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Game Studios, Social Responsibility and Artists

Posted by Bart

heston_10commandmentsHere’s another post derived from my MiGs notes that might be of interest to folks.  This one comes from the joint-CEOs session on games and social responsibility from day 2 of MiGs during lunch. The room was packed and although I missed the first 10 min or so in fact there wasn’t much of substances to see… unless of course you are interested in CEO-talk.  The topics for the panel essentially boiled down to studio’s responsibilities vis a vis violence in games and whether they have Xmas parties for their employees (i.e. quality of life).  On stage were the CEOs for A2M, EA Montreal and Beenox plus Clint Hocking (who, I think, would have a hard time passing for a CEO even if he was one). There was lots of cringe moments, knowing glances amongst folks int he audience, a few gasps but what made interesting for me was a couple of impassioned pleas from Clint to let the game designers do their thing.

‘Tis an old story no?  And for sure some TAGgers will have more insight into this than I.  To what extent is the game designer, dare I say game artist, ethically responsible for the effects of their work on players and especially young players.  To be honest I haven’t thought about this much. On the one hand we have this. Its the Canadian Pediatric Society’s statement on the effects of videogames (and other media) on kids.  On the other hand we have Clint basically implying that if studio execs would simply realize the artistic merits of the medium and let designers do their thing the kids’ll be alright.

In the middle is basically the apparatus of digital games as mass culture industry and some systematic incentive to keep video games just violent enough to not tip the scales in terms of full on moral panic. The CEOs position is predictable on this… we give the consumer what they want it is up to the government and distributors to regulate consumption (via labeling) and parents to regulate their kids.  How the CEOs could get away with simultaneously blaming bad parents and bad video game store workers is a bit beyond me but whatever… that one just slid on by.

I was more intrigued, as usual, by Clint’s points, give designers/developers the freedom to be artists and the moral “good” of digital games will be realized.  Of course the point is more complex that this… the game artists of the promised land still need to make a buck whilst they comment on the important things.  And no one seems to imply that all games should move from being mass culture to something like Literature or god forbid…. Opera.  I am assuming that game designers have their eye on a Hollywood model where some directors are permitted by the system to be artistic (as opposed to commercialistic I guess) in their filmic vision.  I guess some Japanese designers already live in this promised land or so it would seem.

But is this possible?  Is it even desirable?  What kind of structures of production need to be imagined before the milk and honey flow for the next golden age of video games. And of course Clint should remember that Moses was not allowed to enter the promised land… still he could do worse than being the Charles Heston of video games 🙂

Something bothers me about the artistic “let me do my thing” attitude in all this but then I am a sociologist and there there is no such thing as people doing their own thing… ever.