A million times: Yes.

I watched Adam Sessler as a kid on G4. I always liked his quirky ways and insight on games. His coverage on G4 was one of those things that got me more into gaming.

But he has truly come into his own after joining Rev3Games. He seems happier, more vocal, and seriously on point with his editorials and reviews. It has been a pleasure to watch.

So when I heard he and another jurno-guy I respect Jim Sterling had done a panel chat at SGC I wanted to watch. I found the stream and what I saw made me stand up and applaud while sitting at my own desk in my own home.

Adam Sessler with fiery indignation rips into the trash talking, exclusionary, rape-y/misogynistic culture of games and dismantles it in under a minute and a half. It is glorious. Please watch the whole stream, but if not. Take 1:30 (starting at 32:59) to listen to Sessler’s response.

STREAM HERE: http://www.twitch.tv/screwattack/b/420530718

Below is a quick transcription:

“I am assuming no one would attest to be one of those guys who are in this room right now. But there seem to be a lot of them. Maybe a lot of them are in junior high school. If you know some one who does this, could you stop playing with them? Could you call them a douche?

I mean it really does ruin the experience. I mean when I hear, ya know, clearly a young person using racial epithets and derogatory terms for homosexuals it just makes my stomach churn.

The idea that we are supposed to be a culture of people who at one point if not now, felt already on the margins of a greater society, then you just see this behavior that replicates the same thing with a different target. It really makes the whole affair seem deflated and defeated. It really does. And don’t even give me that ‘First Amendment’ nonsense; you have every right to say it, and I have every right to call you a fucking asshole and try to find your address to put it out there. [Sterling nods vigorously in agreement]  

And one more thing: Are any of you people part of this absolutely ridiculous ‘mens right’ reddit/subreddit thing? This-this word misandry which is thrown around with the frequency of Rip Taylor’s glitter its just got to be – you don’t get to flip the argument back to you, okay? You are the problem. Acknowledge it. Go home and think about how shitty you are. End of story. “

Thanks for saying what all of us sane people were thinking.

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Stop Trying To Use ‘Companies Are Greedy’ As An Argument. Just Stop.

Recently I was on Kotaku, a place which I often try to avoid due to the content of their comment boards and editorials. Nonetheless I came across an editorial that just miffed me. This particular article was entitled “Stop Trying To Use ‘Companies Exist To Make Money’ As An Argument. Just Stop.”

This article was essentially a concurring editorial posted in response to an editorial penned by Jim Sterling, someone for whom I have much respect. The Kotaku op-ed itself was authored by Patricia Hernandez. Aside from the fact that 40% of the piece is quoted from Jim Sterling’s piece, what it succeeds wonderfully in doing is illustrating the most profound lack of understanding of the games industry by a ‘journalist’.

What do you mean by that, Connor? Well allow me to explain. The main thrust of Hernandez’s article, which is ripped directly from Sterling’s, is that game publishers are greedy robber barons. That these companies are leveraging their control over the market to charge an exorbitant price for content that should be free.

Alright, I suppose I understand your point. I mean I understand the point Jim Sterling made (and made it better), but I still get it.

Do I disagree? Not entirely, no. I admit I see products being pushed that are inferior quality and priced up to a premium. However I think the intent of this article is entirely misdirected and comes from a place of ignorance. It assumes that there exists no Downloadable Content (DLC), Digital Rights Management (DRM), or Microtransactions (MTX) that actually provide value. It goes on to imply that any person who says otherwise in defense of such systems is “stupid”, “spineless”, and “a fanboy”. Interesting. I’ll move past the insults and directly answer the first part by saying: there are surely some pieces of DLC, DRM, and MTX that have value. To suggest anything to the contrary is to discredit things like Steam’s DRM, MTX for games like Blacklight Retribution, LoL, or World of Tanks, and the DLC on games like Borderlands 2. I believe such a quality speaks for itself.

Continuing on that train of thought, if you are so offended by the implementation of such services, you could simply not involve yourself with them. Sterling’s article was much more clear about this, there is nothing wrong with being a happy consumer, and there is nothing wrong with being a disgruntled customer. I agree, you have every right to speak your mind about what you see as unethical or exploitative behavior. In fact I encourage you to do so! As a game designer, I see a baseline for quality. Your product must be of _this_ quality. I think that a company who falls short of that is not doing their job, and should be reminded of that. But I do not believe it is fair for consumers to rant and rave at companies who happen to make a product that users simply don’t like. I believe you have the right to expect a certain level of quality, information, and respect. I do not however believe consumers have the right to be entertained by every product. Often when I see people who attack companies for being greedy, it is totally misdirected at a publisher based solely off a personal dislike and not any real objective lack of quality.  So I would ask Jim Sterling the same he asked of me. “I’m not telling you that you definitely have to support a company/product — but don’t tell others they can’t.” I would as for one more thing, if you are going to call a company greedy and exploitative, do it from a position of certainty and reason. Not just a the default reaction when your personal fancies are satisfied.

Moving on from that immediate context, I think this rant gets to a larger issue about game companies. The implication is that the products being released serve no end, other than the financial exploitation of consumers. Let me just squelch that fucking thought there. Are there companies that put out products so that they can profit from them hand over fist? You-fuckin-bet. Is that every company and every product? By no means.

I’m going to let you in on a secret. That game you love, the one that you’ve spent hours playing, the one that you love to chat about with people, and the one for which you recoil in disgust when people don’t recognize the name; yeah that one. That game lost money. I mean, that game cost X dollars to make, it made Y dollars, and Y is less than X. Long story short, the only reason that game is ever getting a sequel is because some behemoth of a blockbuster game was published. Between the retail and DLC the blockbuster raked in 400% of its investment. After that money was used: to recoup the enormous costs from development,  pay employees, cut bonus checks, and saved away for the next iteration of that blockbuster; the remaining dollars were set aside to fund other projects. Projects like the game you love so much. What am I saying? I am saying that the success of other products and their monetization that you find so distasteful paid for the financial failure that is your favorite game.

What does this mean? How could this be possible? If these greedy capitalists only do things for money, how could they possibly make a sequel to a game that made no money? Because they give a shit. As much as it may strain the fabric of you tenuous argument, developers and publishers actually care. They create products not just to line their own coffers, they do it to provide entertainment.

And frankly, as someone who has in the past and will in the future worked at a publisher in the games industry: it not only offends me that you think so little of my motivations, but it just makes you sound ‘stupid’ when you characterize an entire organization off of your flawed understandings.

Financial viability means an awful lot in games production. If something can’t get its money back, its very difficult to get it made, regardless of its quality. That is just how things work. If every developer made every game they wanted, they would quite frankly go broke. Its very difficult to sustain titles that do not have broad appeal.

So what am I saying? The games industry is not black and white, no matter how much so called ‘journalists’ try to pigeonhole it. There are bad or derivative games that have a positive result. There are companies who disrespect their consumers. There exists quality DLC and MTX. Finally, there do exist limits to your entitlement as a consumer, you are in fact not always right. Especially for those who haven’t the slightest idea about the cost and commitment required to develop video game.

Disclaimer: I have worked for, and accepted a job offer from, Microsoft Game Studios. My views expressed here are my own and no one else’s. I represent myself. 

Marriage: 1) Something everyone thinks they are entitled to have and define.

So there has been a lot of talk regarding marriage equality lately. Within the past week the Vice President Joe Biden openly supported same-sex marriage, President Obama got grilled for not openly supporting it, North Carolina outlawed it with a constitutional amendment, and then Obama announced that he supported it. That’s a bit of a hullabaloo.

(Quick side note about the North Carolina business: The new amendment also outlawed Civil Unions and Domestic Partnerships, but left the North Carolina law that allows cousins to be married untouched. Thank God!)

Well, as far as I understand marriage, this conflagration seems to be an utter waste of time. I often feel alone with this stance because everyone seems so fervent. I am surrounded on all sides, stuck in no-man’s-land of a vicious and bloody stand-off.

So let’s describe this no-man’s-land in case you happen to share this small spit of idealism with me.

Marriage is defined by Dictionary.com as:

1) a. the social institution under which a man and woman establish their decision to live as husband and wife by legal commitments, religious ceremonies.

1) b. a similar institution involving partners of the same gender: gay marriage.

I find it mildly amusing that there are two primary definitions, just so everyone is equally miffed.

But to extract the non-sexualized essence, marriage is to “establish their decision to live as [spouses] by legal commitments, religious ceremonies” . That seems pretty straight forward, but its not. You see there is a contradiction in the definition. The phrase ‘by legal commitments’ and ‘religious ceremonies’ are juxtaposed to define or establish the same system. Anyone with a 4th grade education knows that a system being backed by force of law is diametrically opposed to the concept of religious ceremony (That is if your 4th grade teacher covered the Separation of Church and State).

The Separation of Church and State in the USA was established long ago by the founders of the nation, I will cite 3 specific and definable examples.

  1. It was first established in the Constitution of 1787 Article VI wherein it explicitly denies religious affiliation as a requirement for governmental office: “but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States”. Illustrating that religion had no connection in government.
  2. It was again reaffirmed in the Bills of Rights, as the First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. Once again making it clear the legislatures inability to regulate or enforce religion, a concept which is very important and we will return to it later. (It is also understood that since the President can only enforce the law of the legislature, he too is barred from religious entanglements. If you believe that to be false and you subscribe to the theory of executive (royal) prerogative, you have entirely different problems that we can’t address right now.)
  3. Actual authors of the Constitution and political forces such as  James Madison, James Wilson, and Thomas Jefferson were all devout Christians. These men also made their thoughts clear about the fact the our state is one that cannot be ruled or legislated by Religion. Jefferson wrote about the ‘wall’ built between the two systems ( Jefferson’s Letter Regarding Secularism ). I wouldn’t call these men those who mince words or misrepresent their ideas.

With a firm understanding of the separated Church and State, we move on to the next step in the problem.

Marriage is a religious institution. Marital situations may have existed before religions, but the current understanding of marriage is a construct of the different religious traditions. Nearly all religions of the world have their own customs, methods, standards, and qualifications for marriage. Yet somehow we, or a large portion of the US population, believe that there is some overarching consensus  regarding what ‘marriage’ is or at least enough of one to legislate on the institution. Are you fucking kidding me? You’re going to tell me that Muslims and Christians, who in so many trivial cases oppose each other, agree about something as sacred as marriage? I’m not entirely convinced.

Even if such a  consensus doesn’t exist, there is something that does: Licensed Marriage. That is to say, there exist licenses, laws, legal precedent and rulings that regulate the institution (on a Federal, State, and Local level). Aythere’s the rub! Why is the government in the business of marriage? Why does any US government have the power to regulate a religious institution and thereby breach the Constitution and the First Amendment? It is not allowed, we know it is not, yet we allow it to happen.

Because of this unfortunate reality, opposing forces attempt to exert control over this ‘legalized marriage’. Christians who believe marriage cannot be homosexual want it to be legally defined as such. Others who don’t want the heterosexual constraints fight against such measures. While people like myself are left on the sidelines, baffled.

Maybe to resolve the issue we should return marriage to its original state: a religious institution that individual churches and faiths have complete autonomy over.  Remove all text and reference to marriage from our laws. Instead create a new system (actually just elevate an existing system) and make civil unions the only legally recognized marital/spousal arrangement. All parties win, those of faith who do not acknowledge same sex couples are free to perpetuate such barriers. Same sex couples can still have the same legal rights and financial privileges that marriages currently enjoy. (And even get married in Churches who will embrace them to boot!)

Why are people so adamant about preserving the text of marriage in our laws? Many claim it is to ensure that the integrity of marriage is maintained. As many people have pointed out: exponentially increasing rates of divorce and adultery in heterosexual marriage is doing the lion’s share of that task. Something as despicable as adultery was even explicitly outlawed in the Ten Commandments. Maybe my reading comprehension isn’t great but I failed to even catch a whiff of a reference to homosexuality in that particular sacred contract.

All I know is that something as important, sacred, and downright religious as marriage shouldn’t be under the purview of any law beyond that of the church that oversees it. As Jefferson said, “religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship”

Maybe I’m crazy, but if I had a religion: I would never sacrifice a ceremony so important to the likes of the Federal Government, and I wouldn’t be in the business of stomping on other peoples personal liberties.

What SOPA, PIPA, and ACTA are really about.

Disclaimer & Citation- A lot of the ideas and arguments that I will be discussing in this post are positions and arguments that I have heard from a number of sources, but the one that deserves most of the credit is Jim Sterling.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Jim Sterling, he is a semi-notable video games journalist. He does extensive Reviews for Destructiod.com (one of the best places for balanced and thorough game reviews). He also does a lot of Op-Ed pieces around the web for sites like Destructiod.com and The Escapist Magazine. He has some truly interesting view points, a stinging wit, and tremendous persuasive ability.

In one of the recent most Destructoid Podcasts he discusses the true motivation behind the recent rash of Intellectual Property (IP) related legislation, and it provided a view point that I hadn’t previously considered.

Most proponents of the current IP legislation whether it be SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act), PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act), or ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement); will claim that their goal is to stop the illegal distribution of copyrighted material. That they wish to stop the illegal distribution of said material in order to protect the property rights of those that created it, and to ensure the successful/profitable sale of that property without illegal competition.

Now that seems just fucking peachy, but unfortunately, the measures through which that property is to be protected could aptly be described as draconian. I will assume at this point that most people understand that full power that legislation like SOPA and PIPA could have wielded. That the government and corporations could effectively remove certain sites from the web through server takedowns, DNS blocking (making your webpage unreachable), or restricting cash flow. If you are still unclear I would point you to this brief video which is one of the best and simplest breakdowns of the bills (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBy7yooz3MM).

So while many may understand what the bill is capable of doing, many of us don’t understand fully why it is being lobbied so fervently.

The publicized position for most publishers, producers, and corporations is well known. But Mr. Sterling accentuated a very real ulterior motivation for supporting such legislation:

These publishers want the ability to stifle potential IP owners who they don’t directly control or who are not connected to them. Most publishers will claim be protecting the rights and property of the creative artist, but in fact they are protecting themselves because more often than not: they own the rights or licensing to IP created by others. These publishers, recording companies, movie studios, and printers are scared shitless of Artists who can effectively cut them out the equation.

The internet has made it possible for a single person with no backing or large distribution company to reach an audience of millions, making these very powerful companies obsolete. These distributors fear that obsolescence and are fighting tooth and nail to stop artists from circumventing them. This is a prime example of middle men trying to hopelessly to remain relevant, with destructive results.

Indie video game developers (like Team Meat and Mojang), musicians (like Trent Reznor), and comedians (like Louis C.K.), have made thousands and millions of dollars on media that was not controlled or managed, simply delivered to the audience and payment was asked for up front.

That type of business model involves a direct dialogue and interaction between the artist and the consumer is the exact reason why major publishers and distributors support legislation like SOPA and PIPA. It destroys the feedback loop that they use to entrap most creative artists.

You can talk to nearly any person well versed in copyright and they will tell you the same thing: while copyrights and patents were invented to protect an individual’s ideas and intellectual property; that is no longer the case. IP laws have created an environment where copyrights are used by corporations to leverage each other in business dealing.  Publishers and Recording agencies convince unwitting artists to surrender the rights to their ideas for the ability to spread those ideas. Most artists are trapped by these distributors, paying off ever accumulating debt and service charges, while retaining no rights to their IP should they choose to walk away.

Now that the internet challenges the current paradigm, everyone with a stake in exploiting the work of artists (or selling someone else’s intellectual property) is scrambling for the nearest telephone to whisper sweet nothings in the ear of our Legislature. To convince elected officials that this open environment of communication must be regulated in order to prevent ‘theft’ and to uphold the rule of law.

The bottom line for most of these pieces of legislation is that entertainment groups and organizations like the MPAA, RIAA, and ESA are seeking to extend their control over the IP licenses that have accumulated and to ensure that other people can’t freely share the IP that these companies don’t yet own.

For those of you who think this is over, you would do well to pay attention. We haven’t finished this argument yet.

Edited Podcast

**I have cut the original podcast for those who just want to listen to the discuss on IP. I do not own the rights to said podcast, I am just simply trying to give credit where credit is due, and to spread ideas that are valuable.**

Original Podcast

(IP discussion starts around 53 minute mark)

9% is not enough.

This is a speech I recently gave a school. The purpose of which was to persuade my audience to take an immediate and personal action. If some of the phrasing seems awkward or out of place, that may be due to the fact that it was delivered to classroom of 20 people.

What if I told you only 1 person in this room was satisfied with the way that this class was being taught? That only 9% of this class was happy with their choice. What if I told you that if you were unhappy with how class was being run, you have the power to change that? What if I told you that it wasn’t just us here in the classroom who were dissatisfied, but that there were another 260 million angry Americans out there as well?

At the end of 2011, 9% of Americans approved of the job being done by the United States Congress. I currently study political science and I have firsthand experience in local government. That passion and experience  has led me to actively follow and participate in congressional politics. By the time I finish here; hopefully you will follow more closely the activity of Congress and you will exercise your influence over it.

CBS and the New York Times found in a 2011 survey that more than 84% of Americans believe that the Congress isn’t doing their job. 9% think they are doing their job. Another 7% don’t even have an opinion.

Do you know who in the federal government can declare war? Or who can institute a draft for said war? How about who sets the tax rate that you pay on your income? Do you know who writes criminal laws you are subject to?

Congress: Your Senators and Congressman are the members of the most powerful branch in the Federal government. Yet somehow the group given such an enormous power over our lives seems to fall short of expectation. How many of you, know the names of your 2 Senators and your Congressman?  If you do, do you know what their party is? Their voting record?

Much of the discontent with congress comes from the apparent disconnect between your representatives and you. Why is there such a disconnect? According to the same CBS poll, Americans at-large gave their local congressmen an approval rating that more than triples the national average. So what Americans are saying is “Congress is broken, but my Congressman is doing fine.” This logic illustrates a problem with voter perception of the Congress. We are electing officials that we may not fully understand or support.

Each and every one of us, excluding convicted felons, has the ability and the right to change this. The Constitution guarantees the right to vote of every citizen. Many younger citizens approach voting as a nuisance and waste of time, believing in their mind that their vote does not impact the overall race. Students from the ages of 18-24, according to the Census Bureau, have the smallest voter turnout rate of any age group by about 5-10% (depending on the year).

If you feel that your vote doesn’t count. Think about this for a moment: Congressional races have only a few thousand voters, just the people who live in your district. As opposed to the 120+ million voters that vote in the presidential election. The concentrated voting pool empowers each vote; you have an amplified impact in Congressional races. Senatorial races are similar; most states base senate races on a county by county basis. So your vote can help determine which candidate your county will go to.

While all you have this influence of Congress, not everyone exercises it. According to George Mason University analysis, voter turn-out during non-presidential elections, called midterm elections, is almost half of turnout during presidential elections. Many of you may have an issue with Congress, yet no one is voting to express their concern.

In order for you to be represented properly, it is your responsibility to understand the people who represent you. You must form an independent opinion of the candidates and evaluate whether that candidate accurately represents your interests, or if they think they are qualified to make decisions that impact the entire nation. How can you evaluate these candidates? There are a score of resources available to all citizens that provide clear information regarding politicians. A quick Google search of my Congressman, Rodney Frelinghuysen brought me to his website. There I found a page that listed his stance on issues, legislation he has promoted, and contact information. Using that information, I personally called my congressman’s office during the House consideration of SOPA to express my disapproval of the bill. You can do the same.

If a candidate already holds office, you can examine their voting record. Nearly all votes in Congress (and State Legislatures!) are available online (http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.php), you can see exactly what your Representatives are supporting or opposing. Most Congressional races and all Senatorial races involve a debate between candidates. Watching these debates can be useful to see where each candidate stands, but also seeing how skilled they are at debate. Debating skills are essential to your representative choice. Congress is a deliberative body and your representative’s job is to make a persuasive case for your needs, and to convince others to support those ideals.

2012 is a General election year, 435 Representatives, 33 Senators, and 1 President will be elected.

How many times someone asked you ‘who you are voting for?’ Do you have an answer? If you tell them, do they ask you, “why?” Maybe you have not paid close attention to the elections, and you don’t have an answer. Now imagine that before election week you checked out each of the candidates in the race, again someone asks you for who you are voting. You can not only tell them which candidate you support for president; but Senate too; and even the House of Representatives. Not only that but you could tell them why you support those candidates. And you might even be able to convince them to support those candidates too, so now your vote (which you may have thought useless) has now doubled in its impact. With a Congress that is supported by more than 9% of the people, we can expect more success in Congress. Perhaps a different type of representative will arrive in Washington if you pay closer attention to these Congressional/Senatorial races: A representative who is truly connected to you. With a return to a more independent and self representative people there will be a stronger confidence in government and more satisfaction with its actions.

Becoming more involved with Congressional and Senatorial races is simple, there are many things you can do to participate:

  • You can register to vote if you have not already. You can register by mail, or at your local town hall or court house.  (http://www.eac.gov/voter_resources/register_to_vote.aspx)
  • You can become more educated about candidates by researching them using web and public records.
  • Contact your Representatives! If you don’t like the way your representative is voting you can call them and their office will take down your opinion. Senators and Congressmen honestly listen to feedback from voters. If there is an overwhelming opposition or support of a bill, they may change their vote.
  • You can donate to or volunteer for a Congressional or Senatorial campaign. These campaigns are always looking for enthusiastic people to help spread their message.
  • Vote. You have a voice and a say in the way that your government is run, if you won’t stand up for your rights and beliefs, why should anyone else do that for you?

James Wilson, the unsung writer of the Constitution, mused about popular representation saying that:

“Oft I have marked, with silent pleasure and admiration, the force and prevalence, throughout the United States, of the principle that the supreme power resides in the people, and that they never part with it… There is a remedy, therefore, for every distemper in government, if the people are not wanting to themselves; if they are wanting to themselves, there is no remedy.”

 

 Sources:

A victory worth noting.

If you follow the Supreme Court (or video games for that matter) like I do; then you have probably seen the recent Supreme Court decision that overturned a California law which criminalized the sale of violent video games to minors. Found here: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/10pdf/08-1448.pdf

For those of you who see the 19 page wall of text and feel an overwhelming sense of confusion, that’s what a Supreme Court opinion looks like. For those of you who fancy yourselves constitutionalists, and feel qualified to weigh in on such matters as Roe V. Wade, McCulloh v. Maryland, and US v. Nixon, and you are still unfamiliar with Supreme Court opinions. I urge you to restrain from weighing in on such matters until you familiarize yourself with such opinions.

But I digress. The reason I bring up this court case is because it is an issue that is very salient in my mind. The reasoning is two-fold. Firstly, it is of great importance to the video game industry, which is of great importance to me. Secondly, this decision impacts the political issue of censorship, which has always been an issue of contention in my mind. Censorship is in many ways more offensive than any piece of literature or art. Censorship is the act of preventing the dissemination of ideas. Pundits can sputter and guffaw, but by restricting people from accessing an intellectual work, simply put, you are preventing the spread of ideas and knowledge. For anyone who has drawn breath for more than a decade, one truth should probably have become clear in their mind: truth is bred by diversity and varied perspective. Human beings are unique. Unique in two fashions; first that humans possess a level of diversity found in few other species on earth, second that no two humans are identical. Even identical twins who share the same DNA at birth will in every case have traits, behaviors, and ideas that their kin do not share. The sheer diversity of our race is what engenders our intellect and success. From the multiplicity of people in our population, each person provides a unique perspective that forces those exposed to it to reexamine their own preconceptions. Many people avoid different perspectives to shield themselves from being forced to evaluate their beliefs and ideas on any other basis than that of the gospel truth. This simple fact is why censorship is so dangerous; it places blinders on our minds. Censorship eliminates options, alternatives, and opportunities. Censors control information and release it as they see fit, controlling and manipulating the minds of a culture, and in every case: hindering progress and understanding. As someone who tries to seek understanding wherever it may hide; being told by anyone that certain areas are off limits to my exploration: it is not only an affront to my intelligence, it is an affront to my judgment. And I don’t suffer such insult lightly.

I often invoke the Framers of the United States in argument. I don’t do so out of some misplaced and misunderstood sense of patriotism. I do so out of a strong understanding of what ideas were used as the framework for our country and government. Ideas that I identify strongly with as truths and understandings that are timeless.

Censorship plays a role in our foundation, that is impossible to avoid, and it plays an enormous part in our history. These United States of America were founded on the principles of self determination, republicanism, and liberty of the enlightenment. These principles were not discovered by our founders, make no mistake they did not sit down at a pub on night and over a pitcher of ale think up the idea of ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’. Far from it, these ideas and concepts were extrapolated from reading the works and writings of (in)famous European political thinkers. The reason I visit this is because of the one simple fact, most of these works were squelched as seditious. The writings upon which our country was founded were in heavily censored across Europe. John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government were published anonymously so that he would not suffer blowback from his writing. Such works provided a perspective and understanding that disrupted the governmental and cultural mores of the time. They threatened established understandings, and for that these ideas were smothered, slandered, and hidden.

To say that our country was built around concepts that were both unpopular and heavily suppressed says something about These United States. Firstly, it says ‘we do things our way, fuck the rest’ (because that just how America does things). Secondly, it makes it clear that our country is founded on a basis of free and unrestricted expression of thoughts, ideas, and perspectives.

As if you needed further proof the First Amendment of the Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Keeping in mind the legal, intellectual, and historical basis of a country that casts out censorship as a dangerous practice; we move onto the cultural and societal underpinnings of censorship.

One of the primary arguments in favor of censorship stems from our societies necessity to defend children’s innocence. Now this is a lofty and understandable goal. It’s born of a very real threat against the future of our society. A child that suffers severe emotional trauma has a stronger chance of developing undesirable behavior. As a communal society, the emotional and behavior state of children will be reflected as that generation matures. As a result, our society sees fits to dictate what information will be filtered through and ultimately reach our children. At first this would seem like a reasoned approach to the problem. Unfortunately, modern American society is nearest establishment to a direct democracy in existence in America. What that ultimately means is that the passions and urges of society will ultimately dictate the legislation of a societal problem. This should immediately be raising some flags. Our country was founded in republican ideals for explicit purposes, as Publius stated in the federalist papers,

“The instability, injustice, and confusion introduced into the public councils, have, in truth, been the mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished; as they continue to be the favorite and fruitful topics from which the adversaries to liberty derive their most specious declamations.”

The Federalists were ever vigilant against the dangers of popular passion ruling a country. They acknowledged the duplicitous nature of liberty: that it breeds ideas that groups and factions are drawn to, and they are the first target of said groups and factions. The united passions of or population would ultimately determine what ideas are considered acceptable, and as stated before, it is often the unpopular ideas that are those most important. But why do so many people with such fickle an understanding of right and wrong have control the sanctions on information. So if the majority cannot be trusted to address the issue of childhood innocence; who then? Does the government appoint some sort of moral official? This official dictates the moral understandings of a generation and implements policies around that? Tyranny of one can be dangerous. So what possible alternative could there be? Who will care for our children?

What about Parents? Shouldn’t the direct guardians of a child be responsible for that child’s well-being and safety? If a parent had the faculty and ability to feed a child, but chose not to, they would be charged with negligence and child abuse. Should the same not be true for willful abandonment of their other parental duties? Is it not their job to evaluate and decide what sources of information a child has access to? If a parent is competent enough to raise a child, their judgment should be sound enough to filter the information that reaches their child. And as such there should be no fear having that child develop behavioral issues or other conditions society fears. But this does not seem to be an issue in America, it seems to be an ever increasing trend that parents don’t really want to ‘parent’ their children. I have had large amounts direct exposure to parents who are utterly unwilling to step up and fulfill their parental duties and roles. They would sooner pass the buck to someone else, have a stranger raise their child, and then complain and cry foul when their child emerges from adolescence a troubled and confused person. It sickens me to see these same parents turn around and clamor for federal and state level censorship.

I will digress momentarily to make something abundantly clear. Video games are quickly becoming one of the most important forms of art in the modern age. It taps into a near unlimited creative and artistic power, that is the power of control. One thing that can be said of nearly every major art form: literature, film, tv, fine art (drawing, sculpting, painting, photography), even architecture. All of these forms are passive. In almost every case the piece of art does not allow, or does not change according to, user input. Art already expresses and attracts a multitude of varying perspectives and opinion. Imagine if you will, that every time you went to the Uffizi that guests of the museum could mold their David. Change its proportions and intricacies, now not only would each viewer see a different view of the same work, but they would actually see different versions and mutations of the same work. The pure power of possibility is incredible. It is why video games are such an interesting topic of conversation to me, because every person can bring a different opinion or perspective to the table, not simple because they are people with varying interpretations of the same experience, but instead because they actually experienced something genuinely different.

That is why I make a point to fully play through games with divergent and branching narratives/gameplay. As an individual to be able to compare two different experiences of the same piece is a truly unique practice.

Simply put video games are an art form that is struggling desperately to be leveled with its artistic predecessors. Art has always been given staunch protection under the first amendment of the US Constitution as a form of self-expression. Censorship and the nature of close-minded people is subduing the advance of a truly unique form of expression and exploration. Returning back to the genesis of this article, the Supreme Court ruled that video games as an creative electronic medium were granted the same protections as other forms of art and expression. This was a resounding success. The Supreme Court has, perhaps inadvertently, leveled video games with its artistic predecessors. Not to mention they have defeated redundant and restrictive laws. It is worth noting that while it is not illegal to sell violent (or MA rated games) to minors, it is against the policies of every major distributor of electronic media. If someone were to legally purchase a MA video game, they would most certainly have to be of the proper age, and that is a testament to the power and domain of the private sector. A society can influence the private sector to construct the necessary barriers and filters, without burdening the entire country with unnecessary legislation. Finally, the Supreme Court succeeded in batting down a legislative piece of censorship and allowed for the continued open access of ideas and information.

Certainly a victory worth noting.

Patriotism is the last refuge of a Scoundrel (or Neo-Conservative)

“Patriotism is the last refuge of a Scoundrel “

Samuel Johnson wrote that on the eve of the American Revolution in 1775. Johnson was British citizen and author. To contextualize his statement, he was attempting to discredit British Citizens and Colonists who spoke openly of their patriotism, but lacked what he understood to be true patriotism. Regardless of the direction of Johnson’s quip, it gives body to what I feel about modern American sentiments regarding the principle of patriotism. Much of Johnson’s writing was pointed toward people who feigned patriotism while advancing ulterior motives. I find that in modern America, that is more and more present.

Today, in 2011 as discussion about the 2012 presidential election begins to grow to a roar, conservatives dust off their flag pins and their red and blue ties. They prep their ‘God Bless America’ and ‘Founding Fathers’ sound bites, and hit the campaign trail. Today, on July 4th you will hear a lot of presidential and other candidates talk about the founding fathers, the Declaration of Independence, and their patriotism. When I see it, it makes me sick. I have no issue with patriotism. I consider myself a patriot (hypocritical of me perhaps). And I do not take issue with these public figures claiming patriotism; or rather I wouldn’t take issue if they actually understood patriotism, or the 4th of July.

In many opinions, the meaning of patriotism is some sort of undying faith and devotion to a country. And while this is true, to me it seems like a perversion of the true meaning. I have come to understand patriotism as dedication and reverence for the spirit or ethos of a country.  I separate myself by pledging allegiance to the character of America, not the body of America. Because, America can be wrong, it can make mistakes, do thing improperly. It would be irresponsible of me as an upstanding citizen to cheer on and encourage the bad behavior of America(ns).

No, patriotism is more than being a cheerleader, it is about being a citizen: recognizing the foundations and sentiments of our nation, and constantly keeping it in check so that our nation meets fulfills its duties. And the 4th of July is not only a day to celebrate the birth of a nation and all the cool shit that comes along with it. July 4th is a reminder to us all of exactly what happens to a government over stepping its bounds. The response to a government that abuses the will of its people and accuses dissenters of lack of patriotism.

In truth, the 4th of July, and more specifically the Declaration of Independence was the most unpatriotic action that the founding fathers ever took; it was also the most patriotic. Now before you get confused by my double think logic allow me to explain.

On July the 4th 1776, a group of British Citizens who lived in the American colonies decided that they no longer wanted to be citizens of their country. They had decided that how the country was being governed, and in turn how that governance was affecting them, was a grievance too harsh to bear. As Jefferson wrote:

“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security”

(If you are not familiar with that passage, and you consider yourself a patriot; I would suggest brushing up on your source materials before going around shouting “USA! USA!”)

So in essence, a group of citizens had publicly rejected their countries ideals and leaders. Does that sound patriotic? If today a citizen were to speak out against the President, or a leader of Congress, would they be greeted with open arms? I think back to the Bush administration, any time someone spoke out against George W, it was met with accusations of lacking of patriotism and hating America. I must have missed the meeting where dissent and political independence got thrown out.

However, the Declaration of Independence was also the most patriotic act taken by the founding fathers; patriotic in the frame of reference of these United States. Because what is the true spirit of American Independence? Is it blind obedience to legislators and leaders? Is it unthinking submission to the ideal of America, or any country for that matter?

No.

American independence is founded in the ideals of enlightenment, that a singular person rules themselves, that they lead themselves, they inform themselves, and they fight for themselves. They do not ask for someone to do it for them. They do not sit idly by and wait for their politicians to simply ‘get around to it’.

Americans today believe that the Federal Government and its officials run the United States. That the president, congress, and the national government shape and direct our agenda. If someone were to  explain that to a Founding Father, they’d have to decide between slapping you and stabbing you.

Because in America, we are not meant to be led by the nose. It is our jobs as citizens to say to the government, “You don’t run things around here. I do.”

And that’s what 56 men did on the fourth day of the seventh month in the year 1776.

As Jefferson writes:

To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

 

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

And when the government had done all of this, when they had disregarded the people’s voice at every turn, the Citizens of the crown did not say, “well yes, if you say so”

They instead replied, “excuse me, but no, you don’t make the rules around here, that’s our fucking job”.

So the next time says “love it or leave”, or the next time someone asks why an opposing candidate did not wear a flag pin that day, or the next time someone accuses another of being unpatriotic because they won’t follow marching orders.

I ask you, what does it really mean to be patriotic?

Does being patriotic mean you have an American flag tattooed on your arm? Does being patriotic mean that you wear a flag pin? Does being patriotic mean you listen the government because that’s what you’re supposed to do?

Or is it something more? Something beyond tiny formalities and pleasantries. Can you not put your hand over your heart when the National Anthem is playing and still be considered a patriot? Does patriotism mean fighting tirelessly for change, even against your own government, because you know that in the end it is right?

Someone once said:

Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship. …voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

The person who said that was found guilty of War Crimes and sentenced to be hanged in Nuremburg in 1946. Goes to show you what kind of tactics are employed in the modern American Politics.

I know what I think, but if I told you to listen to what I thought patriotism was: how would that look?