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Grassroots Games Politics

January 18, 2011 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

[What affect does gaming activism have on governments and the industry itself? Journalist Tracey Lien takes a look at the causes and effects of recent outpourings of gamer-led political activity.]

In the heart of Sydney, Australia's central business district, a group of hundreds is drawing the attention of passers-by. While it is not unusual for large gatherings and protests to take place in the city's Hyde Park, this group is getting noticed not only for its size, but also for its strange behavior.

Each protestor is groaning and moving slowly with an uncoordinated limp. Their clothes are mostly torn and stained a bloody red, their faces painted like it's Halloween. This is no ordinary protest. This is a zombie lurch.

Over the past two years, zombie lurches have become a regular occurrence in Australia, with most being organized at a grassroots level to draw attention to Australia's lack of an R18+ rating for video games and protest against the system of games classification.

It's not the only thing that Australian gamers have done to make their opinions on the subject heard, but it is one of the more spectacular.

Halfway across the world, in the midst of a Supreme Court case over the legality of retailers selling violent video games to minors in California, grassroots gaming activists have traded in the zombie make-up for a different approach.

The Video Game Voters Network has called for their members to write, "I believe in the First Amendment" on their old controllers and send them to Californian senator, Leland Yee.

Meanwhile, in Germany, a country known for having some of the toughest legislation on video games in the western world, grassroots activists have amassed more than 73,000 signatures in a petition opposing a parliamentary ban on violent video games, effectively persuading the government to see their point of view and halting the ban.

There is little doubt that video game activists have taken many creative approaches to making themselves heard, but how effective are they when it comes to initiating change? Is it all just a short-term spectacle or do they achieve lasting results?

The senior vice president of the United States' Entertainment Software Association, Richard Taylor, said that it is crucial that organized activist groups exist because they provide the kind of representation that the games industry needs, and that this representation plays a role in affecting change in the industry.

"Other industries have similar representation; I don't care if you're the film industry with the Motion Picture Association or the music recording industry or even something as simple as home builders or realtors -- they have representation in and around Washington DC and in other capitals around the world to make sure the governments are being supportive of the industry and nurturing it and not doing any harm to it," Taylor said.

"The video game industry is relatively young, it's particularly critical at this time to make sure it's being treated fairly, equally, that it's being appreciated as an art form, and is appreciated for the innovation it brings."

Taylor speaks mostly about the Video Game Voters Network, which has been particularly effective in the U.S. by rallying gamers from around the country to stand up for the rights of those who create, sell, and consume video games, although when contacted about the success of their old game controller campaign, we received no response from the network.

"For a long time attacking video games was a low-risk high-reward proposition. It's very easy to say kids are off track because of video games, or this person did a horrible thing because he played games, but we've changed that greatly in the past few years, partly through organizing on a grassroots level and stepping in and countering those accusations," he said.

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