Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Why the Yellow Journalism against MMOs?

It seems like video games have been a favorite target of politicians and mass media since the early nineties when the fighting genre started to get a little too realistic. The outrage over Mortal Kombat fatalities was quickly forgotten though with the introduction of Doom and other first person shooters. Most "family values" groups switched targets and started protesting the FPS genre much like they had earlier quit their protests about the Simpsons once Bevis and Butthead came out. You think about it now and it seems insane but a lot of people were upset with Bart Simpson fifteen years ago and wanted the show canceled.

In the case of both cartoons and video games, older generations didn't understand that the audience age was increasing for the medium. Unlike previous generations where games and cartoons were enjoyed during childhood then put aside, these new youngsters wanted to keep toons and games in their lives. Corporations picked up on this and slowly started introducing content that was more appealing to teen consumers. True, this content was mostly fart jokes and violence but it was nothing worse then what was found in movies at the time. However, since these mediums had traditionally been the domain of childhood for so long there was some outrage at the more mature content.

Unfortunately, the maturation of video games has became a magnet for yellow journalism which specifically targets older generations with misinformation. News media in general has become excellent at exaggerating the content and mechanics of video games to provoke an extreme reaction from those unfamliar with them. Just look at the recent article in the Washington Post which described World of Warcraft as lawless and filled with roving gangs who mug players for their virtual items. If you're as confused as me then you realize that this reporter has only a limited idea of how the game works. Still by lying and claiming ignorance on the specifics the journalist can get away portraying a game in whatever manner gathers more attention.

The behavior of journalists towards video games is increasingly becoming symbiotic with politicians wishing to garner votes from older and ultra conservative constituents. Often an article will set off a round of legislation or public denouncements as politicians seek free political capitol that elicits little corporate backlash. Mass media makes the suggestions and then the politicians feed off the fears of the uninformed. Over the years this scenario has played out in response to novels, comic books, dungeons and dragons, rock music, and rap. Video games are only the most recent target in the chain. However, they are being more aggressively attacked then previous scapegoats perhaps in response to their effect on television viewing habits.

Just recently a lawsuit was filed by watchgroup Families in France against Linden Labs and ten ISPs for allowing access to Second Life. Second Life is the Las Vegas of the MMO universe and currently allows its users a lot of freedom in what they wish to do in the game. The watchgroup says that since Linden Labs does not provide well enough protection to prevent underage users from entering the game they are liable to litigation. This is despite the fact that age verification checks are used to control access to the adult grid. Still the portrayal of the seedier sides of Second Life are often used to implicate all MMOs as cesspools of immorality. Before online businesses became so popular a very similar accusation was often made against the Internet.