Thoughts on Entertainment Advocacy and Activism

Video game fans can be pretty vocal on blogs and in casual conversation about how gaming doesn’t get the respect it deserves—people think games are for kids, have stupid plots, make you lazy, make you violent, etc. Video game fans have slowly begun to follow the example of comic book fans, however, in practicing grassroots activism and advocacy to change such perceptions. See, for example, the recent news about a gaming advocacy/protest rally in New York:

Empire Arcadia Inc. will gather as many gamers as they can in New York City at Bryan Park on Saturday May 5th, 2007 at 1pm. There we will protest, morn [sic] and show how real gamers play videogames peacefully and responsibly. This demonstration is to show that gamers will not take the blame of this tragic matter but we will do what we can to help put an end to terrible events like this. We reiterate and urge that all leaders of gaming communities, organizations down to the last gamer to set aside 10 hours of this day to pay respect and come together not just as gamers but as HUMAN BEINGS for peace.

Empire Arcadia calls for gamers to unite! Official NYC Gathering:
Fellowship of the Gamers

I’ll get back to the issue of offering this event as a response to a tragedy. For now, I just want to comment on how this relates to gaming fandom more broadly.

This is the first such event I’ve seen to get any (online) press coverage, though I’m aware that the Entertainment Consumers Association aims to be involved in advocating for games somehow as well. There’s also the Video Game Voters Network, of course, which does attempt to mobilize grassroots support, but which is actively led by the Entertainment Software Association, an industry body.

These recent efforts are slowly starting to look like the long-practiced efforts of comics fans, fans-turned pro, and fans spurred to action by industry groups. Such efforts include the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, outreach-oriented publications (perhaps the most vocal having been now-defunct internet magazines like Ninth Art and Savant), and a contest run by Diamond Comics Distributors to see who could best promote Free Comic Book Day.

Video games are a younger medium than comics, so perhaps it stands to reason that such advocacy efforts were slower to appear. There is so much overlap between the comics and game fan communities, however, that I’m inclined to believe that games haven’t been advocated for in the same way as much because the medium is perceived to be more successful and less stigmatized. We’re finally seeing this kind of advocacy bubbling up because of perceived threats to the business of gaming and the image of gamers: legislation to restrict the sale and rental of games and, in the case of the above “protest,” the demonization of gamers following a school shooting, which are both closely connected.

The comic book industry, meanwhile, has already had its fateful run-in with lawmakers and hysteria over violent content, resulting in industry regulation that stifled distribution and innovation. The perceived threats to comics since then have been industry collapse (which seemed a distinct possibility to some in the late 1990s) and general cultural marginalization (ranging from not being taught in schools to fans being embarrassed to admit to reading comics in mixed company). Perhaps part of the reason that activist efforts like Savant and Ninth Art fell to the wayside is that the industry actually has been doing better over the last few years, with comics winning fiction awards and being hot items in book stores and libraries.

I can’t make it to the May 5th rally in NYC, but if anybody reading here happens to be nearby at the appointed time, I’d be interested to know what the turnout and atmosphere are like. A peaceful gaming rally sounds like a pleasant idea, but I do have to wonder whether it’s a bit misguided (or even simply bad PR) to hold such an event in the wake of a tragic school shooting. This is clearly meant as a response to ignorant finger-pointing and outright lies connecting games to the Virginia Tech shooting, but it’s also too easy to interpret it as just the other side of trying to turn a human event into a political event.

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