September 9, 2008
“Hey, hey, ho, ho – Video-game censorship has got to go” by Aaron Delwiche has recently been posted on FlowTV. The article, which focuses on the Xbox 360 port of America’s Army, calls for more critical thought about video games, and critical exploration of them through design, rather than censorship. This is an appealing position, but there seem to be some other important points to make:
- Deciding what type of speech is appropriate for our government, including our armed forces, isn’t censorship. The real issue in this case isn’t the detail of Ubisoft’s free-speech right to port the game, but the US Army’s creation of the game in the first place. I don’t happen to think that America’s Army as a digital system is categorically wrong – if, for instance, it’s not used to recruit children. I even think that it can be a good thing by providing an official model of what the Army is like, one that can be discussed and critiqued. Nevertheless, calls to stifle this government-produced game hardly step on people’s freedom of speech.
- There has been some critical work on America’s Army already; Liz Losh focused on Tactical Iraqi but spoke some about the other game at DAC 2005, and there’s an MIT masters thesis done in the Comparative Media Studies program by Zhan Li.
- The uneasiness about video game companies working for the military, perhaps seen in Ubisoft in this instance, has an early precedent. The US Army commissioned Atari to convert Battlezone into a training device for the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle, causing angst at that liberal company – even though the game wasn’t being used for recruiting children, or for recruiting at all. If we really want to understand something like Ubisoft porting America’s Army, and how that could happen within a corporate culture that presumably isn’t militaristic, we should look to history as well as looking into that particular game.