"Video Gaming: Playing With Ethics?"
Audio clips from the event.
This panel was co-sponsored by the Santa Clara University
Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, the Santa Clara University
Center for Science, Technology, and Society, and the Tech Museum
of Innovation in San Jose. It was held at the Tech Museum on
Nov. 29, 2005.
- State Assemblyman Leland Yee, author of a recent measure
to prevent the sale of violent games to minors
- Mike Antonucci, tech writer, San Jose Mercury News
- Kristin Asleson McDonnell, CEO, LimeLife, a company that
develops mobile phone games for women and girls
- Caroline Ratajski, an SCU senior, computer engineering major,
and video gamer
- Introduction by SCU Visiting Professor Susan Leigh Star
- Moderated by SCU Professor Chad Raphael (communications)
MS. LEIGH STAR: I'd like to welcome you all to this
exciting and unique event. I'm Leigh Star, president of the
Society for the Social Studies of Science and also a researcher
and teacher at Santa Clara University in the Center for Science,
Technology, and Society, and in computer engineering.
I've noticed, after living in Silicon Valley since there were
prunes here, that as a culture, certainly here in Silicon Valley,
we tend to be enthusiastic about computing, to say the least.
Almost any kind of computing in almost any form. Nanotech will
perhaps help cure some of our most deadly diseases. The web
mixes retail with eTail, and, according to a radio program I
heard yesterday or today, both are benefiting now.
The uses of email, instant messaging, and data mining seem endless.
Just a few seem grumpy about the time and loss of handwriting
skills involved with computerization, but on the whole, California
keeps finding new and better things to do with this unique technology.
Except sometimes. And one of the sometimes is when it comes
to video gaming. Here especially parents and spouses I think,
maybe friends, are often uneasy, and the uneasiness is, as we've
been talking and setting up this panel, comes from three different
places roughly at present. First of all, is gaming addictive?
And there are all these urban legends springing up about the
guy who couldn't pull himself away from gaming, so he just sat
in his chair until he melted, basically.
If gaming is addictive, then another set of questions comes.
What is it doing to the brains and bodies of gamers? And it
reminds me a lot of early concerns about television and films.
Will it inculcate violence, especially in young people's minds?
It's a kind of catch phrase that is very important.
Finally, do games reinforce gender and race stereotypes with
things like inscrutable Ninja warriors, Latino drug cartels,
and damsels in distress?
So these are just a few of the issues before us tonight, and
we take them all very seriously and don't feel that any of them
are resolved yet. We're just starting a much larger conversation,
or entering into a larger conversation.
There are three distinct units that put this together-the Santa
Clara Center for Science, Technology, and Society, where I was
the representative; our Markkula Center for Applied Ethics,
where I worked closely with David DeCosse in putting this together;
and the Tech Museum, where we worked most closely with Yolanda
And it was just really interesting to get together and try to
think through this, and even more interesting when the "Game
On" exhibit coincided exactly with our timetable for putting
this on. So it was a kind of once-in-a-lifetime chance to put
all of these things together.
I hope that we've prepared a fun evening examining these issues
and more, and we have a remarkable panel of experts and advocates-people
who feel passionately in many ways about gaming. Our moderator
tonight will be Chad Rafael from the Communication Department,
who studies gaming. It's his object of study.
We have with us tonight California Assemblyman Leland Yee, the
key sponsor for a bill just passed by the California legislature,
which prohibits the sale of violent games to those under the
age of 18. And we can talk about all the implications of that
Mike Antonucci, who writes about popular culture and technology
for the San Jose Mercury News.
We have Kristin Asleson McDonnell, who is the CEO of LimeLife,
which is a company that develops and publishes mobile phone
games for girls and women.
And Caroline Ratajski, a senior at Santa Clara, a computing
engineering major and a philosophy student, and really avid
gamer who's favorite games are, I hear, Silent Hill II and the
Legend of Zelda, the Ocarina of Time.
So with that I'll turn the panel over to the able hands of Chad,
and he'll be the timekeeper and the introducer in more detail,
I think, of some of these issues.
MR. CHAD RAFAEL: Thanks very much. It's wonderful to
see you all here tonight, including some of my students who
are very interested in these issues. I'm going to go straight
to the panelists here, so I'd like to introduce California Assemblyman
ASSEMBLYMAN LELAND YEE: Thank you very much. Let me
kind of spend most of my time talking about the bill that was
recently passed by the state legislature, signed by the governor:
AB1179. What that bill would do is to limit the sale of what
we call ultra-violent video games to children.
The way in which I got involved with this particular matter
is that a staff member of mine brought to my attention these
ultra-violent video games. And the game that she brought to
my attention was Grand Theft Auto. And, now, I'm a psychologist
by training and so I know a little bit about this kind of work.
When I was a graduate student, back in those days there was
a lot of concern about kids watching violent TV. And the classic
study was a guy by the name of Robert Sears at Stanford, and
the experiment that he had was he would show kids a group of
youngsters sitting in a classroom and they would be just talking
and, you know, doing whatever-playing and so on. In another
scene, there would be a group of youngsters and there would
be a Bobo doll and these kids would be hitting the Bobo doll.
And the study was to see the effects of kids who were shown
a scene where youngsters were just playing in general, versus
a scene where youngsters were hitting a Bobo doll. And as you
could imagine, those youngsters who saw the scene of kids hitting
the Bobo doll tended to report a lot more violence when presented
with different conflicting situations.
I realized that there were tremendous problems, back in those
days as a graduate student, to start talking about limiting
the viewing of youngsters because this is clearly a free society
here in California and in the United States, and we don't think
too highly of limiting any kind of information to any individual
whatsoever, even with children.
And so when this issue of violent video games was brought to
my attention, at the initial stage, we were rather reluctant
to take on this particular issue, mainly because of the issue
of First Amendment. We did not-I did not want to be one individual
who went out there and just simply said we should somehow stop
the free flow of information to any individual, including children.
What took me by surprise was how severe the violence was. And
in addition to that, this is not any passive watching anymore,
but rather this is active participation in-you all know this
industry a lot better than I do. When I went to school, I knew
computers when they had light bulbs, and so that's how antiquated
I am. So I never play these games whatsoever.
But I saw the scene and I understand how it works, and so literally
when you are pushing a button you are literally then killing
and hurting, maiming an individual. It is that interactive nature
that really concerned me, and so I started to get into the literature-psychological
literature, psychiatric literature, and other types of literature.
And we saw a body of knowledge that indicated that, in fact,
that these kinds of games teach children, you know, how to hurt,
how to stalk, how to hurt and maim individuals.
It is based on that set of information that we started to move
this particular bill. And what we found was that there was a
tremendous opposition to this particular bill. Clearly the industry
was really not happy. What is rather interesting is that this
industry-the violent game industry, or the game industry-is
becoming such a tremendous economic force that it's even overtaking
the movie industry and the video industry.
The video game industry is becoming quite a powerhouse, so as
you can imagine, any time you try to take out a market share
of a particular industry, they don't take that too kindly. And
so we were facing some tremendous opposition to this particular
bill. We did not get this bill out the very first year that
we introduced it. It was in the second year that we tried it
What happened with us was that luck was on our side. The summer
of this year there was an issue-and you probably know more about
it than I do-what they call Hot Coffee. It is a modification
to the Grand Theft Auto game in which you can customize sex
scenes, you know, in that particular game.
The game industry, the game developer, the game company said
that they had nothing to do with it whatsoever, that it was
someone who went into their game and started to manipulate some
codes and manipulate the program. That's what caused it and
in fact had nothing to do with the game itself.
When we heard about that, we initially started to investigate
it a little bit more. We started to monitor some of the chat
rooms, and it became apparent to us that Rock Star Video, the
company that developed Grand Theft Auto, in fact knew about
what was going on. They had put that scene inside that particular
game, and the rating industry had not a clue that that information
So what happened were two things. One, people began to wonder
whether or not, in fact, the rating system, the rating industry,
the rating board, could, in fact, appropriately rate any game
whatsoever if they, in fact, didn't even know what was going
on in these particular games. And then secondly, when the game
industry then ultimately 'fessed up that they lied about the
fact that they knew nothing about that, it then created a tremendous
credibility problem within the gaming industry and Grand Theft
It was based on those sort of fortuitous situations that we
were able to get many of the members that were initially reluctant
to go ahead and support our bill to then come back on board
and ultimately we were successful.
We don't-I don't plan to continue trying to be too restrictive
on the gaming industry. It is because of this particular subset
of situation that caused us to move in that particular direction.
And again let me just emphasize that these are games in which
you teach children how to stalk, how to maim, how to kill, how
to hurt individuals, how to urinate on people, and most times
these [victims] are women, these are minorities, these are poor
people, and those should not be the lessons that we teach our
children. Thank you.
MR. CHAD RAFAEL: Thanks very much. I want to tell people
that after each of the speakers has had their time to speak
we'll have a question and answer period. Sherrill Dale has got
index cards that she'll start passing out now, and we invite
people to write down questions in response to some of what you've
heard here for the panel as a whole. She'll then gather those
and we'll read those questions. So we encourage you
to write questions.
Next will be San Jose Mercury News journalist, Mike Antonucci.
MR. MIKE ANTONUCCI: Thanks, Chad. Thanks, Assemblyman.
If you hear me choke on my words, it's because I'm at the tail
end of being sick. I could tell you it was because I've been
spending the last 70 straight hours in my underwear drinking
Jolt Cola and playing Perfect Dog Zero on the new Xbox 360,
but since they're recording this session I also have to say
that's a joke. Okay?
As a journalist who does have a forum for opinion on video games,
I can't tell you that I don't have some strong feelings, but
I'm more interested and more concerned about the context of
this discussion than I am about arguing with anybody. And I
do hope that what Chad said just before I got up here does really
dominate the evening-which is an interaction with you.
I think this topic can get so broad, so diffuse, that it will
be more profitable to see what kind of specific questions you
have and how each of us from our own areas of expertise can
respond and create a dialog.
Let me use my little bit of time then to emphasize and to describe
what I mean by having the right context. I think the assemblyman
actually hit on a very important area of public concern when
he introduced his bills and eventually got one through. I'm
not a fan of that specific legislation, but I'm also not particularly
concerned about it, because the courts are going to punt it
into irrelevancy just as they have in every other state where
something like this was passed.
But the underlying concern that motivated him is more than legitimate
and something that I hear from people inside the video game
industry, from gamers and parents. Sometimes I hear it with
a sense of frustration that the tone of the discussion is wrong,
but one way or another this topic is percolating, and it's very
useful to have both discussions like this, and to have it in
the politic arena so that it can play out as a community decision.
So I think he hit on something that's going to remain relevant
for a long time. And what I'd like to do tonight is set this
context for it. I think it's very hard to separate video gaming
from the rest of the popular culture and entertainment industries,
and what I worry about most is that, while video gaming has
some unique aspects and has some unique technological potential,
and I think potentially some unique literary potential, it is
still best viewed in the context of all the entertainment industries,
which share a lot of these problems.
So one specific that I would cite: There've been over 1,000
serious studies on the effects of television violence on people.
I guess graduate school students and professors, if they have
to do some scholarly research, find it more fun to deal with
television than some of the other possible topics. But there
have been that many studies, okay? And one of the most compelling
responses to all the laboratory research that suggests that
television violence has a detrimental effect on people are American
crime statistics, which are at record lows for youth as well
as the general population.
And this kind of disconnect comes up all the time throughout
all the entertainment areas. I wrote a front-page story a couple
of weeks ago, I think-time compresses on me-about a recent Kaiser
Family Foundation study showing this dramatic increase in the
amount of sexual content on TV across the broadcast channels,
across the cable networks, across all hours of the day. And
their concern specifically cited was the inevitable belief on
their part that this had to have some kind of social influence.
I wrote the story just about the study, just about their statistics,
and just about the fact that there was a shared concern about
this. I didn't get into the issue of how much provable worry
there is, but I got emails from sociologists who pointed out
that all kinds of things like youth pregnancy rates, abortion
rates, and STD rates are also at record lows.
There's a constant disconnect between the notion of the media's
inevitable detrimental influence and what actually seems to
happen by things that
you can measurably evaluate across
society. So I think that provides some of the context.
I'd also suggest that video gaming, while increasingly important
as an entertainment experience, is not nearly as pervasive or
accessible as things like television content. I turned on an
8:30 p.m. sitcom last night and, leaving aside the sexual innuendo
that was in the show-because that's another hot spot, right?
What are we going to talk about, risqué stuff or violent
stuff?-there was a series of jokes at that 8:30 hour about inebriation,
about really dangerous amounts of alcohol intoxication, all
done with levity. I think that's a far more worrisome trend.
Television remains a much more pervasive influence than video
So I think context as we discussed all these things is pretty
important, and that we sometimes lose sight of it. And the one
thing I would caution is that by talking only about video gaming,
we run the risk of demonizing it. I don't want to let it off
the hook where it has flaws, but let's keep it in the context
of the popular culture would be my suggestion.
MR. CHAD RAFAEL: Having moderated panels before, I could
tell you this is a highly disciplined group here who knows how
long seven minutes is. Next we're going to hear from LimeLife
CEO, Kristin Asleson McDonnell.
MS. KRISTIN MCDONNELL: So I feel a little out of place
here because I actually create mobile games for women and girls.
So our kind of content is very different from what we're talking
about. I think that one of the things...that we need to just
consider is that when we talk about video games and interactive
entertainment, we're talking about a huge industry, where the
majority of the users and the customers look more like me or
It's primarily women who are
over 40 that are the primary
interactive entertainment software consumers in the United States
today. So if you look at the statistics of who's playing games
on the Web, it's primarily women, you know, with wrinkles.
So, the type of content that we're talking about tonight is,
you know, for a much smaller audience in some respects, but
that small audience does drive a lot of revenue to the video
So if we think about the various issues that are at hand with
these video games, in terms of gender, if we think about what
is it that men like to do with video games and what is it that
women typically like to do with video games, it's very different.
And within the games industry-I've been in the games industry
since 1993-it's pretty well known that there are very different
interests by men typically and by women typically.
Men tend to like competition, action, destruction, being timed,
being the winner, high scores, all those things, whereas women
prefer cooperation, collaboration, aspiration, and personalization.
And so there's just been
this kind of polarization in terms
of what the genders like, and I think that what we're talking
about is what has typically been more of a masculine play pattern.
And what we've seen over the history of the game industry is
that, if we think back to the early 90s-and I don't know if
anybody here was playing games back then, but-to Sierra On-Line.
Does anybody remember Sierra On-Line creating King's Quest?
Games that really tapped your imagination and did not have a
lot of these violent aspects to them
.As you know, then
of the first Sims came out, and it was really almost a gender-neutral
type of market.
But as technology increased, we started to see more and more
3D, which starts taking us into more of the masculine play patterns.
And so that's where we started to see that games like Castle
Wolfenstein, Duke Nukem; things like that started to happen.
And as those evolved, they just kind of kept pushing
envelope. And I think that it has been pushed pretty darn far.
So I didn't realize that Congressman Yee had passed this bill,
but it does seem reasonable to me that if minors cannot get
into R-rated movies or rent X-rated films from Blockbuster,
and if [a parent can lock them out of] Pay-Per-View
that having a bill like this does make sense. You're just limiting
the sale to kids who can't really make the decisions themselves.
I have three young girls, and
I do notice that there is
a fascination for things on screens. And that if you allow them
to sit there and watch it, there's just more of this, like,
"I want to see more, I want to see more." And so sometimes
I think that there have to be limitations, especially when kids
are outside the control of their parents, you know, when they're
in the store and the parents aren't there with them, that
laws or whatever have to start to help protect kids against
that drive to consume.
In terms of addiction I think that, in general, media is addictive.
You know, I know a lot of guys who can watch football for hours
or movie-you know, and women. But I think media in general is
video games are no different, and
who do have those addictive behaviors are going to use it more
and more and more
.We even see it with web gamers
65-year-old online Scrabble player can get addicted to it.
And so I think that when the type of content that they're consuming,
though, is so violent that there are causes for concern, that,
you know, they're consuming that kind of content for hours at
a time. So overall I think that, again, we need to think about
the industry as a whole
.We shouldn't say that the whole
games industry is corrupt and horrible because there are a lot
of great things that are happening in interactive entertainment.
But there is kind of this isolated group
of content that
does create cause for concern, and I do think that we have to
address how do we limit access to that kind of content in the
same way that we've limited access to that kind of content in
other media. Thank you.
MR. CHAD RAFAEL: Our last speaker will be Caroline Ratajski,
again, the Santa Clara senior, computer engineering major and
philosophy student, and an avid gamer.
MS. CAROLINE RATAJSKI: First I'd just like to open by
saying that I'm just feeling really honored and privileged to
be sitting here on this panel. I mean [with] people so noteworthy
and successful, and I'm just a student. I just play games. So
I'm just so honored to be here.
So, yes, I play games. Board games, card games, PC console,
I play tabletop RPG. I've tried every genre I can think of.
I just try to be really broad in what I do and, you know, give
everything a whirl. And I like games because there's a certain
fantasy aspect. You can travel through time and space. You can
travel into the imaginations of people who never truly grew
up. And it also gives you a good deal of beneficial skills.
It improves hand/eye coordination, and it gives you problem
solving skills. You can track multiple variables in real time.
When I was little I played Mario and I played as Link in the
Legend of Zelda. I traveled through the Mushroom Kingdom and
through Hyrule, championing the ways of good. As I grew older
I started playing more action-based games -Metroid-and now I
even play Halo and I play World of Warcraft. And as I grew,
my games grew with me, but, yes, I play violent video games.
That's something that I can't deny. It's just something that
I do. I do enjoy the competition of a violent video game.
I don't play these ultra-violent video games, although I have
to admit that I have played them once. But there's just something
so, I don't know, so fun about the competition, but I can separate
the fantasy from the reality. I can say the world of Grand Theft
Auto: San Andreas is not the world in which I live, and the
things that I do in this game are not the things I do in reality.
I wouldn't want a five-year-old playing Halo. I wouldn't want
a 12-year-old playing Grand Theft Auto. Not every game is appropriate
for every age. And we have the Entertainment Software Review
Board, the ESRB, who rates these games so that parents can know
what their children can and cannot play. And it was brought
up that perhaps we can't have complete security in the ESRB,
that games can have content that will slip under the radar.
If it doesn't get told to the ESRB, it doesn't get rated appropriately.
Well, this game, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, with this Hot
Coffee mod, as it was called- the rating changed from Mature
to Adult Only. Mature rating requires that the player be 17
years of age or older. Adult Only requires that the child, that
the person be 18 years or older. So there was a huge kerfuffle
just to get one year of difference in the ratings.
So I think that overall if parents just paid attention to the
rating and didn't let their 13-year-old child who's clearly
under 17 play Grand Theft Auto, that I think we'd be better
off. And with 82 percent of the parents claiming they're satisfied
with the ratings and 5 percent even saying that the ratings
are too harsh, I think the ESRB is actually doing all right.
Now some would say that the gaming industry has a certain social
responsibility, and I agree that it does. Every media does.
The music industry, which brings you lyrics glorifying gangster
violence-they have a social responsibility. The movie industry,
which brings you films like Half Baked glorifying drug use-they
also have social responsibility.
I'm not trying
to direct your attention elsewhere. All
I'm saying is that every media industry has a social responsibility,
and the industry who is responsible for making Halo is socially
responsible, as is the parent who gives their child $50 plus
tax to buy the game, and the $300 to buy the console.
In creating the ESRB, I believe the industry has taken a big
step in fulfilling their social responsibility, even if it was
back in the '90s in response to a backlash against Mortal Combat.
What remains to be understood, however, is how children are
getting these games and how parents are letting them play these
games and not monitoring their child's behavior.
I fully believe in the bill that children should not be playing
these games. They should not be able to acquire these games.
They should not be watching violent movies. They should not
be reading books that condone violence, or listening to music
that condones violence. A young mind that can't decipher between
fantasy and reality shouldn't be subject to these things until
they are emotionally ready for it. But mature adults, on the
other hand, can. And they can choose their entertainment responsibly,
even if it's going head-to-head in Counterstrike or playing
the scandalous DOA Beach Volleyball.
And, yes, it's true that there are games that are scandalous
and ill representative of women, portraying them as weak or
merely as sexual objects. And to be completely honest, I'm actually
ambivalent on this issue. Part of me, as a woman
offended when I see, you know, girls scantily clad running around,
you know, tee hee, the damsel in distress, these sort of images.
I get up in arms about these oversexed women that you see in
video games. And yet at the same time one of the draws to a
video game that I like, Resident Evil IV, is that Leon Kennedy,
the main character, is easy on the eyes. I like playing Kilik
in Soul Caliber II partly because he's very easy to play, and
partly because just he looks good.
So I don't know if I can honestly say that these things upset
me because I see the other side of the issue as well. And it's
a common theme in all media. Sex sells. It's just as true in
as it is true in TV, as it's true in movies.
It's true all over the place. And
as I said, I myself fall
victim to it, too. So can I really be upset with an industry
for following a trend older than I am?
However, I do recognize that, regardless of this, sex really
shouldn't sell, and that many women are insulted by this. And
I would say
that not all games perpetrate this sort of
imagery of women. For example, Jade in Beyond Good and Evil
[is a] very strong woman. She's tamely dressed and she looks
good, but doesn't look over-sexed. Not as if this clears the
industry of any charges. Obviously those games still exist,
but there are [other] games out there and perhaps if we support
those kinds of games, maybe we'll see a rise in them.
So the last topic that we were here to discuss is addiction.
I can only speak on this as someone who was once addicted to
games for several months, and as someone who has friends who
are currently addicted to games. Basically the games these days
are so hard to just pick up and then put aside. They require
hours, even days of commitment. And I mean logged days-24-hours
logged over a month or something like that.
And as I said earlier, they're escaping to a fantasy world.
But why was I addicted? I was seeking to escape a reality that
was dissatisfying to me. Why are my friends addicted? They're
going through the traumas of life and they're escaping it through
video games. They recognize that they're addicted. They don't
fool themselves on this. And to me it appears to be a symptom
of a problem rather than a problem in and of itself.
Perhaps instead of saying we're getting addicted to games, there's
something wrong with games, maybe we should say we're getting
addicted to games. Maybe there's something just not right. Maybe
we're confusing the symptom with the illness.
It was suggested to me that as a nice wrap up I should talk
about a video game that made me think about ethics or really
challenged my perception on the world, and I was actually hard-pressed
to think of one. The first that came to my mind was Star Wars:
Knights of the Old Republic, where you can choose to go with
the light side or the dark side based on choices you make throughout
But there need to be more games like this. People are so often
turned off to philosophy and ethics because they think of, you
know, leather-bound volumes and they think of stodgy, old professors
trapped in ivory towers just sitting there thinking. They don't
think of it as a living, breathing, active thing that we can
And as Assemblyman Yee said, games do teach our children things.
Children learn how to read better by playing role-playing games
and reading all the text in them. They teach hand/eye coordination
using Tetris and other such puzzle games. I myself am learning
a bit about economics by playing a massively multi-player online
game. So they can teach a lot of things.
Our nation's army has created a game developer-oh, I'm getting
caught up-I have, like, two sentences left. Can I say them,
please? Sorry. I guess I'm not as disciplined as everybody else-results
of being a student.
The military has created a game developer, America's Army, which
uses games to recruit and train people for our military, and
I believe with this power we can get people to think about ethics
and to think about philosophy. Games have a huge untapped power
and I sincerely hope that we see it used to its full potential.
MR. CHAD RAFAEL: Thanks very much to the panelists and
to all of you. Boy, you people have a lot of questions. What
I've tried to do is organize them into a couple of common themes,
eliminate duplicates, so that if you don't hear the exact wording
of your question, hopefully the issue is being raised in another
question that somebody else asked.
Let me start with a question that I think is primarily for Assemblyman
the law that you've passed, how are violent
games going to be determined? Will the ESRB be involved in determining
ASSEMBLYMAN LELAND YEE: No, the responsibility of defining
what is an ultra-violent video game is in the statute. The determination
as to whether or not a game meets those criteria within the
statue rests with the developer of the game, the distributor
of the game.
MR. CHAD RAFAEL: Okay. A follow-up on that one: It seems like
the new bill is making an effort to define a specific term of
ultra-violent video games. The law would ban the sale of a game
to minors in part if it contained violence that caused the game
to lack literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
How can this be determined given the long history of violence
as a theme in children's culture, such as classic fairy tales?
If we shield children from all representations of violence,
how will they be equipped to deal with the real world?
ASSEMBLYMAN LELAND YEE: We, in our bill, have learned
the lessons of some of the other states, you know, like Washington,
like other jurisdictions, like in St. Louis
bills have failed. We've narrowly tailored this particular bill.
We've also utilized some of the pornography language to really
help buttress this particular bill.
So we're really narrowly tailored it. We tried to look at community
standards to address all of those issues.
Let me comment
on the last point. One need not utilize these ultra-violent
video games to talk about how you develop skills as an adult
or as a child growing up to deal with the pressures of life.
Now, as a child psychologist, I find it a sad commentary on
society that we are going to turn over the child rearing responsibility
to video games. What about parents? What about brothers and
sisters? What about extended family? What about human interactions
to teach how we deal with conflicts?
MR. CHAD RAFAEL: Now, I want to remind the other panelists
that you're welcome to respond as well if you'd like to. Just
let me know, if you would, to any of the questions. Okay?
Another question follow-up: Is there a possibility that violence
in video games is used as a scapegoat to cover up for a lack
of responsibility on the part of parents? Common question often
ASSEMBLYMAN LELAND YEE: That, you know, that's a common
issue. In the body of laws that we have in our society, the
state has a responsibility to come in when, in fact, those individuals
who are responsible for our children don't take those responsibilities
In the early 1900s, in the late 1800s, many parents told kids
you should go out and don't go to school. Go and work in factories.
Sometimes they may be dangerous. It may cause you to lose a
finger, lose a limb, maybe to lose a life. That's okay, because
it's extremely important that you go out there and earn a couple
dollars to help the family so that we can survive.
Eventually the society in general, government in general, felt
that that was not appropriate. You should not, in fact, jeopardize
kids' lives. You should not waste their future by having them
not go to school, not learn, but instead just simply earn money.
That's why we have child labor laws. We have laws that say,
you shouldn't go and buy cigarettes and you should
not go buy pornography and you should not go and buy alcohol,
even though your parents say it's okay. You should not do that
because society has deemed that those are inappropriate things.
So there are ways that we can, in fact, limit individuals' First
Amendment, and when you have established some state interest,
and we've established that in our law, that we can, in fact,
do what we did.
MR. MIKE ANTONUCCI: Let me jump in without arguing
about the definitions in the assemblyman's bill and about the
constitutionality. If you're interested, this is easy stuff
to Google. And while I think the assemblyman is absolutely right,
that his bill's language represents an at least incremental
if not significant evolution over the language of some bills
in Missouri, the state of Washington, Indianapolis, I don't
think it is meaningfully different than the language which is
in the Michigan bill that recently was thrown out by the courts
I think the underlining tone of these questions about the vagueness
or subjectivity and constitutionality of some of these standards
is going to be settled pretty soon. You can do that research
What I actually want to agree with him about, however, is that
there is an underlying issue, which we're all participating
in in this discussion, which is more important. And that is
what's healthy for society and where does self-restraint on
the part of the industries come into play? And the one thing
I'll concede is that, while I personally strongly disapprove
of dealing with these things by legislation, I'm equally critical
of the absolute thrown-to-the-wind abandonment of self-restraint
by almost all the entertainment industries.
And I take some small issue with some of the other panelists
on the notion that this idea of social responsibility is equal
among all of them. Let's talk about the broadcast television
industry. That's a publicly licensed business. That is something
that you, as citizens, have oversight of through regulatory
bodies. They actually have a higher responsibility than many
of the other industries to show some kind of regard for general
And while I'm not actually in favor of harsher penalties, I'm
pretty critical of, for instance, things that happen before
ten p.m. on television, which is still the dominant mode of
entertainment in the United States. I think that there is a
real problem in terms of the entertainment industry basically
spitting in the eye of whether it's a majority or minority of
very strong concern about what kind of taste and violence standards
we have in entertainment.
MS. KRISTIN MCDONNELL: Just as a practical view of the
question about "Isn't this really the responsibility of
parents?," how many of you are parents? So maybe 10 percent.
So practically speaking it's extremely difficult to be with
your kid 24 hours a day, and it's actually not healthy for them
to have you with them 24 hours a day watching what they're doing.
And I just have an anecdote of my oldest daughter when she went
on her first play date when she was three. It was the first
drop-off play date, and she comes home and
I said, "What
did you do?" And she said, "We watched Snow White."
That was really, really scary. That was, you know, horrible
and Snow White was dead and
you do lose control of your
kids for a few hours at a time or maybe for a whole day. And
I think that increasingly, unfortunately, parents are trying
to really tether their kids to them and watch what they're doing
and not let them go to the playground and play.
And I think the more that the media is out there pushing violence
them without restraint and without the parents feeling comfortable,
that there are some limitations in terms of what kids can access
when you're not right there with them. I think it just causes
a lot of problems, and that we need to start putting restraints
in place so that our children can be freer and not feeling that
their parents are just constantly looking over their shoulder.
With that said, I do think that in terms of content that is
in your own home, that, yes, parents do need to take a lot of
responsibility for that content that is in their own home, but
just recognize that kids aren't with you all the time.
MS. LEIGH STAR: This is another issue that I'm kind
of on both sides about. I'm not a parent, so I can't look through
a parent's eyes, but I can look through the eyes of my own parents
as far as how I was raised. And I know that when I was younger
I did have the opportunity to play a good deal of violent video
A friend of mine had an older brother who liked to play Castle
Wolfenstein, Doom, and those games were available on his computer.
And, you know, my parents said, "I really would appreciate
if you didn't play these types of games." They told me,
"We don't want you doing these things. We don't want you
seeing R-rated movies before you're 18. We don't want you doing
And by them having told me this and having, you know, raised
me with the certain values that they did, when it was offered
to me I said, "Eh, you know what? I don't really want to."
I just had the self-restraint to say no because of the way I
was raised. And that's just because my parents took an active
role in the type of media that I took in.
So, but at the same time, I do think that there should be some
more restraints on what is on TV. I totally agree. Some of the
stuff that's on TV right now-I don't actually watch TV so I
can't even say. I just don't like television anymore because
it is too oversexed and too over-violent and there-it's just
not, to me, entertaining anymore. I watch the Discovery Channel
when I watch TV. Myth Busters is a great show.
But as a child who has been raised, I think that if parents
just say "I don't want you doing this" and not, you
know, shaking their finger at you, but saying "I would
appreciate it if you didn't do this. I don't think it's appropriate
for you and I just wish you wouldn't do these things,"
that maybe children will step back and say, "You know what?
My parents asked me not to, and I think I'll respect that because
I respect my parents."
So, like I said, I'm kind of on both sides about this.
MR. CHAD RAFAEL: Okay. A next question: Are movie theaters
fined for allowing kids into R-rated films? More accurately,
is the Motion Picture Association of America, their self-regulation
and assigning of ratings to film, enforced by legislation or
is it self-regulation, voluntary by the industry? If it is self-regulated
why is there a need for a different system for the game industry?
ASSEMBLYMAN LELAND YEE: That's another issue that was raised
when we were talking about our bill. One needs to understand
the social context in which movies take place. If you have a
child walking into an adult theater or an R-rated movie, you're
going to find that there's going to be a lot of glare towards
the adult bringing the child or towards that particular child.
Probably individuals are going to complain to the manager. So
there's a lot of social pressure.
But when you purchase a game, you go in there, you take out
or you ask, and in a matter of seconds that transaction happens
already. So there's not a whole lot of social pressure. And
that's why the voluntary rating system in a movie is far different
in terms of its effect when you're comparing it to a video game.
MS. KRISTIN MCDONNELL: I just think that it's a little
unfair to say that because of the fact that we have social pressures
for these movies that they don't need to be regulated otherwise,
because what if those social pressures evaporate? You know,
and here we are, we have this sort of double-standard where
we say, well, we're not going to fine movies but we're going
to fine people who sell, you know, these video games to minors.
And I think that if we're going to put restrictions on media,
we shouldn't just target and demonize specific forms of media,
but we should look at all media and everything that we take
in. And, yes, there are going to be people glaring and people
complaining if, you know, you have a child who is in an R-rated
But at the same time in a game store you're going to have demos
set up, and if you see a five-year-old playing the demo of Halo
II, that, you know, came out last year, I believe it was, you're
going to have a lot of people looking, going why is that kid
playing Halo? You know? Just because a transaction is momentary
doesn't mean that
I just don't think it's fair to rely
on social pressures alone.
MR. CHAD RAFAEL: Okay.
MR. MIKE ANTONUCCI: Just as a point of reference, the
legal challenge to the assemblyman's bill is not just based
on the First Amendment. It's also based on the Fourteenth Amendment
and about equal protection under the law because, for instance,
he's asked for a restriction on the sale of video games but
he hasn't asked for restrictions, for instance, on the sale
of an unrated DVD. A movie that was maybe PG-13 in the theaters
but now you have the unrated version with additional scenes.
So the legal challenge is also partially on those grounds. What's
interesting is not to continue to challenge them on the equality
of the bill, but to talk more about, I think, his underlying
concern that the interactivity of games puts them in a special
category. That's really the issue for all of you to be talking
MR. CHAD RAFAEL: Want to comment on that one before
we go on?
ASSEMBLYMAN LELAND YEE: Mike's a good proponent for
MR. CHAD RAFAEL: Okay.
MR. MIKE ANTONUCCI: Are we really recording this?
MR. CHAD RAFAEL: I'm going to put together two questions
that are on the same topic here. Can't we say that a celebration
of violence is morally repugnant even without any provable consequences
in terms of real-life violence? Let's suppose the video game
industry is right and that the vast majority of players, child
and adult, won't be directly inspired by these games to go out
and commit violence.
Still, is it ethical for some game companies to give people
games that encourage players to commit these symbolic acts of
violence, perpetuate racist and sexist images, and legitimate
this as a form of entertainment? Is it ethical for some to make
millions from catering to humanity's worst instincts rather
than encouraging our best?
ASSEMBLYMAN LELAND YEE: Well, this is where
on sort of my First Amendment hat. You know, is it ethical?
I don't think it's ethical. But do I want to do something about
it by limiting it? I don't really want to do that.
I do believe in the freedom that we have. I do believe that
it's extremely important that we exercise some self-discipline
on that and let the market forces play themselves out. While,
you know, my bill does, in fact, sort of curtail First Amendment,
you know, I do that very cautiously. I would not take the same
stance towards violent TV shows. I would not take the same stance
with violent video games. It is this particular subset of what
we call interactive violence.
And part of it is that the laws in this country are very, very
clear. Just because you don't like it, just because you are
offended by it, is not enough for you to curtail people's First
Amendment. You've got to have some body of information that
this-that states-that the state has an interest in terms of
curtailing individual First Amendment. And we've got to be very,
very clear about it.
It is an extremely slippery slope when you start asking the
question: Is it okay for me to use my standard as to what is
appropriate and what is not appropriate? What is appropriate
and not appropriate for me is clearly maybe the opposite of
someone else, and is it then okay for me to say that my standards
MR. MIKE ANTONUCCI: We're going to have to switch chairs
ASSEMBLYMAN LELAND YEE: See, that's why we, you know,
we play on each other. He's really Leland Yee.
MR. CHAD RAFAEL: There actually is a question here that
seems to be pushing Mike to run for state assembly here. The
first part of the question I think you've answered, Mike, which
is: Are you concerned about violence towards women in extreme
games? But the second part asks you to think a little bit more
as a policy maker. Are there any limits to what we should let
MR. MIKE ANTONUCCI: I always get hung up on the question.
It's so broad that I don't have an instant answer to it. You
can't ask a question that open-ended without finding some scenario
where I would agree that there ought to be some kind of limitation.
I'm going to pass on that without a more specific example.
MR. CHAD RAFAEL: Okay. Let's turn now to some of the
gender questions that people have asked. This is a question
addressed particularly to the two women in the panel from the
person who wrote this question.
What would an envelope-pushing game specifically designed for
women look like? What topics would be addressed?
MS. KRISTIN MCDONNELL: Shopping. Come on. Pornographic
shopping. You know
credit card without a limit. Beautiful.
An envelope pushing
I stand with my first answer. Shopping.
I think that, you know, women don't have the interests in violence
and sexually graphic material and all those things that tend
to be more on that masculine play pattern side of the spectrum.
So, you would just have to think of, you know, maybe it's Barbie
think that it would be those things that
would be stereotypical
descriptions of women in terms of Prince Charming and materialism
or whatever it may be.
But I don't think that Assemblyman Yee would be limiting its
sale. So I don't know. I'm stumped.
MS. CAROLINE RATAJSKI: Well, I guess I'm not exactly
a typical female because, as you said, typical male play patterns
are more competitive and I actually like competition. Just last
night I was playing World of Warcraft, and one of the proudest
moments for me was that I trounced a warrior who was a higher
level than me. And I was
bragging to everyone
kicked some major butt. It was awesome.
MALE VOICE: What level are you on?
MS. CAROLINE RATAJSKI: I have a level 42 warlock, is
what I was playing. Gnome.
MALE VOICE: 42 out of 60, right?
MS. CAROLINE RATAJSKI: Yeah. 42 out of 60. I also have
a 46 gnome rogue, smattering of alts. I play a little bit.
But, yeah, I'm kind of an atypical-
MALE VOICE: You've got serious credentials.
MS. CAROLINE RATAJSKI: But, yeah, I'm just not a typical
female. I mean I enjoy competition. I also enjoy cooperative
play. So I think the types of games that more typical women
would like to play are probably puzzle games. My first game
that I was just majorly, majorly into was Dr. Mario. If you
guys don't recall, it's the one with the little pills that drop
and you line them up. It's sort of like Tetris except a little
And I just played hours and hours and hours of this game on
my little Gameboy, and I just loved it. Games that require cooperation.
So I think MMOs are going to be -are-huge for women. A lot of
women play MMOs because you can't solo through it. You have
to get in parties; you have to work cooperatively with people.
You know, you have to have someone who's keeping all of you
alive and someone who's, you know, taking all the damage and,
you know, you have to work cooperatively to play in these types
So I think puzzle and MMO, but I don't know that they're necessarily
envelope pushing because they're, you know, preexisting genres.
Games that I might like to make someday because I'm interested
in designing games, are, like I said, games that push ethical
questions, which make you think: "Am I doing what's right?
Am I doing what's good? Should I be more of a hero or more of
Does the end really justify the means?"
That sort of thing.
But I don't know that necessarily women will be specifically
interested in this, but I think people would be. So men and
women both kind of thing.
MR. CHAD RAFAEL: Briefly is there anybody on the panel
who has an example of a game like you've just mentioned, that
does raise ethical questions throughout the game and kind of
spurs that kind of thinking?
MR. MIKE ANTONUCCI: There are quite a few games like
that. The problem is that gaming is entertainment. It is interactive.
So you want to be doing something. And doing ethical choices
is always the weakest, the least engaging part of the game entertainment
experience. It's always a transitional step between a lot of
the more basic racing, fighting, and sort of, you know, flinch-based
There's a game called Fable, which I didn't want to spend 80
hours playing, which is similar to what Caroline described in
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, where each choice you
make for the character not only begins to push the character
into a darker or lighter personality, but shapes how people
and situations around him evolve.
There are games that try to get at this, and in fact there's
a really-you know, I think probably the Sims is the game that's
always held up as the game that raises the most kinds of real
life moral possibilities, real life moral choices. And the creator
of that game is working on an unbelievably interesting game
called Spoor, which is some time away, which starts with the
concept of taking what amounts to a one-cell organism, an amoeba,
and gradually evolving it through individual states, social
states, to civilized states, eventually into leaving the planet
into extraterrestrial exploration. This game suggests a lot
of interesting possibilities, but we're far away from seeing
how it will actually develop.
MR. CHAD RAFAEL: Maybe they want to sign up the Ethics
Center as a consultant on that game. Kirk, think about that.
Next question. Some people have criticized games designed for
girls for reinforcing traditional gender roles as much as violent
games for boys do, even if they do so differently. For example,
Barbie Fashion Designer teaches girls that their role is primarily
to decorate themselves, be interested in fashion, and doesn't
involve much complex play with the computer. Do designers have
a responsibility to offer a broader range of ways to be female
in these games?
MS. KRISTIN MCDONNELL: Yes, if the target audience showed
interest in that. So with Barbie Fashion Designer, for instance,
if you take a group of a hundred five-year-old girls and you
put a bunch of dress-up stuff in one corner and a bunch of,
you know, doctor kits in the other corner, about 90 percent
of them are going to be over in the dress-up corner.
I have three daughters and I don't feel like I'm doing
anything to steer them one way or the other, and
the DNA for some reason. So I think that, you know, that on
Barbie.com I'm sure that they have
Callie Girls, they have
the girls that are riding horseback, they have probably a doctor
But, for whatever reason, the majority of the market goes toward
self-adornment, which goes back to that feminine play pattern
of personalization and customization where you are dressing
yourself up. And I think that both women and men do show that.
I would imagine a lot of games you play that there's a lot of
personalization, even in the violent games where you're personalizing
your character and you're putting on helmets and swords and
all that stuff.
So I think in terms of responsibility to show a wider range
of possibilities to some extent, but I think that also it wouldn't
get played as much as just kind of going with the flow of what
females tend to like.
MR. CHAD RAFAEL: Mike and then Caroline?
MR. MIKE ANTONUCCI: One interesting possibility here
is, those of you who are familiar with games know that one of
the hottest areas of game technology is character creation.
Okay? And the more games incorporate that creatively and you
build a character from scratch, including gender, the more the
player, the consumer, will actually help do what you just asked
if should developers do.
MS. CAROLINE RATAJSKI: Once more, just kicking back
to the fact that I guess I'm just a really atypical female,
I mean when I went home this weekend for Thanksgiving, I sort
of went through my closet going, okay, I have to
What nice clothes do I have? Because for the most part, for
me, I'm just a t-shirt-and-jeans sort of [person] and my hair
is in a ponytail. I don't really wear jewelry, very little makeup.
I'm just a really plain type of girl.
And I think that also throws back to how I was raised. My mother
is a doctor-turned-businesswoman, my dad is an electrical engineer,
and so I was raised with a lot of science and a lot of math
and a lot of reading. And I was given, I think, one Barbie when
I was five and I didn't know what to do with it so I started,
like, coloring her with a marker and I cut all her hair off,
and then I put her in the microwave because she was cold.
So I'm not exactly a typical girl. That was
the first and
last Barbie I ever got, and I didn't really play with her. I
also liked just popping off the limbs to see how they worked
when you put them back in and see how she was connected. And
I think honestly that if girls were shown that this sort of
thing is okay, that this should be nurtured, because definitely
in school all the girls played Barbie and I played with the
boys because I played with Tonka trucks and Transformers. And
this is because I was shown that this is okay at home.
And I think if we, as a society, tell girls, you know, it's
okay to have these more masculine interests, it's okay to be
competitive and, you know, not just with other females-with
men, too. It's okay to stand up and say, you know, I'm strong
and I can fight for myself.
And, you know, back to character customization. I totally agree.
I spend hours making characters in Warcraft and then just deleting
them just because I like making characters. In Halo I spent
forever making my Spartan armor, and I made it pink because
that's actually my favorite color. One of the few girly things
And, yeah, I think if we had these sorts of games that not necessarily
were violent, but that weren't so stereotypically female that
show girls that it's okay to be competitive. They can Warcraft.
There's PVP-player versus player. And girls-some girls actually
really enjoy that. A couple of my friends and I, we like to
go into territory that we just really shouldn't have been going
into and, you know, picking fights with-there are two sides,
the alliance and the hoard-and we're alliance and we're picking
fights with the hoard in their territory and just, you know,
just running around being competitive and just having a great
And I think if girls see that this is okay
they might actually
start going towards that. Of course it's a huge risk because
if they don't buy it, then you can be sunk, so I can understand
the industry's need to balance what they would like to do with,
you know, not going bankrupt. So it's kind of a hard balance.
MS. KRISTIN MCDONNELL:
The industry did start more
that way. I brought up the King's Quest, where it was more of
this kind of gender-neutral fantasy world where men and women
felt equally comfortable
and I think it's as the industry
has evolved that
the content has made women feel more and
more [uncomfortable] playing those types of interactive games,
and that women have kind of fled to the solitaire and spades
and all that as opposed to doing more of the role playing games
that have become, you know, less gender neutral.
MR. CHAD RAFAEL: We have time for one last question
and very brief answers from each of the panel, which I think
is probably what is best called for by this question anyway.
Which is more offensive to you ethically-the damsel in distress
or the sexy female fighter?
MS. CAROLINE RATAJSKI: Mine is the damsel in distress
because the sexy female fighter, she's powerful and, you know,
taking care of herself and probably taking care of
a few other people as well. So whereas the damsel in distress
does, I think, kind of reinforce those stereotypes of you're
hurting, and you need some help, and a guy is probably somewhere
around here that's going to help you out, too.
MR. MIKE ANTONUCCI: Okay, well, now I'm thinking about
getting home and in my underwear for Perfect Dog Zero again.
So I guess the damsel in distress is more offensive as well.
And let me make a straight point that's also very quick. How
many people here have seen the movie Run, Lola, Run? Okay. Those
of you who haven't and want to sort of deal with that issue
about the image of a woman and see the influence of video games
on other art forms, go rent Run, Lola, Run.
ASSEMBLYMAN LELAND YEE: As a father of two daughters,
I've taught my kids, my daughters, if any guy messes with you
I'll take care of that, okay?
MS. KRISTIN MCDONNELL: I guess I'd have to agree with
the damsel in distress, although I will say that the oversexed
fighter is a bit disconcerting to me as well, only because it
seems that universally if a female is strong she must also be
just exceedingly, you know, sexy looking. That you can't have
a female who is both strong and just average. That somehow-I
don't know. So both, but more the damsel in distress because
at least [the other] one can fight can take care of herself.
MR. CHAD RAFAEL: Okay. Let's thank the panelists for
their presentations tonight. Again we owe a debt of thanks to
the Center for Science, Technology, and Society at Santa Clara,
the Markkula Ethics Center at Santa Clara, and the Tech Museum
for organizing all of this. And in the interest of getting Mike
home and into his underwear we'll call it a night.