Video games are currently in court, defending against Schwarzenegger vs EMA. California is looking to ban the sale of violent video games to children and teens under the age of 18. Thankfully, so far, the Supreme Court isn’t very impressed with the State’s arguments.
What’s more, a scan of message boards and news post discussion threads reveal that gamers are overwhelmingly pleased that the Law is seemingly on the industry’s side. There is, however, one supporter who gives even us pause: Extreme right-wing U.S. radio host, Rush Limbaugh.
“Join me any time the government tries to impinge on anybody’s speech,” Limbaugh said on the October 29 airing of his show when a caller informed him of Schwarzenegger vs EMA. “Join me when the government tries to tell you can’t eat trans fat. Join me when the government gets involved in all these other behavioral and speech things that they try to tell you and control us we can’t do: What kind of car we have to drive, whether or not we’re responsible for global warming, the kind of lightbulb we have to have, where our thermostats are. Get on board, my buddy. If it’s taken a video game to get you interested and have the light go off, to have you see what liberalism is all about, I’m glad to have you on our side, ’cause I agree with you. Leave your game alone. The people that put together these video games are artists in their own right. If you’re gonna start saying that video games are raunchy, then how the hell do you leave cable television alone?”
As Schwarzenegger vs EMA demonstrates, some of the harder attacks on the video game industry come from the middle-aged set; people who hover around Limbaugh’s age. Limbaugh’s opinions on politics, race, and society’s troubles are controversial, to say the least. Be that as it may, should the games industry embrace him (or maybe a friendly handshake will do) as a quotable ally on the grounds of “Enemies of my enemies are my friends?”
It’s good to see someone who wields so much influence speak up for video games. Problem is, Limbaugh hasn’t ever demonstrated that he knows a video game from a puppy dog. In fact, in June of 2009, he dedicated a portion of his show to a rant about Rendition: Guantanamo, a now-canned Xbox 360 game by Scottish development company T-Enterprise that was supposed to let the player take on the role of a Guantanamo Bay escapee. Before the project was shelved, T-Enterprise addressed the controversy the game’s trailer generated, and assured the games press that no American or British soldiers would be killed in-game. That didn’t pacify Limbaugh, who said that Bill Gates and Microsoft should be held “accountable” for the game, which he declared an insult to American servicemen and women.
Calling for the head of a company to be held “accountable” for the content a third-party puts on a game console isn’t direct censorship, but it can definitely be considered an act that stifles free speech. Rendition: Guantanamo was never released, so we can’t sufficiently put the game in context. Is it possible the game might have ended up offending American and British soldiers? Yes, but America’s right to free speech is a beautiful, barbed creature. You take the bad with the good, or you take nothing at all.
Context also tends to take a back seat when video games end up in court or on radio shows. People who move to ban books or video games don’t always take the time to read or play those games themselves. Even Schwarzenegger vs EMA is referencing few modern games, and falling back on the ’90s’ favorite scapegoat: Mortal Kombat. Anybody who’s grown up with video games knows that the exaggerated blood splatters and fatalities that define the series are silly. They have always been silly. We get frustrated when angry Senators hold up the video game equivalent of a B-grade comedy “horror” film and cry for America to think of the children. We know better, and so would they if they simply bothered to take the game in context.
On the flip side, it’s tempting to hand a free pass to someone like Limbaugh because he defends video games. But unless Limbaugh gives some indication that he understands or is at least interested in the workings of the games industry and its history, it’s better to hold off before praising him. When movie critic Ebert kicked a hornet’s nest earlier this year by declaring that video games aren’t art “and never will be,” the online community became understandably upset. Ebert, by his own admission, didn’t care about games, or play them: Who was he to label them as creative voids?
Similarly, Limbaugh doesn’t care about games, or play them. Should we celebrate his opinions anyway, just because they’re more positive than the opposition’s?
To be fair, it’s not exactly a bad thing to look at a hobby, pastime, different culture, religion, etc, and say, “I understand nothing about this, but you know what, I’m very much okay with its existence.” The opposite reaction, giving in to fear and moving to block or hurt that which isn’t easily understood, is arguably the core motive of many of humanity’s most terrible acts. It would be acceptable if Limbaugh had said, “I don’t play games, I don’t even like them, but America is full of kids and adults who do like games, and they’re all A-OK. So moving to stifle games as a means of free expression is a dumb idea.”
That’s not what Limbaugh said in his response to the individual who called him, however. Predictably, he used the call and the content within as a springboard to launch a rant about liberalism. His tirade indicates that he’s just happy to have a young right-wing follower, and video games are simply the means that brought him over. For Limbaugh, it wouldn’t have made a difference if the caller had rung up to discuss Government interference in movies, music, or television.
Opinions on Limbaugh’s political views are enormously divisive, but his ratings peg him as the most listened-to show in America. In spite of everything, it would be a good thing if he took an interest in games in order to argue their case. As it is, though, games are just a disposable example he can reach for when he needs to put together a quick rant for his own ends.