Video games are simply the latest in a long series of media to endure criticism. Aspure play, they might have been ascribed some social value, but as media, they became a source of contention. Movies, for example, were once widely thought to be a corrupting influence on children, and media researchers examined their negative effects extensively dating back to the Payne Fund studies (Lowery & DeFluer, 1995). The experience of the Payne Fund studies suggests that research and public perception work cyclically. The research plays a role in the public perception of new media, even as public perceptions often simultaneously influence the research agenda. Now, 70 years later, movies are as contested as any site of popular culture but are now considered enough of an art form to warrant their own academic departments and journals. Clearly, in the public mind, games have farther to go. The critic Jack Kroll (2000) wrote recently that games “can’t transmit the emotional complexity that is the root of art . . . movies can transmit the sense of this nuanced complexity where games cannot” (p. 64). Some years from now, the same will be said of some new medium in comparison to games. Partisans of particular media are parochial in the way they attack new competition and new forms, always forgetting that their medium was once under similar fire by pundits and researchers alike. In this vein, what could be more ironic than a television critic writing in a newspaper about the negative impact of games, as in the case of McDonough’s article “Gaming Hazardous to Social Life” (2003)?6
At Play in River CityAudience pleasure and the lack of social control over it are troubling to both the Left and the Right. At its elitist worst, the Left sees media play as an uninformed choice: If we could just educate the teeming masses, they would surely choose the higher arts over the base ones and focus more on the politics of class relations. Correspondingly, at its patriarchal worst, the Right sees media play as crass, uncivilized and boorish, and the audience as unwashed, teeming masses. Neither appreciate that play is not refined, properor bookish, but liberating and sometimes even empowering. Regardless of their reasons, these two poles of political thought can agree that pure play is bad, that it must be controlled and tempered and should also be consistent with their ideological values. Only such a combination could make political bedfellows out of Senator Joseph Lieberman andWilliam Bennet. Nevertheless, it is the conservative fears of the Right that drive the
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- Spring '17
- stacy braiuca