February 15th, 2006

Rockstar's Legal Gang Beats Down Online Art Installation

Rockstar Games, as the saying goes, may not know much about art, but it knows what it likes - and what it doesn't.

And what it definitely didn't like, according to the The Daily Page, was an "online art installation" created by University of Wisconsin art student Dave Berg. Berg's work was displayed at The Highest Score, a site Berg created to "contemplate video game violence."

Berg's chosen medium of expression was Rockstar's 2005 release The Warriors. A short, looping clip of a gang character kicking a woman on the ground was displayed over and over. A counter on the page was synchronized with the onscreen action and exceeded 285,000 by the time Berg received a heavy-handed "cease and desist" order from Morrison Cohen LLP, a Big Apple law firm representing Rockstar

GP: What? No Blank Rome? Quick, somebody tell Jack of Miami...

What was Berg's point?

As he told the Daily Page, "...video games as a medium are perhaps one of the final frontiers where sexism and graphic violence exist, to a certain point, unchecked and definitely encouraged... what is depicted on my website is something that occurs in the game, but does not help you solve puzzles or learn lessons - it exists for pure entertainment... The saddest part concerning this "entertainment" approach to these issues is that while these games are rated for certain age groups, it is a common fact that video game rental stores and many other stores that actually sell the game do not check the purchaser's age at the time of the sale."

"Secondly, I'm very interested in the concept that our postmodern world has dealt with for the past 20 years, namely, the desensitivization of violent images on one's mind. The fact that this video clip is occurring at a constant sound beat and motion, and it is paired with a numeric value, I'm interested in the idea of this image becoming less and less hard to look at with every second that passes, due to the hypnotic rhythm that exists within the site."

"Paired with that, I wanted to point out how America seems to be so obsessed with large numbers... That is why I put a counter in the top left corner... I'm essentially conducting an experiment, as i am curious as to whether people will begin to lose their focus on how brutal the image is and begin to become obsessed with the number's growth."

Utah Games = Porn Bill Revived

Do violent games equate with pornography?

They will if Utah Rep. David Hogue (R) has his way. Yesterday, according to a story in the Provo Daily Herald, a Utah House committee passed Hogue's bill, HB 0257 by a 7-2 vote. As reported previously on GamePolitics, the bill initially failed a January 28th vote.

The proposed legislation would make it a felony to knowingly exhibit or sell violent video games to minors,

"It's more than a message bill," Hogue told the newspaper. "This is a bill that identifies the effects that different media has on our children."

While the bill would apply to retailers, it could also affect "perpetrators trying to influence a minor."

The bill defines "inappropriate violence" as games with carnage that offends prevailing community standards and lacks "serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors."

The ESA and ACLU were quick to react.

"This bill is not needed. More importantly, the bill will be challenged as unconstitutional," said the ESA's Scott Sabey. "To plug violence into an obscenity statute won't work."

Eagle Forum Director Gayle Ruzicka spoke out in favor of the bill, saying, "If we have to go all the way to the Supreme Court, then let's take it to the Supreme Court."

For more background, see GP coverage of Hogue's bill from January 25th and January 28th.

GP: We thought this bill was dead and buried, but Hogue apparently made enough changes to satifsy Utah conservatives. With the "games as porn" rhetoric getting actual legislative consideration, Utah's HB 257 immediately becomes the leading political threat to the video game industry so far this year.

Render Unto Microsoft What is Microsoft's

Concerned about the game... of life?

Hot on the heels of the Canadian Red Cross asking gaming companies to stop treating the "Geneva Cross" as if it were in the public domain, we have yet another story of trademark "borrowing."

ChatterBox Games Show reports receiving a pamphlet from the Crosswalk Lutheran Ministries in Phoenix, AZ. The pamphlet was advertising a "high-impact" series called "Life 360", and had a slightly modified version of the Xbox 360 logo. The program is divided into 4 steps, "Spirit, Heart, Body, and Mind" and says "Admit it - life is not always fun and games. Life is challenging and complicated. And you don't get to 're-start' at the push of a button... we get one shot at life, and then it's 'game-over.'"

The overall pamphlet design was also quite similar to a lot of the print-media Xbox 360 ads. The front page could easily be mistaken for an Xbox 360 ad were it not for the tiny "Crosswalk" logo in the corner.

J: As of the writing of this piece, the Crosswalk church has not yet responded to my query about whether they had spoken to Microsoft, or whether they felt that this falls under "fair use." I was also curious to know if they had considered other mainstream consoles.

I think this one is a little more clear-cut than the Red Cross issue. This isn't just using the logo within a game, historical context or otherwise. This is using someone else's logo, name, and ad campaign style to promote a series of lectures.