Sunday, 15 November 2009

Video games; media regulation; WeMedia and Democracy; Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

This week, the big media event has been the launch of the latest instalment of the video game ‘Call of Duty’: Modern Warfare 2. It has been interesting on a number of fronts; firstly, it was priced higher than the norm at £55 a copy, with stores opening at midnight and queues outside, the likes of which would not be seen again...well until the Jimmy Choos launch at H&M on Saturday. Then because there’s a price war around it, with Sainsbury’s, for example, undercutting even the internet prices, coming in at over 50% discount.

Thirdly, the game had a record-breaking first day, with an estimated 4.7 million sales, taking £186m between the UK and US markets alone, which was a larger take than for the
opening weekend of record breaking ‘Batman: The Dark Knight’ film release. It has considerably outsold the 600,000 copies GTA4 did on its first day.

The game itself is described as a cinematic experience and I suspect, unlike me, many of the readers of this blog will already have been playing it- perhaps up all night to do so online? I suspect also that many of the players are under 18.

The controversial airport terrorist attack scene which leaked out a few weeks before the game’s release made front page news for several British papers- an example of a moral panic about the media which is very familiar to those of us who have taught the subject for years. Usually, in such circumstances, the first people you can rely on for quotes to support the outrage of The Daily Mail are British politicians; over the years, various films, comics, TV programmes, music and games have provoked our elected representatives to pass comment on our behalf, usually without actually having seen the text concerned.

This time was no different on one level, as MP Keith Vaz, who has a history of pronouncements on videogames, raised a question in Parliament for the Culture minister:

"Is the Minister aware that at midnight tonight a new and violent videogame called Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 is to be released? It contains such scenes of brutality that even the manufacturers have put in warnings within the game telling people how they can skip particular scenes."

"Given the recommendations of the Byron Review, specifically paragraphs 32 and 33, what steps is the government proposing to take in order to ensure these violent games do not fall into the hands of children and young people? It’s not about censorship, it’s about protecting our children,"

But on this occasion, instead of a host of MPs nodding ‘hear, hear’ and a minister over-reacting, Sion Simon, the minister, reminded Mr Vaz of the classification system, which gave this game an 18 and Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich, defended the game and the wider games industry- which is a major employer in the UK- on twitter and facebook. He also started a pressure group on Facebook called Gamers’ Voice, which by the end of the week had acquired 14,000 members.

The group's mission statement explains that its members will discuss "how UK video gamers can find their voice in newspapers and government." It’s really interesting to see in how short a time, something started by a politician can take on momentum from the people joining it and it would be a good case study for the A2 exam topic of WeMedia and Democracy, to look at how gamers can have a say in a debate that often excludes their voices. Members have already posted well over 100 links on the wall, including to BBC and newspaper coverage and to satirical comments on the media effects argument. They go well beyond just this week's coverage and into looking at pressure groups worldwide and the arguments they make.

Try this video from The Onion and this article from The Times which challenges assertions about the effects of the airport sequence. Why not join the group and see how the campaign progresses? For Contemporary Media Regulation, Media in the Online Age and WeMedia and Democracy, this would undoubtedly be a very fruitful case study.

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