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  1. I can actually almost conceive an argument that differentiates the two meaningfully. I think the functional difference is that video games tell stories in the second person. So really, the “story” of GTA is: “You killed a police officer, and the effects were uniformly positive (increased score, the police officer is no longer chasing you, dead police officers can’t witness criminal offenses).” It’s still a steep jump to get from there to incitement, but it’s a little closer than “Bob killed a police officer, and the effects were positive,” and certainly much closer than “Bob killed a police officer, and now he’s in jail.”

    I don’t think that justifies eliminating all depictions of violence against police, of course.

  2. What if the novel’s written in the second person?

  3. Hrm. Also, what about something like Rainbow Six, in which the viewpoint characters are… well, not cops, but you see where I’m going. I couldn’t really argue that GTA has a positive depiction of cops, but what about those old SWAT games from Sierra?

    And, come to think of it, there may be something interesting to be said about the depiction of police in GTA. Certainly they’re ruthlessly efficient; one isn’t encouraged to like them, and one can avoid them, but one is never unaware of them. The world of GTA is one in which the police are never far away and in which they cannot be ignored…

  4. Well, and that’s partly why I said “almost.” I think, however, that the unwholesomeness of such a novel would approach that of video games such as GTA. And note here that I’m only talking about the moral justification of the statute, not the constitutionality. If the second person novel goes into too much detail, then it might become an unprotected instruction manual that aids and abets the commission of a crime. Presumably, the same could be said of video games.

    As far as constitutionality goes, I guess it totally hinges on whether or not video games are protected speech – that hasn’t been decided at a federal level, has it?

    Hey, here’s the bill. Let’s take a look, just to see if it covers A.P.B. and Nethack:

    (4) “Violent video or computer game” means a video or computer game that contains realistic or photographic-like depictions of aggressive conflict in which the player kills, injures, or otherwise causes physical harm to a human form in the game who is depicted, by dress or other recognizable symbols, as a public law enforcement officer.

    Wow, ok, that’s actually a lot more reasonable than “Specifically, the law forbids selling minors any video or computer game depicting violence against law enforcement officials.” It’s kind of interesting that a game in which you destroy police cars would be fine, as long as there aren’t visible drivers. Really, they targeted the law pretty well: it has to be the player doing it – that rules out A.P.B.; they have to harm the officer – that rules out cartoony whack-a-cop games; it has to be realistic – again, whack-a-cop is safe; and it has to include aggressive conflict – that rules out a hypothetical Officer Masochisto game. In fact, this is the best challenge I’ve heard so far, and it’s pretty weak:

    “Does it apply to Army officers? What about a plainclothes policeman chasing other policemen who went bad?” asked Douglas Lowenstein, president of the game makers’ trade association.

    A better challenge would be “What about an Operation Enduring Presidency game where the player controls George W. Bush as he single-handedly defeats Saddam’s police force?” I think I’ve seen a zombie cop in a video game, too, that’s a good one. I have to admit, though, the bill as passed is pretty cunning, and does speak pretty closely to the second person factor I mentioned.

  5. Oh, huh, that’s interesting. Man, I have got to stop trusting news sources.

    I think you pretty much encapsulated it right there. I like my analogy to second person novels, personally, but it may be a little abstract.

  6. I think it’s criminal to report on legislation without at least providing a bill number, myself – fortunately, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer did.

    I definitely agree that second person novels are a good analogy for video games in some ways. There’s this perception, though, that video is more capable of influencing behavior than text. There’s also a perception that video games are in some way not speech – I think that’s ludicrous on its face, but it’s out there.

  7. Ah, this is the zombie cop I was thinking of. I’ve never played Resident Evil, so I have no idea if he appears in the game, or if you get to “kill, injure, or otherwise cause physical harm to” him.

    Another thing I was thinking of – Police 911 is actually safe under this rule – if you shoot one of your fellow officers, play stops, but you don’t actually “kill, injure or harm” them – you’re just chastised and play begins again. If, instead, it were to show them crumbling to the ground, clutching their injured leg, and the game were to immediately end, cutting to a scene of the player standing out-of-uniform in the hospital next to his fallen comrade, with a caption explaining that the player had been suspended from the police force for his carelessness – that would most likely be unacceptable.

    I couldn’t find any pictures of the Baghdad police uniform, so my hopes of producing an Operation: Enduring Presidency Flash game have been dashed, at least for the moment.

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