If the events of 9/11 are destined to influence the gaming community beyond eliminating the World Trade Center from views of the Manhattan skyline, an article entitled Solider of Intifada in the January, 2003 issue of Computer Gaming World (p.36) may suggest how. The article contrasts the release of a Syrian shooter called Under Ash, in which the player adopts the role of a 19-year-old Palestinian refuge, with the recent release of America’s Army, a shooter distributed free by the U.S. Army as part of its recruitment efforts.
While the piece deals squarely and fairly with how point of view determines whether content is patriotic or propagandistic, the article also suggests a more pressing and practical problem for our industry. Specifically, could the federal government deny Americans the right to own or play Under Ash, and/or arrest or detain individuals who chose to do so? Currently a great deal of latitude is being given to law enforcement efforts to combat terrorism, and it seems a real possibility that a violent game produced by Islamic developers might easily fall under someone’s definition of ‘terrorist activity’.
That this could be the tip of a Constitutional iceberg is obvious, because if the federal government can suppress one title, there may be attempts to suppress others, even if those titles haven’t been produced by enemies of the state. And for politicians already on the record as opposed to violent games, what better way to proceed than by reframing their social agendas as patriotism?
Even if no legislation is ever passed prohibiting certain products in the United States, quasi-governmental accusations or the threat of litigation could still have a chilling effect on developers and publishers of controversial titles. Will we see publishers and developers self-censoring content for fear of being labeled un-American? (If this seems far-fetched, read up on McCarthyism, then watch some of the jingoistic movies produced during that period.) And how might such a politically-charged marketplace affect the growing trend of developers openly supporting mod communities? While Quake III isn’t a game about terrorism, is that distinction going to be apparent to the average citizen if Congress trots out a total conversion in which the goal is mowing down likenesses of real Senators and Representatives before dispatching a likeness of the current president?
I don’t know how this will all play out, but my guess is that someone will take a run at using 9/11 for political gain at our industry’s expense. Although I have criticized our industry’s timidity in confronting scapegoating (see the section above), the risks associated with defending free access to a title like Under Ash are considerable, and probably prohibitive for individuals or groups who want to market product in the U.S. Ironically, it may be the release of America’s Army, along with other violent patriotic and nationalistic titles, that prevents those bent on social engineering from getting completely out of hand.
— Mark Barrett