Human Rights Commission takes a look at videogames

Leigh Harris
Human Rights Commission takes a look at videogames

The turnout at last night's panel on videogames by the Australian Human Rights Commission was some 40 people.

This was a significantly larger number than the rest of the talks in the current series, each of which focuses on a different topic concerning human rights, in a series the AHRC is calling RightsTalks.

Each is free to attend, and is held in Sydney's CBD.

Yesterday's talk included Freeplay Festival Co-Director Katie Williams, Author of Killing is Harmless Brendan Keogh, Dr Christopher Moore, lecturer in Media and Communication at Deakin University, and Dr Melissa de Zwart, Associate Professor at the Adelaide Law School, and member of the Classification Review Board.

It very much presented as a roundtable on all the hot button issues surrounding human rights in games, most specifically those around cyber-bullying, representations of minorities, racial stereotyping and representations of women in games.

The purpose appeared to be to begin a conversation between games academics, journalists and the AHRC itself. Many of the topics were familiar to the AHRC, but not in the context of games.

Keogh presented his case for a dire portrait of the games industry's cis white male sticking point, arguing passionately against the notion that the context for racist, homophobic or other inappropriate trash talk online had no place, and that publishers and developers were complicit in allowing such cultures to form and to alienate.

Williams told of her experience completing a games degree as one of only two female graduates in her entire class, a sentiment echoed by tertiary educators in the audience, who spoke up to talk about the responses from male students to a 'safe space' they'd created on campus for outnumbered female students. Those responses ranged from cries of unequal treatment of males to a threat of legal action, indicative of the unwelcoming environment teachers are striving to provide.

de Zwart noted the extreme minority of game protagonists which were anything other than straight, white males, and praised the RPG genre in particular for giving players agency to create their own character in their image, while also bemoaning the notion that narrative-driven games where a particular protagonist is pre-picked for the player are changing very slowly if at all.

Moore commented that cultural cliches serve a function of ease of access for people, hence the ubiquitous nature of stereotypes in general across all mediums. When questioned as to why the children he supposed were intelligent enough to note the difference between the fantasy and reality, he noted that even highly intelligent and perceptive individuals can relish the simplicity of a known quantity, but that there is a constant ebb and flow of cultural norms and stereotypes. Gaming is just another medium to borrow from stereotypes we've been troubled to rid ourselves of for some time.

The talk was fairly broad, and didn't tackle issues directly, but was rather an open forum for those entrenched in games to bring contemporary human rights issues to the AHRC's attention.

No one was jumping to conclusions about legislation aimed at curtailing problems like cyber-bullying, and nor should they. Once consensus on that matter was that the one-day bans in games like World of Warcraft are not only ineffectual as a deterrent, but actually amounted to badges of pride for those who endured the punishment.

It's a great sign that the Human Rights Commission has taken an interest in videogames, and that they're starting from a position of knowing that there is much to be educated about.

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Tags: panel discussion , brendan Keogh , Katie Williams , Australian Human Rights Commission , Dr Melissa de Zwart , Dr Christopher Moore

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