The following are ideas of assignments related to video games, laws and participation. We conceived this as weekly assignments to be taught over one month. We have included a number of assignments to meet the needs of different types of classes.
Laying the Groundwork: The Gamer Profile
1. A week (or even a month) before starting this unit, ask students to keep a journal of their game playing habits. Have students document what games they play (including the ESRB rating, if applicable), when and for how long. If a student does not play games at all, ask them to find out the game playing habits of a family member or friend outside of class.
Next, ask students to create a “gamer profile” that reflects on their habits. Some questions students should consider when writing this profile include:
- Would they consider themselves “gamers?” Why or why not?
- What genre of game do they play most frequently? What attracts them to this genre?
- Did any of the games played contain any content that some might find offensive? If so, describe the content and explain why it might be controversial.
- Are they (or have they ever been) restricted from playing certain games based on their content?
Week 1: Reviewing Context of These Debates
1. Review the full decision of one of the court cases that is listed on the court cases tab. Explain the decision with regard to at least one of the following: a) First Amendment, b) media self regulation, or c) aggression research. *Note: For a more advanced assignment, discuss the role of all three areas in relation to one court case.
2. Organize a debate in the classroom, where half of the class would support First Amendment rights for video games and one half would oppose these rights. Instruct the students to incorporate arguments from the law or aggression research.
Week 2: Understanding Industry Perspectives
1. Explain how the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), and Video Game Voters Network (VGVN) are interrelated. *Note: For a more advanced assignment, students can incorporate the historical context and progression of these three associations.
2. How does the Video Game Voters Network attempt to get the public involved? Explain how the VGVN utilizes Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and Twitter. In which situations would some of these social media sites/tools before effective than others?
Week 3: Complicating the Issues—Exploring Other Perspectives
1. Using the links in the “Popular Discourses” tab, compare and contrast how different individuals/groups discuss the issues surrounding censorship and gaming. Does it make sense to think of gamers as a unified group?
- In thinking through your answer, consider these sub-questions: How do different individuals/groups frame the issue, and why? How do different individuals/groups explain the Supreme Court case as something other than a First Amendment issue? What information is emphasized or ignored in these accounts, and why? How are these debates similar to or different from the debates surrounding the regulation of other media (films, comics, music)?
2. As a class, watch multiple segments of television programs, as found on the “Mainstream Press” and the “Gaming Press” tabs. It might be helpful to choose from a combination of network and cable news. In small groups, discuss and analyse how different news programs frame the issue of video game violence and the events surrounding the Supreme Court case.
- Some questions to consider include: Do the programs interview “experts”? What role do these experts play, and and how do they establish their authority? What audiences do these different programs seem to be targeting? Do these programs exhibit bias, and in which ways? How do the different programs combine images and sound in their reporting? What are the major distinctions or similarities between how the mainstream and gaming press present the issues?
Week 4: Bringing It All Together
1. Write a mock letter to a member of congress addressing one of the following two topics: a) whether there should be video game ratings, b) whether video games should be protected under the First Amendment. Be sure to include evidence from multiple perspectives (i.e. industry, popular) to support your argument.
2. Re-stage the debate (see Week 1), but now include multiple perspectives. Possible perspectives might include: a) free speech, b) parental rights, c) consumer advocacy, and d) games as art.
3. Choose a mainstream gaming website that discusses the aforementioned issues, and create a class thread in the discussion board in order to engage with the broader gaming community about issues of censorship or video game violence. A possible starting point would be to discuss how these issues are still relevant even after the Supreme Court ruling. If there is already an active discussion, feel free to have students join that one instead. For examples of sites, visit the Gaming Press tab.