First of all, yesterday I wrote that one thing all advocates should do is celebrate their successes, so here we go:
Yesterday the Georgia House Ways and Means Committee voted unanimously to extend the video game tax credit which has done so much to empower our industry here. While we still have much to do before this extension is signed into law, yesterday’s vote is the result of a number of advocates working to ensure that many people see the value of what we do. This is just one example of what developer-advocates can do when they put their minds to it.
Now onto reactive advocacy. This is what most of us think of when the term “game advocacy” comes to mind, in particular the response to the numerous baseless charges that games cause violence. The very assertion was offensive for many reasons, not least because a) there was no evidence of such and b) the assertions became a distraction for addressing the issues we DO know are causes of violence. I always found it amusing that some of the same attackers who made these charges were also the ones who used to scream that rap music caused violence, until the clear racism and unfounded nature of their arguments became unsupportable. It didn’t hurt that Frank Zappa made them laughingstocks in Congressional hearings.
It is not just assertions about violence to which developer-advocates have had to react. IP and online trolls, addiction worries, DRM, bandwidth throttling and more have all required intelligent responses. While each controversy has its unique characteristics, dealing with them often follows the same format:
- Identify the primary detractors and their core motives. Yes, it is easy to dismiss many of them as self-serving publicity hounds, trying to gain fame by criticizing others’ work, but this is not always the case. Putting them all in the same box risks complacency.
- Determine who your primary audience should be – customers, legislators, media, other game devs, etc. Don’t expect reason to change your opponent’s mind. Focus on those people impacted by the issue but who do not have their minds already made up.
- Utilize a variety of communication tools. While it may seem easiest to just do a single press interview, it is often best to supplement that with letters and web sites where you can control what is said.
- Promote supportable evidence demonstrating the flaws of the issue. For instance, when bandwidth throttling became a concern, developers noted the very real impact that could have on their endeavors.
- Use the attention to demonstrate the value in what we do. The Grandtheft Childhood study became a surprisingly strong part of the fight against the “games-cause-violence” lie.
- Identify allies and enlist their aid.
- Have a core message, i.e. the notion that games cause violence is not supported by evidence, but understand that even your allies and supporters may have their own messages.
- Recognize successes and defeats, but do not wallow in either. Most of the time these issues should never have come up, so it is better to promote how they are being dealt with, rather than
- Remain vigilant. All of these issues can crop up again, so always remember Jefferson’s quote that “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
Please note that not all reactive advocacy is inherently combative. For instance, the many in the industry have recognized the validity of complaints that female representation is lacking, both in games and in the ranks of developers. In this case, advocacy has played its greatest role in encouraging change within the industry. This has had multiple benefits, increasing both the number of people making and playing games.
In any case, this just scratches the surface. For more definite strategies and tactics, join us Wednesday in room 111 of the Moscone North Hall.