This post is written by David Harrison, the editor of AusGamers, for our series of blog posts on the importance of online civil liberties as part of EFA's 2010 Fundraising Campaign ...
I've lost count of the number of times that I have literally seen eyes glaze over when trying to explain to people why digital and online civil liberties are important. I'll say something like "hey, that's a nice iPhone, but do you realise that even though you own it, Apple don't think you should be able to do certain things with it?", or "There's this great zombie game coming out, but you won't be able to buy it in Australia because there's no R18+ classification rating!"
It is hard to get people motivated to care about something when they feel they have no direct, immediate interest in it. Some people don't want to jailbreak their iPhones. Some people don't want to play violent video games, or mod their console to extend its functionality. Some people don't care that their DRMed music or video collection might one day just stop working. Some people don't even care that the government is planning to censor the Internet! Unfortunately, many people learn to care about these things the hard way - when it's too late.
Fortunately for them, other people do care about these things, and are right now trying to educate by fighting against the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that surround these issues. Certain interest groups are telling everyone that violent video games will result in children turning into murder machines. Big media will tell you that without DRM, artists won't get paid and there'll be no more music or movies. The government invokes the spectre of child pornography to explain why they need to control access to the Internet.
On the surface, these all sound like reasonable arguments - no-one wants to stop the music! Unfortunately, to counter these points and explain why they're bad and scary to us nerd-types often involves invoking technical arcana (like the importance of open, DRM free media formats), mentioning obscure fringe cases (running homebrew code), or acknowledging that various abuses are possible (such as copyright or patent infringement). Several arguments also touch on highly sensitive issues, such as violence, abortion or euthanasia, which cloud judgment and make it hard for rational discussion to take place. So it becomes an even bigger challenge to explain to the average citizen why exactly we care about these issues - and why they should, too.
At this point, when in a discussion with my friends, I find I need to shake them out of their glazed-eyed stupor, as typically they have fallen out of the conversation and are thinking about the cool farting application they've just installed on their iPhone.
I will then try to convince them that these issues are really important to understand. They're important because they are fundamentally about freedom. They're about having the right to make your own choices, and not have to worry that someone else doesn't like it and thus might stop you doing it. They're about having the right to do what you want with your own property - things you have paid money for and own. It's about having more freedom in the choices you make for yourself, not less.
AusGamers has been on the front lines of online civil rights battles recently in the struggle to get an R18 classification for video games. We believe that more awareness about issues to do with online and digital civil rights will create a more open and freer society, and we're doing what we can to encourage more discussion.
We firmly believe in the right of gamers to make their own choices, and we especially believe that adult gamers should have the right to make adult choices. We know that Australian gamers desperately want to be able to play these games, not because they're obsessed with violence and are dark, scary, individuals plotting murder and mayhem from their parent's basement, but because these games are fun. Adult gamers have adult tastes - we can vote, we can drink, we can go to war, and we can watch adult movies - but when it comes to video games, we can't choose how we spend our spare time.
We know that - regardless of whether an R18 rating exists - gamers will get their hands on these games one way or the other. Giving them a channel to obtain these games legitimately gives Australian gamers the freedom to make their own choices - and ensures they won't become criminals just because they wanted to play a video game that a few people thought was too violent.
While we're doing what we can at AusGamers to make sure issues of online civil rights are in the minds of Australian gamers, we strongly feel that the EFA is the best positioned organisation in Australia to tackle these issues head-on. If you're at all concerned about the fate of Australian gaming, Internet censorship, or the myriad of other important issues facing us in the Information Age, I strongly urge you to consider contributing to the EFA's fund raising drive or becoming a member today!