Note: the following article was originally written in early June for another venue, but I've reprinted it here because I think its point is still relevant.
A recent Fox News segment concerning federal funding for video games has provoked outrage from gaming news websites, and while the hyperventilating of professional nerds might not seem noteworthy at first glance, the sad spectacle deserves to be revisited because it offers a troubling window into how liberals consolidate political influence over apolitical constituencies.
The National Endowment for the Arts has decided that video games of particular artistic or educational merit can qualify for federal grants, so Fox ran a debate on the decision between Icrontic.com editor-in-chief Brian Ambrozy and conservative radio host Neal Asbury. Admittedly, the Fox anchor wrongly suggested that big-budget action games like “Call of Duty” were the NEA’s focus rather than smaller projects by independent developers, and Asbury didn’t perform particularly well, having little more to offer the discussion besides generic platitudes about runaway spending. But the geek brigade saw something more nefarious at work.
Kotaku.com’s Owen Good complained that Fox had “no intention of” respecting the “gaming-as-art point of view.” CJ Smillie of GameRant.com criticized Fox for “attacking” the “idea of games as an art form.” At EscapistMagazine.com, Tom Goldman accused Fox of “using the general ignorance of the public” about video games “for their own ends.” Ambrozy himself later called the segment “media brainwashing of the highest order,” through which Fox was poisoning its viewers’ minds against “our world and our generation.”
Speaking as both a member of Ambrozy’s generation and an avid gamer, I feel a special obligation to call out nonsense spouted by pompous hacks claiming to represent me. Yes, video games can be every bit as artistic as the best films or novels…which has nothing to do with whether Uncle Sam should fund it. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution doesn’t authorize the federal government to subsidize art of any kind. Why? In addition to their conviction that the federal government ought to be limited to acting in a few clearly defined areas, the Founders believed, in Thomas Jefferson’s words, that it was “sinful and tyrannical” to make someone pay for “the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves.” No matter how edifying I might personally find a particular work, morally I don’t have the right to force my countrymen to financially support something they might not feel the same way about, or that they might even oppose.
None of the NEA’s defenders show the slightest awareness of, or interest in, the issues of constitutional law or individual rights involved, instead spinning it into a simplistic story about old, ignorant reactionaries mercilessly targeting young people’s favored forms of entertainment and expression. As for why conservatives would have any sort of vendetta against young people or video games…well, that’s not explained. Apparently it’s just the latest front in our never-ending war on fun.
The usual spin on young voters is that they lean left because they’re more idealistic and enlightened than their parents’ generation. But here we see something very different. These guys and their readers aren’t reacting so viscerally to a run-of-the-mill TV segment because they carefully considered the other point of view, reviewed the federal budget and tax burden, or gave a moment’s thought to the constitutionality of the NEA. No, they’re mobilized to defend special recognition for themselves and special treatment for their hobby.
This is Liberal Outreach 101: find a cultural group, tempt them with tax-funded goodies, then tell them someone’s out to get them and/or take their stuff. Wash, rinse, and repeat, and pretty soon you’ve got a formidable coalition of disparate groups ignorantly lashing out at imaginary threats and bitterly clinging to their ill-gotten goods.
Such politicking hurts the nation by accustoming citizens to make decisions based on what they stand to gain personally rather than principles of morality or justice that are equally applicable to everyone. It also undermines necessary conversations about political and fiscal reform, since self-interest is a powerful influence hard to dislodge from an opponent’s mind. If this is what it means to be part of Generation Y, count me out.