Games: The “Vast Wasteland”?

As I’m hacking out the outlines of a forthcoming chapter on games and morality, I’m looking at the full context of Newt Minow’s infamous “vast wasteland” speech about television. Given in 1961 while Minow was chairman of the FCC, the speech is, in fact, fairly optimistic about television’s potential as a medium. In it, Minow quotes Gov. LeRoy Collins, newly president of the National Association of Broadcasters:

Broadcasting to serve the public interest, must have a soul and a conscience, a burning desire to excel, as well as to sell; the urge to build the character, citizenship, and intellectual stature of people, as well as to expand the gross national product. …By no means do I imply that broadcasters disregard the public interest. …But a much better job can be done, and should be done.

It’s a remarkable speech in that its overall thesis — and even specific ideas — can largely be lifted out of television and into the world of video games:

You must provide a wider range of choices, more diversity, more alternatives. It is not enough to cater to the nation’s whims; you must also serve the nation’s needs. And I would add this: that if some of you persist in a relentless search for the highest rating and the lowest common denominator, you may very well lose your audience. Because, to paraphrase a great American who was recently my law partner, the people are wise, wiser than some of the broadcasters — and politicians — think.