IGF 2020 WS #238 Fortnite to Hong Kong: video games policy and human rights


Organizer 1: Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Organizer 2: Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)

Speaker 1: Micaela Mantegna, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Speaker 2: Javier Pallero, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Speaker 3: Kurt Opsahl, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Debate - Auditorium - 60 Min

Policy Question(s)

What are the roles of ethical guidelines, private content moderation and government regulation in the video game policy world? Are decision-makers able to provide human-rights respecting regulation to the wide range of activities being developed in gaming environments? Should virtual gaming spaces –especially massive multiplayer games– be considered venues where political expression needs to be protected? What is the role of regulators, judges and other legal and policy organisms in ensuring political participation in these online spaces ? Should gaming platforms moderation rules abide by human rights law? How can fundamental rights be upheld in gaming platforms in an effective manner that safeguards transparency, notification, remedy and other basic requirements? Should companies take care of this on their own or is there a role for governments? What areas of regulation or policy are better equipped to address the challenges arising from video-game environments? Are traditional media and consumer regulators appropriately equipped to deal with these new realities or do we need specific new oversight mechanisms?

As IGF 2020 will be hosted by the Government of Poland, this is a unique opportunity to showcase how this creative industry can boost national economies, exports and jobs, as exemplified by the leading case of CD PROJEKT RED and The Witcher series. One of the challenges to be addressed is to tear down misconceptions about gaming and its value for access to economic, social and cultural rights. Despite being a multibillion-dollar industry (surpassing revenue of both music and cinema combined), the idea of videogames as a teen hobby or niche pastime is still persistent in media and cultural representations. Misconceptions surrounding player’s gender or age contribute to disregard interactive entertainment as a valid art form and scholarly subject, obscuring regulatory and human rights challenges in the governance of those digital spaces. Aforementioned prejudices downplay interactive entertainment ́s relevance as a booming economy that enables a whole ecosystem of internet industries, such as streaming and esports. It also disregards the fact that as an interactive narrative media, videogames opened the way to new perspectives and voices, sharing stories about mental health, dealing with loss, migration, gender, and other mature themes. Even more pressing in the present context of social distancing, video games present a tool and interactive gathering space for political mobilization. Regarding fundamental rights, video games scene has been overlooked due to said prejudices, and urgent debate is needed around cases involving automated content moderation, privacy, intellectual property limitations or weaponization of DMCA claims, amongst others. Digital distribution and cloud gaming are challenging consumer rights , inviting to rethink about how first sale principles should be interpreted in an online context, as well as how DRM policies are implemented.


GOAL 5: Gender Equality
GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure


Our session proposes to map the topics, challenges and opportunities in the nascent field of video games policy, and its balance with the exercise of human rights in online gaming and digital distribution platforms. From monetization practices, online content moderation, games as a medium for political participation and activism, perceived violence in video games, intellectual property, freedom of expression, and so forth, this workshop aims to present the landscape of the more relevant issues in the video games industry, and its projection onto internet governance. Growth in the number of gamers and availability of new technologies brings new challenges to human rights. Online games and platforms are akin to social networks, functioning as virtual places where people gather, interact and communicate. In this context, the rights to free association, free expression, privacy, political participation and others are attaining increased relevance. Last year, Activision Blizzard's decision of banning a professional player for showing support to the Hong Kong cause was met with a political firestorm and extensive PR backlash. Without a doubt, video games are becoming increasingly political, not only in their themes (with titles such as This War of Mine or Bury me, my Love), but as novel spaces for activism and dissent. From hidden libraries in Minecraft to demonstrations in Animal Crossing that got the game banned in China, this has become even more relevant in social distancing times. When physical gathering is restrained, political dissent translates itself into staging creative online protests. Moreover, social play is thriving, tearing down geographical and physical barriers, through massive online multiplayer games, augmented reality, game related communities and streaming platforms. With issues around public and private censorship, ethical development, gender-based discrimination, automated content moderation, loot-boxes, consumer rights or digital property, cases are coming up with respect to the rules for the governance of those digital spaces. Moving from single player experiences to online gaming has allowed an unprecedented gathering of player’s data, that is fueling new artificial intelligence implementations. This adds a new layer of complexity, bringing legal and ethical challenges on its own, from automated content moderation for toxicity, privacy, to transparency and bias, that would be addressed specifically in this session for the video game context. In terms of real-world violence, video games have historically been used as a scapegoat for complex crimes, leading to public pressure to regulate content in ways incompatible with freedom of expression’ standards. The unfortunate circumstances surrounding Christchurch's massacre gave rise to another wave of video game blaming, media disinformation and public outcry. Amidst this complex landscape, our session will focus on the challenges identified by analyzing recent cases in which video games have intersected human rights, as well as regulatory trends from governments, as a way to collaborate in informed policy-making. Finally, we will engage in discussions of how already proposed frameworks for human rights-based content moderation (such as those elaborated by Access Now, the Santa Clara principles, and other groups) could be applied to video games policy.

Expected Outcomes

Expected outcomes from the session are: *provide an overview of the policy landscape of the modern video game industry (from platforms, key players, economic relevance, incentives and trends, to the looming regulatory challenges). *tear down myths around gaming, both from players' perspective (regarding age, social play,gender and representation) as well as content (exemplifying how videogames are used as a new interactive media to convey diverse voices and narratives). *shed light onto business models and practices (loot boxes, digital distribution and content moderation to name a few) and how they can affect human rights (from freedom to expression to consumer rights, involving first sale exhaustion on digital goods) *Generate a coalition amongst attending organizations and interested parties to move forward the discussion on the advancement of human rights standards in gaming platforms, with an eye into continuing the work on specific recommendations in the future.

Interaction will be encouraged through relatable examples and key takeaways to frame the debate. Besides a Q&A, the audience (both in-person and remote) will be invited to share instances of these cases and scenarios in their countries or organizations, through their own perspectives and experiences. Finally, we will engage in discussions of how already proposed frameworks for human rights-based content moderation could be applied to video games.

Relevance to Internet Governance: Video game policy touches open a very specific intersection of private content moderation, business-related decision making and a growing regulatory interest from governments. The IGF and its multi-stakeholder view and participation is the ideal venue to generate a global and diverse discussion about video game policy, the challenges it should tackle and the opportunities that should come up from the discussion. From a governance standpoint, misunderstanding of the video games scene contributes to misguided policy-making that ends up with regulatory solutions that overtly violate human rights. As the Government of Poland can attest, the video game industry is a powerful source for economic growth that must be carefully considered by the Internet Governance community.

Relevance to Theme: This session is proposed to be in the Data track, which is especially relevant considering that online gaming is allowing an unprecedented gathering of data regarding player’s behavior, habits and spending, amongst others. Video game business models and practices have been disrupted by the expansive effect of the Internet, moving from buy-to-own single-player commercialization, to online cloud gaming, and licensing schemes. Due to the predominance of online gaming, those spaces are increasingly mediated by artificial intelligence technologies, under the promise of contextual storytelling or screening player’s interactions for toxicity. AI solutions such as patented matchmaking algorithms are being deployed to entice consumer spending, opening a path to manipulation and exploiting player’s vulnerabilities through predatory tactics, from those parties who don't abide by ethical development guidelines. Therefore, Data track presents the proper thematic space to frame the aforementioned challenges regarding video game public policy.

Online Participation


Usage of IGF Official Tool.