Excuse me while I go bang my head against my desk.
Ah much better, hold on one second while I bang it again.
Ooh yeah that feels better, you may be asking why the violence?
/sarcasm/ Well that’s because I play games… /sarcasm/
Here we are in the year two thousand and twelve and we are debate a two-decade-old argument. An argument that has roots going far back, but alas here we are again.
“Just as we warn smokers of the health consequences of tobacco, we should warn parents — and children — about the growing scientific evidence demonstrating a relationship between violent video games and violent behavior,” Wolf said. “As a parent and grandparent, I think it is important people know everything they can about the extremely violent nature of some of these games.”
I am not going to pull out the “don’t we have anything better to do” card, but doesn’t our government have better things to spend our time on?
More than a decade ago, I had found myself involved in this argument for the first time. It started with PTC (The Parents Television Council) and their McCarthy witch-hunts to end violence of all forms. It continued with the outrage over Grand Theft Auto and then sort of fizzled out. From time to time, I would read about the continuing escapades of bills that were to tax “violent” video games, for the sake of the children mind you. Remember that little problem I have with “For the…,” oh well moving on now. I thought with nearly the cost of two million dollars to the California taxpayer, some politician would start to understand how ridiculous the cause is. And that isn’t to say that the cause of keeping inappropriate materials from children isn’t a noble cause, but should it be the cause of people who don’t have understanding of the subject matter they are talking about. Especially when those that want to protect children from video games never seem to approach the industry. I understand that the industry will resist change to what makes money, but if you never approach the beast you want to slay, how can you make informed decisions, and craft laws. Moreover, let me again point out, politicians crafting laws that do not cost taxpayers of your state almost two million dollars.
Doom be thy name with an order of Grand Theft Auto
Let’s go back to where it started for a moment. One of the main problems I always had with politicians and their attempts to regulate the video game industry, was simply the lack of research on their part. The games that really spearheaded the ESRB (Electronic Software Ratings Board) and the ratings you see on games now, was Doom and Mortal Kombat. Take Doom for a second, the plot is you in the role of a marine on mars. A scientific experiment opens up a gateway to Hell and posses everyone but you. You alone are now in the position of taking on the armies of Hell to save the day. So first point, the basis of Doom is formed around a concept that could never possibly happen. Take then into consideration that this is a one of thousands, if not millions, scenario that would, again be impossible. This is the stuff of fiction and sci-fi. The next, that has to be made, is the granddaddy of MDK (Murder Death Killer) simulators Doom, did not even allow you to aim your gun. This was a FPS (First Person Shooter,) which normally includes shooting weapons, at the time of Doom the ability for mouse aiming was not yet thought of, nor implemented. So in Doom you used a keyboard to fire your gun, to kill an enemy on the second floor looking down at you, you would aim your gun directly under them and hit them. That’s right the great MDK simulator taught you if you aimed a pistol at the ground in the direction of your prey, they would get hit. I can only hope you see where I might have some problems with the MDK simulator conclusion.
Mortal Kombat has similar issues, from freezing people with magic to Babalities. But let’s jump to Grand Theft Auto 3. One of the main issues I had with Grand Theft Auto, was those complaining about the game never seemed to have a problem professing a love for The Godfather movie series. Alternatively, the lack of seeing the connection between the two is surprising. It is one thing to become outraged about a game for violence and adult situations, but to gloss over what the game was homage to, borderlines on blind rage. In addition, never once brought up was that you could do good things in the game, like become a police officer and fight crime, or be a firefighter and fight fires. I will admit this game heavily tilts towards performing heinous acts, but those who would not even tell the whole story of a game based on complete player freedom showed their true agenda. I wonder if people had said this is the Godfather movie of video games, how it would have changed the argument.
It’s the parents…
I will hammer this one hard because of personal experience. Not only do I have children, but also I take personal steps when it comes to gaming. I am current with technology and the game industry but let that not make you think I do not face issues of my own. I cannot know all of the games out there; I have to do research also. Now I will admit to the advantage of knowing the language of games, I know what RTS (Real Time Strategy) means, but not taking two seconds to find out what a term means is inexcusable in this day and age.
Almost a decade ago, while waiting in line at a game store to checkout I ran into a parent contemplating buying Grand Theft Auto 3 for his twelve-year-old son. I explained to him all the bad things the game contained because I personally felt the game was not for twelve-year olds. I told him of the rape, the murder, the law breaking. He asked a few more questions and we had a pleasant conversation but at the end of the day he still bought the game. This was a parent, not knowing before but now well informed who still made that decision for his child. He even asked me questions about the game rating on the package and I explained that to him. When I later went to work at a game store I had many more of these type of conversations, both good and bad, but normally parents would make the same decisions. At the store I worked at, the staff made it a rule not to sell M rated titles to children this led to a parent yelling at me and another clerk over interrupting their shopping experience.
I have to say that I have always been a supporter of ID requirements for M rated games, but the implementation is always going to be the problem. Then there is the problem of parents who will not care, or even become outraged over having to be with their children to purchase games. The other problem is content that is objectionable to one parent is not objectionable to another. There are parents who find shooting of any kind detestable would ban Space Invaders, so a game with a rating is still going to be a guideline. The parents in question must do their homework for their own children. As history has shown me, everyone is offended by something. Therefore, who should make the decisions that something is good and bad for children?
As a game designer, I know intimately the decisions that go into game design and presentation choices. For myself, my business is that of family and designing games that are morally and socially responsible. It is a hard and narrow road to travel. In my first published game, I ran into the problem of cultural prejudice. I had designed a family card based around being a farmer and penning pigs. The pigs were cute and all given simple names and personalities. My artist was given some liberties to design pigs, in going through her art I found the Italian pig family. The decision was to cut them from the game for obvious reasons.
One thing that has to be kept in mind, games is not simply for children, not have they ever been. Just as movies are made for different audiences, so are games. Is it fair to say that games can only be made for children? Would you want to live in a world where “Mary had a little lamb” was the only song you could hear on the radio all day long? I know it is simplistic to say what I just said, but then why do we keep coming back to the need to warn children of mature games, when there is labeling already. Then where do we draw the line, if we have to protect children from game content shouldn’t this also extend to all forms of entertainment?
Also I understand fully the argument that if parents will not police their children there may be a need for the law to do that. But is that the case here? Then how far does it go? Again, do we have to apply the same thought to all forms of entertainment, and what is done when it affects those that are arguing for these laws? It is also a question of the cost of living in a free society. Maybe it is obvious, but the cost of a free society is one of being continually offended. I understand a law to stop people yelling “Fire!” in a crowded building, but does that apply to entertainment choices that are not mandatory to life?
Been here, done that before…
I will say what surprises me most is the fact that we have not moved on from the find blame in one thing movement. Also surprising is the fact that technophobia, hasn’t taken up the “___ is evil and responsible for all of societies ills” mantel which video games inherited from took over from music, begotten from Dungeons and Dragons and on and on and on.
If we did not need laws before, do we need them now?
Best question yet; When does this insanity end?