Says Florida attorney Jack Thompson in this CNN/Money article of the Washington State Senate 47 to 7 decision to support a bill that bans the sale of violent video games to minors, "Today the good guys won one." Putting video games up yet again as a defacto cause of violence in society, the State of Washington is expected to institute a $500 fine per offence for the sale to minors of video games that depict violence against law enforcement officials. Ignoring even the standardized self-imposed rating systems, this law is specifically targeted against games "depicting violence against public law enforcement officials", and thus leaves open a variety of questions about interpretation. While everyone will be pointing at Grand Theft Auto 3 as the poster child for everything that's wrong with society, largely because it's an easy target and people sure do like easy targets, I wonder ... what about Half-Life, Rainbow Six, Fallout, SimCity, and so on?
You know, I never really liked Barney. I had sympathy for him because, here he was with a comfortable job keeping the peace in a largely quiet research facility tasked with watching a bunch of eggheads debating who had more clearance and occasionally shooting electrons at other electrons, but who were, by and large, not a particularly rowdy bunch. At least not until they ripped a hole in the fabric of space, which judging by a lot of popular fiction isn't any stronger than wet, mildewed paper, unleashing a host of ugly aliens that promptly laid siege to the facility. Despite this sympathy one afternoon after something brown and ugly shot me with something rather unpleasant deep in the Black Mesa Research Station, I just got tired of Barney not covering my back particularly well, so I shot him in the knee. It was a moment of pointless irritation, and not one I was proud of, which is why I reloaded my last quick-save, but my question is, by the possibility of this action, can the local Electronics Boutique be fined $500 for selling Half-Life to a seventeen year old kid?
It's been clear for a while now, that our beloved and beleaguered industry is taking the brunt of the social storm at the moment. Only tobacco seems quite as under fire from activist groups looking for someone to blame. Remarkably, even the gun industry isn't as widely maligned as those nefarious makers of digital destruction for their responsibility, if it can even be argued that they have one, in the state of social decay. All told, to me, it's a mess of finger pointing, and generally makes me roll my eyes. Still, this Washington legislation is a disturbing development, not only because it raises the specter of ambiguous accountability, but because it can be so widely and vaguely interpreted.
Isn't it just possible that after little Billy Smith gets in a fight at school, partially because he's just a punk, and his folks discover him the next day unleashing a wave of Tornados on his town of Crapsburg in SimCity 4, that the Smiths will jump to the logically bankrupt conclusion that Maxis and Electronic Arts are naturally the source of all their woes. Isn't it just possible that suddenly Sim City 4 with its cop-killing giant robots and fire truck hurling tornados might suddenly net Electronic's Boutique a wheelbarros load of $500 fines for selling such socially irresponsible tripe to the impressionable youth of America? Doesn't this law open the possibility that you can not, in any way, play as a law enforcement protagonist within the game unless his ultimate safety is resolutely assured? Isn't this just censorship?
No, and it would be so much easier if it were that simple.
It simply means that if such a game is made, it can't be sold to minors, which is both the crux of the issue and the problem. It's long been established that minors access to a variety of materials should be limited, be that movies, music, alcohol, or images of the soft curvy parts of the body normally covered several times over. This legislation says nothing about me being able to shoot Barney in the knee, or stike lightning down on the fire house, or even lay out a pile of police officers in Grand Theft Auto 3. It's time to face up to facts, all the cards of past legislation are stacked against us ... and we don't even have the first amendment to back us up until someone gets around to overturning Limbaugh's decision. And, do you really think that's going to happen right now in this political climate?
We are fast approaching a social and legislative environment in which video games will have to be sold from 18 and older only stores, where for the sake of legal protection places like Software Etc. will simply have to refuse all sales of video games, regardless of material, to minors. Ultimately, this isn't really a question of censorship, which a lot of people want it to be, but of governmental industry regulation. And, the fact of the matter is, when it's put into that perspective, our industry is almost certain to lose. Unfortunately, Washington's 47-7 decision is a good barometer of how bad things are about to get before they get better.