That Hazy Red Area

What Washington needs is adult supervision. – Barack Obama.

Every time a teenager commits a crime, the government seems to keep pointing the finger at games. GTA IV is--according to said government and the non-gaming press--the influence for all gun, sexual and theft crimes, even with people who haven't played the game, and I don't understand why. Gears of War 2 came out last month, but I don't see anyone running around with a .44 Magnum taped to a Black & Decker hedge trimmer.

I regained hope these past few months. Jack Thompson--the infamous Florida lawyer who made a career convincing the public that video games were the root of all evil--was disbarred. The press died down for a while on games violence issues and all was well. But then the media focus returned and I realised there was no change in the dialog; rather, there was simply a respite. But who'll defend the seemingly indefensible? Do we need lawyers, or leaders?

It's earlier this month, and I'm sitting outside a press-conference hall with James Beaven of Midway, waiting to interview a producer about violence and gameplay in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. James begins to tell me a story to pass the time. One day a politician, live on BBC Radio 1--a show with millions of listeners around London--had called him. The man berated James, accusing him of helping to promote GTA IV, a game which had “corrupted his two boys.” James simply took a deep breath and asked the man what age his kids were. “Eight and twelve,” the man responded. James then asked him why he hadn’t paid any attention to the fact he’d been showing his underage children an 18 rated game. James then grinned at the sudden silence on the other end of the line, and hung up the phone.

We need to start standing up to people as ignorant as the politician from London. We can't keep on hiding behind the ESRB. It's not going to do our job for us.

But this time we’ve got a powerful defender, and his name is Barack Obama.

I’m a Londoner, so American politics, both in and out of the gaming arena, isn't really something I take a specific interest in. But my interests started to change when I heard that the future President of the United States of America was actually putting games ratings on the same highly regarded shelf as those of films and TV. President-elect Obama began talking about the media in general at first and then surprised me completely when he started using words like “Game Boy" and putting adverts in Electronic Arts games. But he values his children's safety on the one thing that links gamers around the globe: the Internet. The quote at the top is a good indication of his lack of fear when speaking his mind on an overprotective government, and the following few reinforce his reprimand towards those who would put stereotyping over research into gaming demographics.

“I was just catching the news this morning about Grand Theft Auto, this video game, which is going to break all records, make goo-gobs of money for whoever designed it,” Obama said in a speech to the public in Indianapolis. “Now this isn’t intended for kids, I understand – although I promise you there will be kids who are playing it. But those video games are raising our kids.” Entertainment for children is fine, but when we’re exposing them to content we know is going to influence them at an age that low, shouldn’t we be paying more attention to the ratings than offering up a quick, poorly thought-out giggle for a child?

In a presidential question and answer session last year, he spoke to the fine line between escapism and indoctrination, between access and abuse. “We need to make sure that all of our children have access to these technologies,” he said. “And we must teach our children how to harness the huge potential of this technology,” he said. “I want to make sure my children are protected from the dangers of the new media world, but I also want to make sure they reap the benefits of it.”

But it is debatable as to what he means by “media.” He could be addressing all forms of media, but then again he could also be attempting to discuss games without saying “games” directly. But, if you look further into his campaign, videogames aren’t a no-fly zone. The Obama campaign broke new ground by placing advertisements in videogames such as Burnout Paradise. Seeing those ads made me start to wish that my not-quite-elected leader, Gordon Brown, would start appealing to one of the biggest teenage demographics in the country. But then his approach to videogames seemed to take a turn for the negative, and I became slightly uneasy.

“Put down the Game Boy,” said the future president of the United States in an public address to a crowd full of young adults. Put down the Game Boy? Where did all of the pro-gaming talk go? Suddenly, my feelings of hope began to falter, as I began to wonder if we’d lost the best spokesperson we’d ever had. Arguably, the idea that working hard was more important than gaming is understandable, but was this a step too far? Did he have some emotional attachment to the undead? So frantically I turned back to the presidential questionnaire and its related quotes, and felt reassured.

"I would call upon the video game industry to give parents better information about programs and video games,” proclaimed Obama. He also added a strong ultimatum; “But if the industry fails to act, then my administration would.”

This particular sound bite really does tip the entire box of fears on its head. Ignorance is no longer a viable excuse for persecuting an entire demographic, and Obama's new Administration is going to actually do its research. Who knows? Maybe next time someone steals a car, it'll be the parents approached with the proverbial fiery torches and pitchforks, and not the developers.

Obama's seen the light, and yet, for some reason the country that follows the new president-elect just can’t seem to reach the same point of understanding. The folks in the USA are now, it seems, better off than I am when it comes to the video gaming regulators. I have to admit, I’m fairly jealous. I want this revolution to reach Europe, to reach the United Kingdom, because if it doesn’t, we’re stuck with old-fashioned systems like the British Board of Film Classification, the same organisation who tried to hide A Clockwork Orange from the world.

Now if only Obama would start playing the games he seems to be defending, we’d have a real icon on our hands.

Comments

Great article!

It's good to see more focus on the political arena when it comes to videogame culture. Hopefully we'll be seeing changes in the coming years.

Gears of War 2 came out last month, but I don't see anyone running around with a .44 Magnum taped to a Black & Decker hedge trimmer.

*ahem

IMAGE(http://cache.gawker.com/assets/images/gizmodo/2008/12/chainsaw-bayonet.jpg)

Everyone give the new guy a buttpat. Welcome Christos. And Agent86, that is SO not a Black & Decker.

I have high hopes that Christos is right -- that we really do have if not an advocate, at least a rational mind in the white house when it comes to games. I don't expect him to come out and say "hey, GTA IV rawked it," because frankly, I didn't like the game anyway, and a lot of the stuff there's been furor over both in games and in movies isn't stuff I'm particularly turned on by.

But I do expect him to err on the side of rationality, rather than some sort of Tipper Gore knee-jerk "regulate it" mentality. His position of "we trust industry to deal with it, but if they don't we will" is essentially do-no-harm capitalism, on its surface.

I was talking with my daughter tonight about Obama Zune thing. We started talking about what it will be like for his two girls, Sasha and Malia, to grow up in the white house (they bracket my daughters age nearly perfectly. She actually asked if President Obama would be sitting on the couch with them playing LittleBigPlanet like we did tonight.

Which is why I'm stoked Christos is writing about this. How unbelievably cool would it be if the answer was "yes."

I like the fact that the people who are reportedly going to be in charge of the FCC are MMO players (one of them a WoW player, the other Second Lifer)

I believe I saw the article on Massively if I can find it.

edit: Oh and welcome!

fangblackbone wrote:
I like the fact that the people who are reportedly going to be in charge of the FCC are MMO players (one of them a WoW player, the other Second Lifer)

What better way to rock China's economy than issuing a blanket ban on gold farming and botting?

A new war, for a new age... eh?

Welcome to the front page, Christos! Throngs of adoring fans await to shower Oogaba upon ye. I think that's how the welcome ceremony goes.

no?

As for the article itself: It's interesting that we can now ponder the way that new administrations will impact our little hobby. Granted, there's been increasing scrutiny placed upon media outlets since the 90s birthed those iconic black and white PARENTAL ADVISORY stickers, but to have a President aware of (even cite by name) gaming and consoles? It's mindblowing. It really excites me to see what the road ahead will bring.
It also signals that I'm creeping ever closer to "well, back in my day" territory, as my peers-cum-decisionmakers will no doubt be seen as a little stodgy by the luminet-gliding transhumanists. Or whatever.

It's admittedly hard to see this carry over into the Britlands, considering their everpresent concern with Big Brother. My, wouldn't that be a hell of a way of transitioning out of that old Orwellian stereotype?

“Put down the Game Boy,” said the future president of the United States in an public address to a crowd full of young adults. Put down the Game Boy?

I've seen other gaming sites zero in on quotes like this by Obama. It grabs your attention but by giving it this extra focus it places an anti-gaming slant on the phrase, removing it from the context of the rest of his statement. Typically, he partners video games and TV together because they're couch activities that one, as anyone on this site can attest to, can spend a lot of time doing. While he's speaking about kids, he could really be addressing everyone because that level of inactivity isn't good for anyone. Yet, I've never felt he's said to put down the Game Boy and never pick it up again. But, instead, that you should moderate such lackadaisical tendencies.

I join you in thinking that we, as gamers, have a bright future ahead of us. Jack Thompson's out. Hillary and Lieberman have praised the recent updates to ESRB ratings. As fangblackbone mentioned, the FCC will be run by MMO players. And Obama is approaching the games and violence issue with the rational temperament he does everything else.

Welcome to the site. Good first article. It was like my own Reese's Peanut Butter Cup of articles. Obama's obviously the chocolate which I guess makes games peanut butter? Get them together and good things are bound to come about.

McChuck wrote:
It was like my own Reese's Peanut Butter Cup of articles. Obama's obviously the chocolate which I guess makes games peanut butter? Get them together and good things are bound to come about.

There is something about this turn of phrase that makes me... uncomfortable.

Having said that, welcome Christos. *butt pat*

One of the reasons I was opposed to Hilary Clinton as a presidential candidate was due to her stand on gaming.

While I am also very far from being directly influenced by American politics, American leadership is something of an opinion leader on the global stage and of all the candidates Obama struck me as the most rational. A refreshing change.

I don't think we need lawyers. Alpha: Because they might just be the root of all stinky evils. Beta: Because to draw attention to something often results on polarizing any opposition who might one day figure out that you're on the right side of the aisle. I enjoy the idea that most people get exactly what is coming to them. However in the realm of politically motivated justice I would prefer to let congressmen and women tap their hands under stalls and thus smack themselves. Delta: Because a smart man knows when to pummel the enemy into the dirt and when to be patient enough to allow the enemy to destroy him/herself from the inside out.

Anyway my Grandpa was totally against GTA until he played it.

Seeing those ads made me start to wish that my not-quite-elected leader, Gordon Brown, would start appealing to one of the biggest teenage demographics in the country.

You really want this face:
IMAGE(http://broe.co.uk/images/gordon.jpg)
staring at you from a billboard in Burnout? It's hard enough not to crash as it is

the same organisation who tried to hide A Clockwork Orange from the world.

I believe it was actually Kubrick himself who banned Clockwork Orange, not the BBFC.

You skipped Gamma no?

We need to starting standing up to people as ignorant as the politician from London.

Waiting for wordsmythe to go medieval over this.

Good article, and welcome to the fold.
Feel free to post articles with grammatical errors. They will be found. Even if they don't exist.

MrDeVil909 wrote:
McChuck wrote:
It was like my own Reese's Peanut Butter Cup of articles. Obama's obviously the chocolate which I guess makes games peanut butter? Get them together and good things are bound to come about.

There is something about this turn of phrase that makes me... uncomfortable.

Then my work here is done.

Great article. Well researched. This is games journalism.

Our society is based on a scapegoat policy and its no wonder it trickles down, or up, to our government. We don't want to be held accountable for our mistakes so why would our leaders hold us that way?

It is easier to blame media in any form for our problems. The truth is art and entertainment reflect our society not the other way around. If games like Gears of War didn't sell so much they wouldn't be made. [b]But instead of owning up to our addiction to violence we blame someone else for generating supply to meet our demands.

I don't think President Elect Obama needs to play games or even like them but as long as he gives the industry the same respect the movie industry is given everything will be fine.

Games make a great scapegoat for politicians, and I'm sure that will not change during the BO administration. Furthermore, Democrats have historically led the charge against regulating games (Hillary Clinton, Joe Lieberman, Leeland Yee come first to mind), which concerns me since they own both houses of Congress and the White House.

I'm not exactly reassured that the political witch hunt will end based on the citations from Obama in the article. I wouldn't construe his "put down the Game Boy" remark as anti-game. Obviously it's not good to have young kids spending all their time in a video game, even if it's multiplayer -- I'm opening a whole other can of worms here, but multiplayer gaming does not equal social interaction. The quote that "[his] administration would [act]" is disturbing.

Obama seems to have a way of making people believe he is all things to all people. Take the gun issue for example (speaking of opening up a can of worms): While many people believe he will not act to restrict firearm ownership in the U.S., his record and some statements say otherwise. He voted in the Illinois senate to ban handguns and impose a 500% tax increase on ammunition. He has also said he wants to reinstate the assault weapons ban, which is largely a superficial ban on "scary looking" weapons that are no different in functionality than their non-scary counterparts (a semi-auto SIG 550 vs a .223 semi-auto "hunting" style rifle). Why people think he won't try to further regulate firearms is beyond me, but he has said he won't, so people just believe him. He is a gifted public speaker.

Let's keep this out of P&C territory if we can, folks. Any discussions of larger issues like gun bans and such can have their own thread.

Welcome to the front page, Christos!

Certis wrote:
Let's keep this out of P&C territory if we can, folks. Any discussions of larger issues like gun bans and such can have their own thread.

Welcome to the front page, Christos!

Sorry. It sort of comes with the territory of this article, though.

The New Yorker wrote:
Like many campaign teams, Obama’s was young. The communications department—made up mostly of guys in their twenties and thirties—had a fraternity-house quality. On weekends, they would often drink beer together and play the video game Rock Band at a group house in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. They had been brought up in Democratic politics in the previous two decades with an understanding that the people who worked for Bill and Hillary Clinton were the best operatives in Washington, especially when it came to dealing with the media. They had watched “The War Room,” the documentary about the 1992 Clinton campaign, which featured strategists like James Carville and George Stephano-poulos manically responding to every negative story and trying to win every news cycle.

from this article:
http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2...

I'm surprised there's been no reference to this article yet, or to the WoW and SL players on his FCC transition team.

Obama had gamers on his campaign team, he has them on his transition team and they'll be in the White House as well.

I would say we can look forward to a level playing field on the Administration side of the fence. However, the Congress is another matter... I believe the Senate average age will dip with the new Congress from 60 to 59. However even this is not as dim a prospect as we might believe - remember legislation is written mainly by diligent staff members, many of them gamers with jobs...

Personally I played Rock Band with a Congressional staff member a few months ago

But I don't want to paint too rosy a picture - foolish legislation is written all over, and the most dangerous is usually written in the state legislatures, where small causes can garner big results. State legislators can write laws they know to be unconstitutional, benefit from them politically, and lose no personal prestige a year later when they're struck down. Meanwhile retailers and taxpayers suffer.

Evo wrote:
Sorry. It sort of comes with the territory of this article, though.

Both parties have their hangups (remember Ashcroft placing a tasteful curtain in front of Lady Justice's exposed bosom?).
But it's a really eye-opening situation when people who have interacted with and, in certain cases, are fans of games to be placed in areas that are somewhat related to media issues.

At the very least, we'll have folks that understand the internet isn't "A series of tubes" reviewing policy.

"I would call upon the video game industry to give parents better information about programs and video games,” proclaimed Obama. He also added a strong ultimatum; “But if the industry fails to act, then my administration would.”

Hm. In what areas is the game industry deficient? In what areas is the game industry more deficient than the TV/movies industry?

“Put down the Game Boy,” said the future president of the United States in an public address to a crowd full of young adults. Put down the Game Boy? Where did all of the pro-gaming talk go?

I think there's a distinction that should be made here, so far as "pro-gaming" and "anti-gaming" goes. In that particular context, I took the statement to mean "get your overweight kids off the couch and send them outside to play." I think he could just have easily said "turn off the TV" or "leave the movie theater" and meant the same thing.

The point that he was making (so far as I remember?) was that parents should not only be paying attention to ESRB ratings for games, but should also be paying attention to the fact that games/TV/movies/"new media" are taking up a lot of kids time and should be used "in moderation."

Great article!

People are alarmed that videogame behavior influences kids. Well, it does. The younger someone is, the more impressionable they are. It is a natural outcome. And increased realism factor doesn't help it.

This is where the "control" argument comes in. "Parents should control their kids".

Theory: all parents are swell. They control their kids and don't let them play videogames that may influence their psyche at too early an age.
Reality: a lot of parents are uncaring dipsh*ts, the same kind that bring their 8 year old to a slasher movie. Your kid will go to his friend's house, the friend with uncaring dipsh*t parents, and play those games there.

...

So what is the solution ? Is there a way to shield the kids ? There's NOT.

The only thing that can be done is imprinting common sense, rewarding moral virtue, and cultivating a level of maturity that puts them ahead of the curve. In other words...

In other words...

If I was the President of the United States, I would make childbearing a privilege, requiring a license. One license per child.

I would set up special screening facilities with people trained to see through others' "Potemkin villages". They will pay home visits. Half the people having kids right now countrywide, likely wouldn't qualify.

Result ? A much more serious and considerate approach to parenting. People will start to fear it (yes!), treasure it and respect it. And the "manchildren/womenchildren" couples wouldn't be allowed to reproduce until they grow the f*ck up and show some maturity.

Also, I would put people in movie theaters. When they spot a 6 year old crying at the premiere of "Casino Royale III: Exploding Bladder", they will arrest their parents on the spot and force them through a repeat screening and mandatory home visit.

Drastic times require drastic measures.

If I was the President of the United States, I would make childbearing a privilege, requiring a license. One license per child.

If you were the president, legislature, state legislatures and entire judicial system you _Might_ be able to do this. Then you'd probably need the military to crush the massive coup.

Sometimes a country benefits from from a little tyranny. Just look at Russia

But jokes aside, obviously I'm aware that my proposal isn't realistic. It is wishful thinking.

shihonage wrote:
Is there a way to shield the kids ? There's NOT.

The only thing that can be done is imprinting common sense, rewarding moral virtue, and cultivating a level of maturity that puts them ahead of the curve.

Got a concrete plan to do this? I'm listening if you do.

Momgamer got it brutally right a while back, and here's the link I just spent a good chunk of time digging out. As a father of young kids still this one scares me terribly about what I'm going to be up against before I realize it whenever I read it:
The Blame Game.

A Londoner, you say? Surely a Londoner should know that Radio 1 is a *national* station with millions of listers across the entirety of England, not to mention the rest of the countries in Britain (geography lesson for American readers - England != Britain).

*puts on middle englander hat*
Typical bloody London media type - forgetting there's a country north of the M25
*goes back to reading the Daily Mail*

Infinity wrote:

Got a concrete plan to do this? I'm listening if you do.

Yeah, screening out the retarded parents and leaving only sane ones. Sadly, apparently my plan won't be approved by the current American government.

Other than that, there's no plan.

well I like Obama, he has good ideas, and his thoughts are in check. Hes not using run on sentences or made up words. I like him a little better.

And Agent86, that is SO not a Black & Decker.

My point still stands.

Sententia wrote:
"I would call upon the video game industry to give parents better information about programs and video games,” proclaimed Obama. He also added a strong ultimatum; “But if the industry fails to act, then my administration would.” This particular sound bite really does tip the entire box of fears on its head. Ignorance is no longer a viable excuse for persecuting an entire demographic, and Obama's new Administration is going to actually do its research

If they do actually do their research they'll realize that the industry does a very good job already, and Obama won't continue this silly "If they won't do something we will" rhetoric.

I still find it puzzling that people complain that ESRB ratings are somehow insufficient. They provide more (and more accurate) information than any other widespread media rating system I'm aware of.