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

Jonman wrote:

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*

Nah, I'm aware that there's a country outside of London, I actually originate from Glasgow. But it was in the run up to the London mayoral elections, so I found myself focusing more on the London side of Radio 1.

As for butt pats, I think I'll leave those to Pinion (my missus).

But the main problem I have is that the ESRB ratings really are sufficient, as stated by the Fly. Obama has the right idea about providing more information, but personally, if I had a game that said ADULTS ONLY on the front, it just seems common sense not to give it to a child.

The issue here is finding the line between freedom of expression and witholding these artistic expressions from the impressionable. We can't continually expect Jimmy to play GTA IV and never giggle when he runs someone over. The first ever time I ran someone over in a game in that series, I was eight, and their existence comprised of about 20 pixels. It didn't have the same impact as Euphoria engine ragdoll physics does now, and that's what worries me when I see eight year olds bombing around in cars shooting people in these games, because the parents are just setting themselves up.

In my opinion, sometimes I think that they let their kids play these games in order to have something to blame when their parenting is really what's questionable. But some teenagers do have behavioural problems that are nothing to do with videogames, and to see it blamed on titles such as Rockstar North's latest opus is saddening, really.

Thank you for all the compliments :).

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.

Alpha: I'm not sure the critique of JT should fall squarely on lawyers. Jack was a jackass and he would be a jackass whether or not he was a lawyer. I'm not ready to abandon his jackass title now that he's been disbarred. Jack got tossed from the guild because he was an unethical, contemptuous, and ass-tastic lawyer, not because he was advancing an unpopular cause.

Beta: Bringing attention and polarization is exactly what we need. When somebody calls attention to something, it brings it to the marketplace of ideas. The cure for bad speech is more speech. Jack motivated swarms of gamers and non-gamers alike to become familiar with First Amendment protections and to become advocates for what they believe in. Jack put his ideas into the free marketplace and so far, none of his ideas -- especially in the realm of game legislation -- have gained any significant traction.

The Fly wrote:
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.

Just because the ESRB does a better job than the MPAA (or whatever) doesn't mean it does a great job. I think the ESRB agrees with me, actually, being that they just changed (well, added to) their rating system. When people like you and I look at the descriptors, we know exactly what they mean, mostly because we already know very much about a game. But if I'm a mom/dad buying Fallout 3 for my 14 year old son, then BLOOD AND GORE might be a little ambiguous; so is SEXUAL THEMES. Scantily clad women/men? Actual sex? How much sex? On screen sex? Or just sexuality? Nudity? And how much blood? Buckets of blood? A little bit of blood? How realistic is the gore? etc.

Also, the T and M ratings seem poorly placed sometimes: some games that deserve the former get the latter, and vice versa.

Me done.

DomoArigato wrote:

[Good stuff, good stuff.]

Me done.

So how much more do you need? It is expensive in time and money to attempt to buy and play through the game yourself before handing it down. And by that time, there will be new shiny to attract attention, and none in the friendship pool will be talking about the game you just reviewed, anyway.

What if the ESRB, somehow, has a 'video review system' where they talk through the points that garnered the rating, while showing exactly those scenes? Granted, even that is subjective, but at least you will know if the fatalities are Age of Conan or City of Heroes.

Welcome to the front page, and to the site, it seems.

Should I be nice to you because you're new, or should I be condescending because you're on the front page?

dramarent wrote:
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.

Alpha: I'm not sure the critique of JT should fall squarely on lawyers. Jack was a jackass and he would be a jackass whether or not he was a lawyer. I'm not ready to abandon his jackass title now that he's been disbarred. Jack got tossed from the guild because he was an unethical, contemptuous, and ass-tastic lawyer, not because he was advancing an unpopular cause.

Beta: Bringing attention and polarization is exactly what we need. When somebody calls attention to something, it brings it to the marketplace of ideas. The cure for bad speech is more speech. Jack motivated swarms of gamers and non-gamers alike to become familiar with First Amendment protections and to become advocates for what they believe in. Jack put his ideas into the free marketplace and so far, none of his ideas -- especially in the realm of game legislation -- have gained any significant traction.

So you agree with me that old Jack tapped out at Delta, awesome. Maybe we should name him after a dog I know Lucky!?

Either way the types of media out on the market of any past era even without video games in the mix would be bad for underdeveloped children.

It takes only a slightly alert parent to understand the effects of what their kids are involved with. And the misplacement of any blames on a purchased or disclosed medium vs parental advisement is to me simply wrong. But of course I play my young three year old son Black Sabbath before bedtime- I'm sure it'll have no Gamma effect.