It's nothing new to hear that some politician somewhere in America is shouting to his constituents that "videogames are destroying our children! Violent videogames are the reason for violence in schools!"
But while most of these figures disappear within a few days or weeks at the microphone, the rights of the game industry are under threat from a much more substantial opponent this time: The Terminator.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of California, is now taking the games industry to the Supreme Court to uphold the California law passed in 2005 that was put into place to keep violent or objectionable games out of the hands of children. While that goal seems fair enough, the legislation used a written description of what constitutes violent or offensive content. All games would be subjected to review using this definition before a decision would be made as to whether a game was offensive or not. Seeing how this would completely leave judgment up to individuals personal choices, the Entertainment Merchants Association and Entertainment Software Association, representatives of the gaming industry as a whole immediately appealed the ruling.
A long line of appeals followed, and as we reported earlier, the case is set to go before the Supreme Court on Nov. 2nd. But now the games industry has received support from two very heavy hitters who are all too familiar with the battle that our industry now finds itself in.
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has joined with the Producers, Directors, Screenwriters, and Screen Actors Guilds, along with the National Association of Theatre Owners to defend the gaming industry.
Basically, every single important group in the movie industry is now preparing to speak in defense of the games industry's system of rating content - because the system is not only sufficient but far more ethical than what the California law would attempt to impose.
The MPAA brief points to the success that Hollywood has had with their own ratings system:
"The fundamental lesson of the movie rating system is that a system of self-regulation can be sufficient, without additional government regulation, to enable parents to make informed judgments concerning the suitability of exposing their children to violent or other potentially objectionable content.
"As discussed above, an overwhelming majority of parents believe that the rating system accomplishes that very purpose. In fact, it is no overstatement to say that the rating system has become part of the fabric of American life, with the result that the average person on the street could readily identify the significance of a 'PG' or 'R' rating."
The MPAA's rating system has even extended beyond simply advising theatre-goers about what to expect, as the system is now being used to promote a film's content as well as the target audience.
The group is arguing that if the law were upheld as constitutional, it would call into question the content of all artforms, even leading to some of the most hailed and critically acclaimed films being defined as "objectionable." Since some videogame adaptations of movies feature footage from the film itself, the group pointed out just how much of a mess these regulations could soon cause.
As if the support of Hollywood wasn't enough, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has also filed a brief with the Court, voicing their support for the games industry. Instead of arguing that the industry was capable of self-governing, Charles Brownstein, the executive director of the Fund took exception with the assumptions that this legislation is making about videogame content itself being dangerous to children.
"The case California makes against video games is one familiar to the comic book industry, which was nearly destroyed by government attempts at regulation in the 1950s. Then, as now, moral crusaders claimed that popular new media containing depictions of violence were detrimental to our youth. Then, as now, pseudo-science was used to back such claims. Those claims weren't true in the 1950s, and they aren't true now."
It seems that the industry has found two strong allies in the fight to prove that videogames are a form of free speech, and just as entitled to protection from censorship as any other form of media. The ESRB system of classifying games as Mature, For Everyone, etc. should be enough; however, the problem continues to be that parents are not aware of what the system means.
Especially not to the same extent as the rating system for movies.
Maturity in games is a loaded issue right now, and there's no question that some games should be played by children, and others shouldn't. We've even spoken about the best mature games that got overlooked for being on the Wii, a system that orients itself more towards family-friendly experiences. But those games should have the right to exist, especially since some violent games turn out to be fantastic experiences.
November 2nd is getting closer by the day, but for now it would appear that reasonable minds are on the side of games, which means our chances are all looking up.
What's your take on this debate, Ranters? Do you think that the responsibility of protecting children from danger falls to the industry, the retailer, or the parents? And should this bill be approved, or terminated once and for all?