US State puts violent videogames under scrutiny
Proposed law would make age-ratings legally enforceable
Legal bigwigs met in Massachusetts yesterday to discuss the possible introduction of a law to ban retailers from selling violent videogames to kids.
No offical ruling has been given yet. However, the law, known as House Bill 1423, states games depicting “violence in a manner patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community” should carry a legally enforced age restriction. It would become a crime to sell such games to children, in the same way that US law currently bans the sale of pornography to minors.
In the US, videogames are already classified into several categories, such as ‘AO’ for Adults Only and ‘M’ for 'Mature' - anyone aged 17 or over, in other words - by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). The ESRB’s ratings aren’t legally enforceable, so there’s nothing to stop a retailer selling an AO-rated game to an 11-year-old. However, many stores, such as Wal-Mart, refuse to stock AO games.
A spokesman for the Entertainment Software Association, a videogame trade body that numbers many US game publishers among its members, told the Boston Herald that several States have tried to restrict access to such material before. However, he said such moves have been blocked on the grounds that they would be unconstitutional: they would transgress the First Amendment's protection of the right to free expression.
In 2006, a Louisiana judge ordered a permanent injunction against a similar bill that also sought to legally enforce the ESRB's ratings scheme. The judge believed the bill, if passed, would challenge the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
The UK provides a model for how House Bill 1423's objective might operate. Here, videogames are much more strictly regulated than they are in the US. Titles can’t be sold legally without an age rating from the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). The ratings are legally enforceable - selling a game to a buyer who's below the rated age group is a criminal offence.
Of course, there's nothing to stop an adult buying an 18-rated game and handing on to a youngster, which is one reason why the BBFC recently refused to classify Rockstar's gory Manhunt 2, effectively banning the title from sale.
The case eventually went to the English High Court, which ordered a review of the BBFC's decision. Last week, the organisation was told it must issue the game with an 18 certificate.
Australia is a really good example of why such censorship ultimately fails. As you confess, it doesn't stop kids from getting the games. It also has the tendency of restricting access to some games from adults who should otherwise be allowed to make their own minds up about the matter. Similar to the Manhunt 2 mess in the UK.
Worst of all it encourages the sort of crap games Manhunt 2 apparently is because it is free publicity for such a poorly made game.
Additionally singling out games is rather myopic. There really shouldn't be any distinction between media. If violence is damaging then it is damaging is all forms. The same mirror neurons are firing when you do a task as when you watch someone else do it.
I would really like to see some evidence that children are buying all these mature games on their own, anyway. I would wager by in large, these games are almost universally already purchased by adults for children to begin with. Any such law would clearly not impact this much if so.
Good on them
Makes sense to me. I don't care if it's singling out games when no laws apply to DVDs, etc... They really should have enforceable ratings on games.
We've had enforceable ratings on games here in Australia for years. it doesn't stop 12 year old kids raving about GTA (heck, some will tell you how cool the Hot Coffee mod is)... but it at least makes them ask someone older to get it for them. If mummy wants to give 8 year old Billy a game with an 18+ sticker and a name like Ultra Bloodbath 3: The River of Corpses (hopefully there isn't such a game), then no law will stop it happening.
In the Army, people watch you 24-7.
Y'know, it's not like they put you in the Army and then just let you run around loose. They're well aware of the potential hazards of armed young men running around loose, and go to some effort to keep that from happening.
Wait a second, the hearing was yesterday? The day when every lawmaker and reporter in the state was focused on the hearings about potentially legalizing gambling and introducing casinos to Massachusetts?
Wow, hard to be more buried in the news cycle than that.
Truth be told, nobody but Menino, a few dumbass state reps, and the ever-shrinking right-wing hack Boston Herald newspaper give two shits about this issue.
“violence in a manner patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community”
OK, *WHICH* adult community? The community of 65-year-olds, or the community of 18-year-olds? Which region? Which income level? People of different ages, localities, and income levels have different standards. That's the problem with laws like these -- they only reflect the opinions of the few lawmakers, not the opinions of the many citizens. And since most politicians are career politicians, they lost touch with the citizens years ago.
I'm 30, and I grew up playing violent video games, first on NES, then on the PC. I spent my teenage years playing Wolfenstein 3D, Duke Nukem 3D, DOOM, DOOM II, etc. It could be argued that in their day, those games were very violent. And yet I've never so much as hit anyone. I find it hard to believe that I'm abnormal in that regard.
I'm still, and probably always will be, troubled with the hypocrisy of it all. Why is violence in video games so bad, but violence in movies is considered good? And don't try to give me the line of "it's a murder simulation". No, it isn't. Manipulating a fictional, pixelated character to stab another fictional, pixelated character on a display device using a keyboard, mouse, or game controller is not nearly the same as picking up a knife and physically stabbing another person. In Max Payne, I love throwing molotov cocktails on the enemies and watching them burn, but there's no way I could do that in real life. Then why can I do it in a video game? Because my brain understands that it's not real. Anybody who cannot differentiate between reality and fiction/fantasy is mentally ill, and enacting random laws regarding video games (or movies, for that matter) won't help that individual. These laws are like DRM -- the only people they'll affect are the law-abiding people who don't have a problem to begin with
And do I even need to bring up the story (a few years ago, I believe) of the grandmother who bought a rated-M game for her grandson? She knew it was rated M, and she still bought it for him. Then, shock, she found him playing it and it was violent, so she sued the game publisher. No laws would have prevented such stupidity.