Recently, the Supreme Court of the United States took up a case from California. This Case involves a law that was passed in 2005 that would regulate the sale of violent video games to minors. The video game industry, represented by the ESA, has challenged this law in federal court. Twice it has been ruled unconstitutional. It is now up to the Supreme Court to decide once and for all.
The Entertainment Consumers Association has issued a petition that they want all people who play games to sign. This petition puts to voice of the people behind the defense of the game industry from this law. I have already put my name on it and I think you should as well.
Here are my thoughts on why.
First of all, you will be hard pressed to find anyone that honestly thinks that kids should be able to play any game they want regardless of content. So this does not factor in my decision to support the petition.
The main issue is that the government will be regulating speech, something that the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States says they cannot do. The is the #1 reason why the game industry and the ECA is fighting this law. There is no other reason that rises above this.
Reason #2 is that it is the parents’ responsibility to regulate their children’s gaming, not the government or retailers. They have been given all the tools they need to ensure their kids only play games they approve.
All game consoles have Parental controls so that parents can limit the types of games that their children play by rating. So if the parent doesn’t want their kid playing M rated games, they can set the controls to only allow T rated and under games.
Then there are the ESRB ratings which give the parents the ability to see what content the game contains and decide if their children should be allowed to play it.
Finally all game consoles have what we like to call the power button. If a parent finds their kid play a game they are not supposed to be playing they can turn off the console.
All these tools are available for parents to use when choosing games for their kids. If you get on a session of Gears of War or Modern Warfare 2 and hear 10 year olds playing, that is because the parents chose to let their kid play those games. They made that decision through any number of ways.
They either bought the game for the kid, didn’t set the parental controls, didn’t review the game the kid bought or do not monitor their child’s game playing.
How will this law compensate for that? If the kids are getting their parents to buy the game and the parents don’t care what the game is, what will this law accomplish aside from being a road block for game developers and retailers?
Reason #3, the games industry is already doing a great job at self regulation. Retailers have already put in place voluntary policies to not sell M rated games to minors. These are the exact same voluntary policies they have with movies that are rated R. To show how effective these voluntary policies are, the Federal Trade Commission regularly tests the effectiveness of the system.
The FTC’s 2008 Retail Secret Shopper survey found that 80% of children we being blocked from buying M rated games with Gamestop leading the pack at 94% compliency. This shows that game retailers are taking it seriously and doing so voluntarily.
Reason #4, there are no solid measurements of what constitutes a violent game. None. That decision is given to a handful of politicians to decide. So any game could be considered violent enough depending on who is reviewing the game. One city could find a game violent while another city would not. A city might think a game is violent while the Attorney General would not. All this confusion would make it difficult for a game retailer to decide which games they can sell to minors and which they can’t. Eventually they could decide that it is better to not carry certain games because the risk of fines and lawsuits would be too great. By doing that, they will be preventing some developers from marketing their games. If game developers cannot find retail space, they will decide to make “safe” games.
If you want to see this in action, look at games rated AO. Almost all retailers have chosen not to sell AO rated games. All 3 major consoles have decided not to license AO rated games. How many AO rated games have been made since those decisions? 24. That is all. Of all the 18,944 games rated by the ESRB only 24 are rated AO. All this because retailers and console manufacturers have decided they want nothing to do with them.
If you think that this will not happen if this law is passed, you are sadly mistaken.
For another example, you should research the Comics Code Authority and what it did to the comics industry. It is not a pretty picture and I would hate to see that happen to the games industry.
That is why I support this petition and you should as well.
Disclaimer: Zachary Knight is a chapter president for the Oklahoma City Chapter of the ECA.