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Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Great Debate: Video Game Legislation

Posted by Nathaniel at 1:25 PM
GamingPoliticsThe Great Debate is an ongoing feature from the Evil Network where we present arguments for and against a controversial issue. This current debate is regarding the proposed legislation legally forcing retailers to abide by the ESRB video game ratings system.

Doctor Setebos: For
Any time there is news that breaks within the gaming community that contains the phrases video games and legislation in the same sentence, the news is always met with less than enthusiastic reaction. That's a bit of an understatement. Calls of "death to the infidels" are common, along with "big brother is watching", followed closely by "why does the government need to stick their nose into everything?" The part that surprises me is how so many people can be against this idea. In the following, I present my reasons why I think this legislation is not the harbinger of doom the games industry is making it out to be.

1) It gives strength to the ESRB and validates their ratings system. Senator Clinton presents the ESRB ratings system as a golden standard against which all games should be held accountable. And this is a good thing. Gamers have been proclaiming for a long time that more people need to pay attention to the ESRB ratings, and this bill legitimizes those recommendations.

2) It forces retailers to be more responsible. Let's face it. It's easy for some 14-year-old kid to walk into a Wal-mart, grab a copy of GTA: San Andreas, and take it up to the counter. At this point, some Joe Schmo minimum wage register monkey talks to this kid about how cool this game is, and rings it up. The kid who shouldn't be allowed to purchase this game, just did, because retailers aren't responsible enough to educate their chains on the ESRB ratings system. Government legislation makes this illegal, just like underage alcohol and tobacco purchases.

3) It gives parents a reason to pay attention to the ESRB. The main argument against this legislation is that parents should be responsible for what their kids are playing, and I don't disagree with this at all. But the biggest problem parents face is that they have no idea what the ESRB ratings are, or how those ratings apply to the games their kids are playing. This bill not only gives the ESRB ratings more clout, but also, more recognition. This bill becomes national news, and soon parents begin to learn about this wonderful ESRB system that rates games in a similar fashion to the MPAA movie ratings system with which they are infinitely more familiar.

The games industry--especially publishers and distributors--are up in arms regarding the legislation, mainly due to the fact that it could potentially harm their sales. It will force publishers to better control the marketing of their M-rated games, and distributors and retailers will have to more tightly monitor their outlets to stamp out regulatory offenses. All in all, it will likely have a positive impact on the industry. If only people will allow themselves to recognize that fact.

Dacquin: Against
My side of the story is that even though the government wants to get legislation on controlling video game content towards minors, that’s not the problem right now. While there are some things children shouldn’t play, the problem doesn’t lie with the kids playing these games, but rather the stores and the adults that are letting them get away with it.

1) Gaming stores should already be accountable for their actions in selling minors these games. The fact that it hasn’t already is a poor sign on how they’re run. Places like EB Games and Gamestop continue to let minors purchase games rated Mature and AO. I would never want a kid to play Killer 7 and watch the scene where a woman is having sex with an old man. *shudder* That still frightens me today. On the Media Family Report Card, it states that through its research, almost 50% of gaming retailers are ignoring store policy and selling these games to minors. While legislation will assist in bringing this number down, the fact that stores will let a child procure these kind of games is pathetic.

2) Parents are letting kids play these games. In cases where teens have murdered someone and parents want to put the blame on violent video games, who bought the games for them in the first place? Who is supposed to be monitoring them? My parents wouldn’t let me have Phantasmagoria 2 because of how sick and violent the game was. While I was upset about not getting to own it, they were concerned parents, not letting me buy a game that I wasn’t old enough to play. On the opposite side of that, a teenage friend in Tae Kwon Do told me all about his adventures in GTA: San Andreas and told me his parents didn’t care about the ratings and just bought him the game. While the government has a partial role in aiding of selling these games, parents need to realize that they are the ones who control the kid’s content.

3) The ERSB needs to educate the parents about the ratings system. In the MFRC, it’s mentioned that 40% of the parents know what their ratings stand for. 40%. “Mom? Can I buy this game? It’s rated M for Magnificent!” Of course, I wouldn’t fall for that. But it does mean that 60% of said parents don’t have a clue about what the rating system is. Every store should have a sign or two indicating what the different ratings stand for. I want people to know what these ratings mean instead of gullible parents buying a game and not paying attention to that letter in the corner.

I believe that this legislation is a good idea. There are many games that I would never let my kids play and I wish other parents would see the light. However, the information isn’t out there and companies don’t care because they’re making revenue off of it. WON’T YOU PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN??????

What are your thoughts on this issue? Post your comments, and let's start a discussion. We haven't had a good flamewar around here in quite some time...


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