There have been a lot of things to write on in the last couple of weeks; THQ’s closing and requisite sell-off, the Ni-No Kuni Special Edition mishandling, and even Sony saying that they will let Microsoft make the first move when it comes to announcing their next-gen slate. Yet, the one that has seemingly resonated across all forms of media is the continued debate on violent games. It has been well publicized that Vice President Biden met with the leaders of the industry, and that there is now a bill in Congress that is set to study the effects of violent media (including video games) on children. This is all well and good and, in fact, can probably benefit all in the industry, but the question still remains, “Is this the right answer?”
The video game industry has already been through some of this before. The California law that went to the Supreme Court was shot down, with the Court stating that video games were protected under the first amendment as free speech. Going even further back; the creation of the ESRB was a result of pressure from Congress for similar reasons. This is the same old song and dance that has gone around before, yet it seems that this time there is a much more solid push for “something” to be done now.
The industry is not alone in this. Both Hollywood and the comics industry have gone through similar proceedings. Hollywood’s torrid history led them to the Motion Picture Production Code, and forebear to the modern MPAA; and comics had the Comics Code Authority; though by 2011, all the major publishers had abandoned it. Media, it seems, always has to fight for its first amendment rights. Nonetheless, neither movies nor comics are regulated by the government. Both are self regulated by non-biased agencies, and neither of them are seemingly, “on the hook,” in this current debate. People seem to understand what a rated R movie is, and comics and their readers have grown up to know Spider-man is for kids and Kick-Ass is not. So why are video games held to a different standard?
As with most problems in the world, ignorance is the answer. When you hear the phrase, “video game,” most people instantly think of children, Tetris, and other harmless cliches. The fact is, like all art forms, the medium has grown up. Not all “games” are for kids anymore. There are whole genres out there that didn’t exist twenty years ago, and all are expressing something worth saying. It’s art, and not all art is for the young.
This has come to clash with most parental conceptions of their child’s hobby. There have been many times I have been at the local game store and just heard a parent brush off the clerk as he (or she) tried to explain how Grand Theft Auto might not be for their eight year old, only to be told something along the lines of, “they see that stuff everywhere.” My personal favorite was when someone was buying Far Cry 3 and the clerk told the parent that there was, “intense violence, nudity, and a graphic sex scene,” and the parent responded with, “is there language?” The clerk was taken aback, especially when the parent said that all that would be fine, as long as there was no swearing in the game. Occasionally you see the parent of some child actually not buying the game once they find out what is in it, but generally speaking parents have no idea what their child is playing, and just don’t care because it is simply that, “a game.”
In so many of the tragic stories we hear where video games are blamed, you hear the same sound byte from the parents, “I didn’t know what they were playing or that it would affect them…” Why are games being attacked when it seems that those buying them have no idea what they are doing? We don’t need new legislation on violent games, we need new ways to educate the modern parent on what video games are now; and get them invested in what their kids are playing. Legislation would not solve the problem; and one could argue, wouldn’t change a thing. [Parents would still buy the M rated games for the kids, and the games would still be blamed] Yet, if we go after the root of the issue; and look at the parental involvement, greater change has the chance the take place.
The most difficult part in all of this is the fact you can’t legislate or control parents. They will do what they always do, and how much they involve themselves in their child’s life is their own choice. That’s what makes going after the video game industry so appealing; it’s the easy answer. If you can’t change behaviors, just stop the product. It’s similar to an alcoholic trying to shut down the liquor industry; its not actually solving the problem and confronting the real issue. Yet that is where we seem to find ourselves now.
Mentioned earlier, the Comics Code was created to monitor the comics industry for years, after the book Seduction of the Innocent was written, condemning the medium to destroying the minds and hearts of young ones. At the time, people were scared of the influence this blossoming art form was having on the young, so instead of taking on responsibility the Code did it for them. It forced comics to redefine all that they were and what they could show and offer in their pages. Succinctly, it is the reason that the modern superhero exists. Crime, horror, and other types of stories could no longer be written, so the all american superhero was created to fill the void. It wasn’t until the publishers abandoned it many years later that creativity was able to spring up again, and we see stories like Fables, Hellboy, Fatale, and many more be born. We lost years of amazing stories because of the backlash of fear mongering and uneducated individuals. To be blunt, we cannot let this happen again.
Games like The Walking Dead, Spec-Ops, LA Noire all have a place in this world. Games can tell a story, teach a lesson, give a message, and be emotionally moving; and should be allowed to do so. I would hate to live in a world where all we had was Mario and Tetris; yet that is a distinct possibility of where this legislation could lead us; albeit in a worse case scenario. We have come so far and live in such an amazing time to see all this change and growth happen around us. We should not sit idly by and let the first amendment be forgotten by a generation that does not understand the medium they wish to monitor.
Colin Moriarty of IGN has gone on the record saying that he wants this fight to happen; for there to be a first amendment showdown. I believe he is right. The sooner we can put all of this behind us, the sooner we can get back to the art of making great games, and new experiences. Let them come; torches ablaze, seeking the monster; and in turn, let’s show them that the monster doesn’t exist. It’s education we need, not legislation; and we’ll all be better off if we can agree on that.