Friday, 11 January 2013

Politics, Presidents, the ESRB and You

As much as I keep hoping for this story to go away, it doesn't seem to be in any hurry to do so, with the NRA, news media and others all latching onto violent videogames as a rallying cry in the wake of Sandy Hook. While some of these have since scaled down their protests, others are just getting started.

Gamasutra is reporting that Joe Biden, aka the Vice-President of the United States, has invited leaders in the Game Industry to be part of a round table with the NRA, Mental Health Professionals and other interested parties to discuss what role the Industry can play in preventing further massacres.


This follows Decembers announcement by Senator Jay Rockefeller wanting the National Academy of Sciences to study the relationship between videogames, as well as other media, and acts of violence.

On the surface, both of these motions could be viewed in the positive. If Games are going to be blamed for violence despite a lack of conclusive evidence then further study and a greater interaction with the Political mainstream should only help our cause.

Sadly this is not the case. In Politics, as in most things, appearance is everything. If the evening news shows pictures of Game Developers walking alongside Wayne LaPierre or other NRA figureheads then for thousands, if not tens of thousands of people the case will be closed. Violent Games do have some blame for the tragic events of this winter.

Do you want to be associated with this man?Source

Even if this doesn't happen then we have to question the motives behind both mens initiatives. In Rockefellers case, he made it abundantly clear what he wanted the NAS to discover in its study:

"Recent court decisions demonstrate that some people still do not get it.They believe that violent video games are no more dangerous to young minds than classic literature or Saturday morning cartoons. Parents, pediatricians and psychologists know better. These court decisions show we need to do more and explore ways Congress can lay additional groundwork on this issue."
 - Senator RockefellerSource

With Biden things are more complicated, but we do know that was asked to chair these meetings by President Obama, and that the President will shortly make a State of the Union address no doubt including some of what was found at the Biden-chaired meetings. If even a throw away line is included "Joe Biden has met with the parties who must change, with the NRA and leaders of the Game Industry" then the damage is again done.

It may seem like I'm being overly pessimistic, but the fact is that there are Western Democracies where censorship of material including Games and Internet Sites is currently in place. Australia is the worst offender for this, and as the below graph shows, it has not had a significant impact on levels of gun violence (in fact Australia remains above the UK). We need to be smart to stop something similar occuring in the US or in the UK and we don't need to play other peoples games to do it.
Taken From
As Gamers know, all games already have age-related advisories on them. The ESRB rates every game released in stores and in the States individual retailers can decide whether or not to stock certain rated games. In the UK it is illegal to sell a 18+ game to a minor. We need to tell non-gamers about these steps and we need to educate the parents whose children play Games about what they can do, without resorted to panic, to help control what games their kids play. Links to both the ESRB and the UK branch of PEGI (Pan-European Games Information). Spread them around, show people!

Until next time my friends, let us say Skål! and drink together. Next week, back to funny stuff I promise!

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