I've been reading quite a bit lately about the US Congress coming down on the entertainment industry, and specifically against videogame manufacturers.
The one thing that seems to unite the Presidential candidates is their love of pushing this particular hot button.
In the course of my reading, I discovered that Indianapolis has a very restrictive law concerning what games kids can play, or purchase. It seems to me that the local city parents have decided that all games featuring the following may not be sold to kids, or played in public arcades without parental permission (or in the case of the arcade, parental accompaniment), the ESRB ratings notwithstanding:
Now, far be it for me to tackle this issue with the limited research I've done so far, but it seems that the local legislature in Indy have thrown the baby out with the bathwater here, because a number of games that are considered "good" for kids violate this rather broad ordinance. Let's take a look:
Super Mario Brothers: There's mutilation, maiming, and disfigurement going on every time Mario stomps on something.
Civilization: definitely a lot of bloodshed in this strategy game. It's abstracted, sure, but violent nonetheless. The whole point of the game is to take over the world, and using force of arms is one of the methods by which one can do so. You can't have a war without spilling blood.
Barbie Nail Designer: unless you're Marilyn Manson, if you're a male wouldn't using this software be considered deviant sexual behavior by today's accepted definition of gender? Sometimes I wish for the days when men could wear powdered wigs and all that frippery just so I could feel pretty and not like some deviant, I swear!
And try as I might, I couldn't find any game that had any real sexual content, deviant or otherwise, besides Leisure Suit Larry and Panty Raider, and that's too bad if you ask me, because it makes adolescents out of all game players. Sexual issues are complex, and God forbid we have complexity in our games. The closest thing to any kind of serious sexual questions that arise for me when playing a game is when considering the number of men who play as women in various RPGs or MUDs.
Right now, I'm old enough to run for President of this country. I was raised in a culture that heavily features videogames as a means of escapism and entertainment. I've played a lot of games, from a Star Trek based game hammered out on a teletype device to Unreal Tournament. I've also been exposed to violent imagery ever since I saw The Exorcist. It hasn't made me want to kill anyone ... yet.
Do any of the people passing these laws, some of whom are not much older than I, even actually play videogames? I tend to doubt it because they still harp on Doom and Quake for causing our youth to go haywire, even though games have gotten far bloodier since those games ruled the charts. I don't doubt that violent games have been present in the lives of some people who've gone mad and shot a bunch of people, but should we really place all the blame on the games?
Of course not. We're just too scared of our youth to do anything but manipulate ourselves into believing such nonsense, and our politicians and journalists know it. It's far, far easier to demonize the entertainment industry than it is to take responsibility for our fears, or our inability to communicate with our youth about these issues. It's an age old problem ... the generation gap merely widens.
I wonder what the world will be like when someone who played Doom as a kid is elected to lead this nation. Will we have attained more wisdom by then?
Probably not; we'll probably be shouting about the evils of total immersion virtual reality by then.
Update as of 10-24-00:
Indianapolis has been ordered to hold off enforcement of its ordinance against children under 18 using coin-operated games with mature themes, the Associated Press is reporting. The 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago overturned the law on the grounds that it imposed unconstitutional content-based free speech restrictions. The ordinance, believed to be the first of its sort, requires coin-operated games featuring graphic violence or strong sexual content to bear warning labels and be maintained at least 10 feet from non-offending game machines. A curtain or wall must also separate them so minors cannot see them. The law bars minors from using games unless accompanied at the hand of a parent or guardian.
The law was to go into effect Sept. 1, but the American Amusement Machine Association and the Amusement and Music Operators Association, along with a group of Indiana distributors and operators, filed suit against Indianapolis in August. The groups argued that the ordinance's restriction on games with graphic violence were content-based restrictions on free speech, which would be violation of First Amendment guarantees.