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The Political Game: Do game laws help or hurt candidates?


Each week Dennis McCauley contributes The Political Game, a column on the collision of politics and video games:

There's a guy who posts on GamePolitics, the website I run. Good guy, works for one of the big three console makers. He has a user icon that says, "Vote Pro-Game."

Nice idea. But would you? Vote pro-game, I mean.

When you slip into the voting booth in November, you'll have a lot of other things to worry about, like Iraq, Iran, Al Qaeda, and North Korea, not to mention jobs, healthcare, the environment and net neutrality. So would you vote for or against a candidate strictly on the basis of where he or she stands on video game legislation?

Me neither.

Between two roughly equivalent candidates, however, that could be a decisive factor. So let's take a look at the political fortunes of game legislating politicians in this election year. And if you just want the executive summary, here it is: game legislation doesn't seem to be hurting politicians.

In the U.S. Senate, Hillary Clinton (D-NY), sponsor of the Family Entertainment Protection Act (FEPA) is a shoe-in for re-election. And she will probably make a run at the Oval Office in 2008. FEPA co-sponsor Joe Lieberman (D-CT), the man whose criticism of game violence in the mid-1990's led directly to the formation of the ESA and ESRB, is in a dogfight. Democratic voters turned their backs on Lieberman in the primaries, but the savvy pol may still survive, running as an independent.

Members of Congress with game agendas who are up for re-election include Fred Upton (R-MI), sponsor of the "Video Game Decency Act" and Cliff Stearns (R-FL), the man who behind the House version of the "Truth in Video Game Ratings Act". Both Upton and Stearns have huge fund-raising advantages over their opponents and should win re-election handily. In Utah, conservative Democrat Jim Matheson, sponsor of the Video Games Ratings Enforcement Act should beat out a weak Republican challenger.

Video game legislation hasn't hurt gubernatorial candidates, either. Michigan's Jennifer Granholm, California's Arnold Schwarzenegger and Illinois' Rod Blagojevich, all of whom signed video game legislation into law last year, seem destined for re-election. That's despite the fact that all of their laws were blocked by federal courts and the citizens of Illinois had to cough up a half-million dollars of tax money to the video game industry.

Among guvs who put their name to bills in 2006, Oklahoma's Brad Henry seems safe. But in Minnesota there's a bit of a dogfight between two guys who almost seem eager to outdo one another in game bashing. The current governor, Republican Tim Pawlenty, signed the Gopher State's ill-fated video game law into effect. His opponent, Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch, defended the game bill in court against the industry's challenge – and lost. Along the way Hatch called violent games "worthless, disgusting speech" and "speech of low societal value." And on the great merry-go-round of politics, State Rep. Jeff Johnson, co-sponsor of the state's video game law, is running to replace Hatch as A.G.

In New York, popular Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is already picking out the curtains for his upcoming stay in the Governor's Mansion. Spitzer says he'll push video game legislation once he takes over. The game issue doesn't seem to be helping Democrat Chris Bell down in Texas, however, where voters seem determined to keep the GOP's Rick Perry in office.

Among state legislators who sponsored game laws, Leland Yee is a lock to move from California's State Assembly to the State Senate. In addition to being the architect of California's video game law, Yee also forced Sony to pull a Dutch PSP ad campaign which the Democrat claimed had racist overtones.

North Carolina State Senator Julia Boseman wasn't able to get her video game bill through the legislature this year, but she has vowed to try again if re-elected. She's running in a district that historically has close elections and her candidacy has extra interest since she is the state's only openly gay legislator. Plus, her opponent is a dentist named Roseman. Boseman vs. Roseman. It's sheer political poetry.

A couple of game legislating pols have already been thumped in primaries and will be signing up for unemployment on the morning after Election Day. In Oklahoma, Republican Fred Morgan, facing term limits, made a stab at Congress and finished fifth. Morgan, architect of Oklahoma's video game law, is most notable for telling a local newspaper in December, 2005 that he wanted a video game law just like the one in Illinois. The main problem with that was that three days earlier the Illinois law had been ruled unconstitutional. Timing is everything, Fred. Oh, and on Wednesday a federal judge blocked Morgan's own law from being implemented. So I guess he got his wish for a law like Illinois' after all.

Finally, in Utah, State Rep. David Hogue wanted to become State Senator David Hogue. The voters had other ideas. Despite the loss, however, Hogue has somehow resurrected his "games as porn" bill which failed earlier this year. A colleague plans to reintroduce it in the next session. How clueless is Hogue about that which he seeks to legislate? He speaks about "The Bully" and "Resident Evil Number Four." And he claims that that Red Lake school shooter Jeffrey Weise "literally trained himself on Grand Theft Auto."

Hmmm... where have we heard that before?

Dennis McCauley is Editor of and writes about games for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Opinions expressed in The Political Game are his own. Reach him at

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