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The Political Game: Censorship in Beantown


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

I don't much care for Grand Theft Auto.

Aside from occasional review duties, I don't play Saints Row, either, or Reservoir Dogs or Scarface. Crime games are just not my thing; however, I don't dispute your right to enjoy those titles.

In Boston, though, political pressure has forced the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) to agree that it will no longer carry ads for GTA or any other M-rated game. This came about after an organization known as the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood objected to subway ads for GTA Vice City Stories on the MBTA's Green Line.

Faced with a politically tenuous situation, the transit authority folded, deciding that it could ban M-rated game ads under the same rationale by which it refuses ads for X-rated movies. This is the games-as-porn approach that failed so miserably in Louisiana recently.

They are nice people, I'm sure, at the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood. Nice, but quite willing to disregard First Amendment protections. Think about it. Their idea was shield children riding the Green Line from seeing ads for GTA. But those same subway trains have carried ads for NORML, the marijuana reform organization. In fact the MBTA was forced to run those marijuana reform ads a few years back when NORML sued and won.

Would there be an objection if the Green Line trains carried ads for military recruitment? AIDS awareness? Condoms? Whiskey? Victoria's Secret? Gun control? The NRA? The Sopranos? Sex in the City? Any or all of these might well be plastered on a subway car.

Who gets to decide what you can see? If you live in Boston, the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood gets to decide, apparently.

And while it's invariably the name Grand Theft Auto that makes veins bulge on the necks of video game critics, the MBTA decision extends far beyond Rockstar's title. Much-anticipated M-rated games like Halo 3 and God of War 2 won't be allowed to advertise on the transit system when they launch. The original God of War has been likened in court filings to the best of Greek mythology. And Halo 3 will have nary a victimized hooker, I can assure you.

So, can someone please explain why M-rated games are equated with hardcore smut by a quasi-governmental agency? Why is the video game industry allowing this to happen? How could the M-rated tactical military sim Full Spectrum Warrior be banned from buses in Boston, while an R-rated movie like the bloody, profane Saving Private Ryan could be advertised without a second thought?

Let's get real here, folks. Video games -- including the M-rated variety -- are a form of artistic expression. Jade Empire is not Debbie Does Dallas. Fable is not Deep Throat. Somebody is getting screwed though, and it's the game designers. Their creative achievements are being equated with pornography.

Dennis McCauley is the Political Editor for the Entertainment Consumers Association (, tracks the political side of video games at and writes about games for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Opinions expressed in The Political Game are his own. Reach him at

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