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The Think Tank: Should the government regulate video game content?

Shawn Schuster

While government regulation is welcomed in some corners of our lives, it's not always welcomed everywhere. After recent gun violence has been making headlines more than ever, U.S. President Barack Obama set out to "find the cause" through new funding for 23 executive orders that pertain to the origins of gun violence. Vice President Joe Biden then met with experts in the video game industry to discuss the possibility that video games themselves are the cause. And probably that rock 'n' roll music, too. Darn kids!

Certainly we here at Massively have our own opinion on this matter, as video game violence legislation would affect us all. Read on past the cut to see what we have to say about government regulation for our favorite hobby.

The Think Tank Should the government regulate video game content
Over the years, the government -- state or federal -- has stepped in to clarify what a citizen can and cannot do. The government puts controls on our "freedom" all the time. In my state, Texas, you have to have a minimum level of insurance on your car. In my city, it is now illegal to smoke while in a diner. Contrary to internet slacktivism, we do not have absolute free speech. The government exists in many ways to control or enforce laws on the people. And no, I am not comparing doing without car insurance to viewing violent gameplay.

I cannot say that in every case it should be legal to allow a child to play a video game. Ask me in 20 years when virtual reality allows photorealistic, bloody gameplay and sexual encounters. The fact is that we will have to morph our views depending on the technology. I think that video game sales should be treated like pornography, meaning that we should have agreed, law-enforced limits to the material. At a certain point humans of a certain, agreed-upon age cannot take part. As with most issues like this, it's an argument over where the lines should be drawn, not if they should be drawn. That argument is nowhere near over.
The Think Tank Should the government regulate video game content
This one's just too easy an answer: No, not in the least. I don't want to see governments meddling in any sort of art or entertainment at all. So tired of nanny states. Adults are perfectly capable of determining what they and their children should and should not be watching, reading, hearing, and playing.
The Think Tank Should the government regulate video game content
In Australia, we have a serious problem with our government regulating video games. We have had two different GTA games banned completely, I had to show my drivers license to purchase Age of Conan (which was promptly removed from shelves here for about two months after release anyway), and we received an edited version of The Witcher for sale in Australia. So I fight for my rights to purchase and see games in their full without the government stepping in and ruining it.

With all that said, ratings are important. The reason they are important is exactly why we do not need our government to censor or regulate game content. It should be up to us, or if you are a minor, your parents, as to what you are allowed to play and see or not. Put a bigger ratings sticker on the game. Tell video game retailers to make sure the person purchasing the game can see and understand what the rating system means. Don't cut out my ability to see the content in its full, which was created as a piece of art. And that is what it is: art.
The Think Tank Should the government regulate video game content
I think we should establish a board of intelligent and experienced people to review content and provide ratings so that a reasonable choice can be made about the content of a game prior to its purchase.

Wait, that already exists? And has for nearly two decades? Wow, that was fast.

The problem isn't that the government doesn't regulate what's in video games, even disregarding the fact that video games have been found to qualify as protected speech by the Supreme Court. The problem is that there is a sizable portion of the parental population that seems to think that the ESRB rating that's appeared on the front of pretty much every game available at retailers is not actually a thing. These are parents who don't do the minimum necessary research to understand that their child should not be playing Grand Theft Auto IV at age eight. But it's not for lack of trying on the part of developers or the industry, just a lack of acknowledgement by the people making the purchasing decisions.

You can't legislate awareness, sadly.
The Think Tank Should the government regulate video game content
No, you can't legislate personal responsibility. Even if you could, a group of self-absorbed folk who don't see the wisdom in spending less than you make would be the wrong ones to attempt it.
The Think Tank Should the government regulate video game content
Yes! Absolutely! Wait... is this... a loaded question? Gasp!

Actually, I think the world would be a lot better if the government would regulate entertainment a little less and important stuff a little more. Entertainment is an expression of free speech, and I'm pretty strong about that being shielded from politicians who think that they know better than parents as to what people should and shouldn't be exposed to. The video game industry has been pretty successful at regulating itself for quite some time now, and I see no reason to change that.

That said, I do think that gamers have this incredible reflex to reject any notion that games can have a negative influence on people, and sometimes that reflex heads off what could be interesting and potentially useful discussions about the topics of addiction, violence, sexism, and so on. We are influenced by our environment, and when we choose to make that environment video games, we should always be examining what these games and the gaming culture is possibly doing to our development, habits, and growth.
The Think Tank Should the government regulate video game content
Personally, I have nothing against the government giving us the tools to self-regulate. For instance, if MSRB or PEGI didn't exist, I would be pushing for some sort of national labeling on video games.

As a father of young gamers, I believe it's important for me to know about the content my kids are playing. Unfortunately, I cannot monitor every single thing they play unless I'm playing the exact same things they are all the time. That just isn't possible. Fortunately, the creators of video games took it upon themselves to give parents the tools to regulate their children's input without having to watch over the kid's shoulders. We as parents just need to be more aware of what already exists so that our children do not get exposed to the things we consider unacceptable.

The bottom line is that if the government were to step in and regulate further, then the system we have in place would get watered down and ineffectual. That said, if the government wanted to help promote safe content for children, then I would be all for it.
The Think Tank Should the government regulate video game content
On the one hand, it is the government's job to enforce standards that dictate what content is and isn't available in media, so there's an argument to be made for it stepping in to monitor game content. On the other hand, the U.S. government has shown itself to be so incredibly inept at effectively regulating any industry that one has to wonder as to what they'd hope to accomplish by stepping in on the creative process behind games. Surely we'd just end up with some sort of cap-and-trade fiasco with carbon allowances replaced by side-boob and exploding heads.

Overall, the responsibility of regulating content is an issue best left to the industry and its community. The ESRB has done a fine job of rating content, and the large majority of stores uphold their recommendations. Parents should handle the other half since they're the ones with buying power, and it's on them to make sure their kids are sticking with age-appropriate content. Finally (and most importantly), developers need to take a hard look at why so many games depend on gratuitous violence and the fetishization of women and sex in lieu of mature, compelling narratives with characters worth knowing.
The Think Tank Should the government regulate video game content
I guess to answer this question, we'd have to define regulation. Ultimately my answer is dependent on the type of enforcement. Regulation similar to the motion picture industry -- where kids can't buy porn and there are ID checks at R-rated movies -- is OK in my book. The thing is that we already self-regulate in this manner. I would actually like to see outlets penalized for selling M-rated games to minors, so some regulation would probably be good. More heavy-handed regulation, similar to that of alcohol, tobacco, and firearms... that's pretty awful. I would definitely protest those kinds of laws.

Ultimately, as the other writers have said, the burden of good parenting isn't on the government, and no amount of regulation can ensure that our children are exposed to the right influences at the right time.
The Think Tank Should the government regulate video game content
I'm so much against this idea that I even hate talking about it on a gaming website, but this issue has been forced upon us lately, so here we are.

I think the government should only regulate rights and needs, not entertainment. That said, the president is barking up the wrong tree -- or at least the wrong part of the tree. We have to figure out some way to get parents to raise their children with ideals and morals again. If you don't want your child exposed to the violence in an M-rated video game, don't buy it for them because they cry about it. Children need guidance and rules, and when you let them make adult decisions, the pressure of unexpected consequences will break them. That's usually when you find them shooting up a school for attention.
The Think Tank Should the government regulate video game content
Wait, isn't the big thing now for people to scream, "Less government! Less government?!" Paraphrasing a quote from Dr. Bones McCoy in The Voyage Home: "The bureaucratic mentality is the only constant in the universe."

What happens if legislation does pass? Then people who think they're important and know better than you (and have scratched politicians' derrieres long enough) will be selected to be on the "blue ribbon" panel to define just what it is that will be considered "too violent" or "too suggestive." And they get to make a whole bunch of money sitting "listening" to lobbyists from every known special interest group willing to "make their point heard" just a little bit louder than another lobbyist.

Once all is said and done, after the self-righteous blue-ribbon panel members have postponed their "report" for a couple of years (because there were so many lobbyists that needed "listening to"), they'll finally get around to making their recommendations that will inevitably be a complete waste of time and millions upon millions of dollars, when really, parents should just read the labels of their kids' video games as carefully as they consider the gluten content of their cereal. So yeah. I don't really support wasting gargantuan amounts of money to produce completely useless and burdensome laws when we're all just better off taking responsibility for ourselves.

What do you get when you throw the Massively writers' opinions together in one big pot to stew? You get The Think Tank, a column dedicated to ruminating on the MMO genre. We range from hardcore PvPers to sandbox lovers to the carest of the carebears, so expect some disagreement! Join Senior Editor Shawn Schuster and the team for a new edition right here every other Thursday.

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