Friday, 23 March 2012

Warning: May Cause Rage

Pretty much exactly what it says on the tin.

You can probably draw some comparisons between tobacco and video games, but none of them would be positive. People like Jack Thompson and his ilk would say that there's plenty of common ground: that both are addictive, and bad for you. Well, if a bill that's currently being brought before U.S. Congress passes there will be at least one undeniable link between the two: a warning label.

The bill, imaginatively called the "Violence in Video Games Labeling Act" would require games to have a message like "WARNING: Exposure to violent video games has been linked to aggressive behavior", possibly in the same style that we currently see the "WARNING: May Cause Cancer" labels on cigarette packs. The new came down the pipe from Gamasutra, who reported it on March 20th.

Delightful quotes from the makers of the bill include the following:

"Just as we warn smokers of the health consequences of tobacco, we should warn parents — and children — about the growing scientific evidence demonstrating a relationship between violent video games and violent behavior,"

and

"The video game industry has a responsibility to parents, families and to consumers — to inform them of the potentially damaging content that is often found in their products. They have repeatedly failed to live up to this responsibility."

Now, if you're the kind of person that would be reading this blog on a regular basis I shouldn't have to tell you some of the facts, but I will anyways. There have been numerous scientific studies regarding violence in games and the effect it has on the minds of youth and adolescents, but nothing definitive has ever been proven. Some studies would suggest a correlation between violence found in games and violent behaviour, but similar studies conducted show no such link. Since the whole "do video games cause violence" debate is another can of worms entirely I'm not going to get into it further right now, but I do have the need to say that there has never been a strongly established link.

In addressing the idea of a "failed responsibility" I can only conclude that Mr. Baca -- the person responsible for quotation that comes from -- has apparently never heard of the ESRB. You know, the Entertainment Software Rating Board which formed in 1994 as an industry regulated, completely voluntary way for game companies to let the public know about the content and suggested minimum age of the games they purchase? The ESRB rates the majority of games, and indeed even though the rating process is voluntary a developer that doesn't undergo it can probably expect to be stonewalled by both retailers and the big three consoles alike. The information about the overall content of the game is always available right there on the back of the case, or for digital content displayed prominently on the purchase page.

Passing a bill like this won't solve what these congressmen view as the problem of games getting into the hands of audiences they don't belong to; there are steep fines for stores found selling M rated games to people under the recommended age. All too often if a kid ends up playing something they shouldn't it's because they begged their parents to buy it for them, and then no one bothers to check to see if the content would raise any eyebrows before giving it to little Timmy or Tara. Only after the parent walks in and sees the carnage do they raise a hubbub about it, and adding another warning isn't going to solve that problem.

Besides that, the bill is incredibly vague; can the warning be appended to games that don't even have what most would consider violence in them? Games like Tetris, or cartoonish games like Mario Bros or Donkey Kong? It honestly just seems to me like this is another case of political idiocy, hardly the last I'll bet, but certainly one of the more recent, and more annoying ones I've seen at that.

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