Commentary

Video Game Act Fails To Understand Medium

The gaming industry's legislative woes continue, as our duly elected representatives demonstrate that they care about the nation's children with the "Truth in Video Game Rating Act." The bill is sponsored by a bipartisan group of old men in the House and Senate--including possible presidential contender Sam Brownback. In all likelihood, none have ever played a modern video game in their lives.

This kind of moral posturing is to be expected in an election year, and video games are an easy target to score points in the family-values column. The thrust of the bill is aimed at hidden content: It requires any game-rating organization--the bill is largely aimed at the ERSB, which rates all major U.S. video games for sale--to play through all content in a game before issuing a rating. In addition, it punishes developers for hiding or misrepresenting content. The bill also calls for a (taxpayer-funded) study on how, exactly, the government can further meddle in the video game industry.

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The bill fails, industry-watchers have noted, because it doesn't understand how video game content differs from a TV show or a movie. In many games, there's no way to play through a game's full content. In some, users create their own content, which can be significantly more adult than what exists in the game. In others, when you play online with other gamers, the experience of the game changes significantly. Usually, there's more swearing involved. Requiring the ESRB to play every game all the way through and punishing it for failing to do so means one of two things: It is either ignorance, or a calculated attempt to destroy the organization.

Congress' other awkward attempt at legislation--Sen. Clinton's and Sen. Lieberman's Family Entertainment Protection Act, is currently stalled in committee. Gamers--and marketers hoping to use this ever-growing medium--can only hope for the same fate to befall Brownback's baby.

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