April 13, 2005

Culture Wars

There's a lot of Democratic handwringing going on around the net recently about how we should approach the culture wars, particularly as they relate to the traditional connection between the Dems and Hollywood. As a rabid player of video games I'm going to come at this from that perspective.

I know that I'm not going to be a very good Lefty by saying this, but as gamer that's growing up (ever so slowly) I have become concerned about the content of a lot of games. I do *not* think we should concede the many and various points on censorship of products or give any ground on how available such products should be. I do, however, think we need to recognize that games have gotten to the level of realism and interactivity that we need to restrict their availability to minors if not now, then soon. We no longer live in a world where the worst a kid could come in contact with is Double Dragon. The recently released God of War features grotesque (and awesome) acts of violence and a ménage à trois minigame. Grand Theft Auto, as many know, allows the player to have sex with a prostitute to recharge health, and then follow this with murdering the prostitute to take back the player's money. Mortal Kombat made the shredding of one's foes, for no purpose other than to see the gore, famous. I love all of these games. They're great adult escapist fun. And that is really my point; these games are made by adults for adults and the ratings they receive mark them as such.

Because of this I think the Democrats should support some kind of legislation making it a fine-able offense to sell M-rated games to children below the age of 17 (I believe that's the age the rating states). Several state legislatures have attempted to pass similar laws but all have been struck down for being too vague. Simply tying the law into the already established and well articulated ESRB ratings should get around this I think. I'm not suggesting that we take M-rated games off the shelves and put them in a back room or behind the counter like we do with porn, all I'm saying is that we should require store clerks to check IDs when selling M-rated games. This isn't a very onerous thing to expect clerks to do because it won't be needed for every customer and it will only take a few seconds when needed. Personally, as an adult gamer I think this is a reasonable compromise for us to make which would let us then take a hard line stance against censorship attempts.

If we can't agree that we need something like this now, what about the future? What happens if someone releases a rap simulator game? What about virtual reality games that give the player the sensations of whatever they're doing? At what point to we simply say that we don't want kids to be able to buy these games unless there is a parent directly involved in the purchase? Sure, this isn't going to completely solve the problem and kids will get ahold of some of this stuff the same way they get ahold of booze or porn, but that doesn't mean it's not something we should do.

I think it's perfectly fair to say, as many parents do that there are some things kids shouldn't have free and easy access to. As with many things in this life the objectionability of a particular piece rests on a spectrum and that different parts of the spectrum should have different levels of control applied even if the demarcations between levels is arbitrary. We absolutely protect the ability of adults who want the material and parents that want their kids to have to be able to get ahold of such material, but we should also recognize that in some cases, like with video game sales, it's extremely easy to give parents who want to control what their kids play a little bit of help without hurting the rights of adult consumers.

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