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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.