The Games Industry Doesn't Need A Nanny

Steve Anderson : End Game
Steve Anderson
The Video Store Guy
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The Games Industry Doesn't Need A Nanny

Earlier today, remarks emerged from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) suggesting that if the games industry didn't "do something", then Congress would have to step in. This, naturally, has left plenty confused and angry in its wake, but really, the games industry has done an excellent job of policing itself over the years, and Feinstein's remarks betray a certain lack of understanding about the industry.

While at an event in San Francisco, Feinstein discussed the video games industry, alluding to the recent Sandy Hook tragedy by saying, reportedly, "If Sandy Hook doesn't [make game publishers change]...then maybe we have to proceed, but that is in the future." By way of elaboration, Feinstein continued, saying that video games play "a very negative role for young people, and the industry ought to take note of that."

Leaving aside the obvious problems with Feinstein's remarks--like the enormous numbers of young people for whom video games do not play a negative role at all, or even play a positive role instead--there are two immediate points of contention in regard to those remarks.

One is the point at which she says the industry needs to "do something." It's clear that the industry has already "done something" in the form of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, a completely voluntary industry measure that has actually done more to keep violent video games out of the hands of youth than the MPAA's ratings system has done for its equivalent bailiwick of movies.  The games industry has already done "something" and they have done "something" quite effectively at that. The immediate followup, of course, is what "something" did Feinstein have in mind, and it's a "something" that smacks of censorship. This in turn brings us to the second point of contention.

On several points, Congress--or the various subentities that are similar in nature to it--has previously been seen trying to "do something" about violent video games. For instance, a California law passed in 2011 that banned the sales of violent video games to minors was blocked by a decision at the Supreme Court of the United States by a decision of 7-2, saying that such a law violated First Amendment protections.

With such a precedent clearly in play, it's difficult to tell just what Senator Feinstein expects Congress to do by way of "taking action" about violent video games and yet still remain within the boundaries set forth by the Constitution.

Take a responsive games industry that voluntarily created a self-policing arm that's more effective than most of its conventional equivalents, back it up with actual court precedent against Congressional involvement, and top it all off with nearly three decades' worth of studies that can find precious little in the way of connection between violent video games and actual violence, and that's a recipe for a problem for Sen. Feinstein.

But that's all right, really. It's hard to blame her for looking for solutions. It's just that the solution, to borrow the phrase, "is not in this castle".  The best place to find that solution is in the heads of the individuals who engage in these crimes to begin with. The whole situation is best considered like a Venn diagram, one of those diagrams with overlapping circles. There are simply too many gamers--and too many gun owners, come to think of it--that will never stage one of these incidents to believe that they have anything to do with these incidents of violence.

So while Sen. Feinstein's diligence should be applauded, her direction is sadly misguided. There are other problems needing attention, and those should be the focus. Not video games.
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