Monday, November 8, 2010

Rights And Privileges

Before anyone comments on this; read the whole thing first rather than shooting a comment off the moment you see something objectionable, and even if you read the whole thing take two or three deep breaths first before commenting.

I really liked the Rally to Restore Sanity. It wasn't as political as I expected, it was more focused on the tone of the discussion. Even when you're arguing for the right cause, the point of the entire discussion can be lost in all the shouting. So I haven't been following that case about California wanting to ban the sale of games to minors. Sometimes you've been fighting so goddamn long that you get sick of the whole thing. It's an annoyingly semantic debate. On the one hand, I do support the banning of selling games outside their intended age group. If a game is to be given to someone outside the intended age group, it should be purchased by an adult. If a parent thinks an 8 year old is mature enough for, say, Manhunt then that's the parent's decision. If an 8 year old thinks he's mature enough for Manhunt, he's a fucking idiot and ought to be smacked by his parents. On the other hand, this ought to be an industry regulation, not a government one. And on that note, the government is trying to get this through by comparing Rock Band to hardcore pornography, which strains credulity to my mind.

I don't know how many of you are old enough to remember the shit storm that came up around the time that Mortal Kombat 2 was getting its console port. There were hearings and investigations, and Sega took the lead by instituting their own ratings system. Then the government gave an ultimatum to the industry: regulate yourselves or we start regulating you. I took the unpopular position amongst my peers of fully endorsing the ESRB and their ratings system. Most of the censorship debate sounded like lazy parenting to me. "I can't be bothered to check what my children are doing, so just censor everything I object to so I don't have to do it." With the rating system, there was no excuse. You couldn't complain about your child playing a violent video game because you were the parent was the one who bought it.

Of course, that assumes that the industry is working right. For starters, the ESRB is the gaming equivalent of the MPAA, and Jack Valenti's moral monstrosity is an ethical mess which the ESRB threatens to mimic. Secondly, many stores know that you shouldn't sell or rent R rated movies to minors, but take a more nonchalant attitude (or, in some cases, a subversively guerrilla attitude) towards selling or renting M rated games to minors. Right there the industry has failed to regulate itself, but it's the distributor, not the developer at fault. This is yet another problem we face in this discussion. If Larry's Gaming Dungeon sells Gears of War to a six year old, then someone will launch an outcry against Epic Games for ever having made the title. If Larry's Video Hut sells Night Shift Nurses to a six year old, it's Larry who's getting lynched in the street. I can't explain this discrepancy but it does exist.

I might support California's law if it made the argument that the industry is welching on it's agreement to self-regulate. Instead they're comparing video games to pornography, when games should be regulated like movies. Just because I have an extensive collection of pornographic games doesn't mean we should stop children from buying Mario Galaxy. The biggest problem I see is that the gaming community is so wrapped up in screaming about censorship that we've forgotten our own responsibility in this mess. The industry, with responsibility falling primarily on distributors, was supposed to keep M rated games out of the hands of anyone under 18 and T rated games away from anyone under 13. If a parent bought it, then it was the parent's decision that it was suitable for their child, but the child alone could not purchase it. Instead we've cried "Censorship!" at just about anything and everything and now find ourselves in a nightmare scenario where Sonic the Hedgehog is being compared to... well... 90% of Sonic fanart actually. The game distributors have a responsibility that they haven't bothered with, but we haven't helped much. Take a look at every censorship argument you've made in the last twenty years, then consider the context of what was really going on. Were you helping? See, this is why I argue that we ought to leash our passions.

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