American political figures are trying to regulate video games without first understanding the industry. Though it’s a common thing, it’s a wrongheaded approach. People should demand better of their politicians.

Oftentimes, rational thought is devoid from politics, set free from the perilous and gritty world of maintaining order. In that comes completely false, utterly insensible claims from politicians commonly “out of touch” with reality, afraid to upset their corporate interests or that of donors to stay in power. The ensuing debate over gun violence in the United States is a glorified one of these conversations, where basically unknown senators and members of Congress will say or do anything to grab national headlines. It’s all a game to those who would use the deaths of twenty plus innocent people for political gain, to someday fulfill aimless presidential ambitions.

Legislating the video game industry is unfortunately part of the debate, even though countless studies show no credible link between video game violence and aggression. But politicians are quick to make absurd claims regardless, with the media-hype machine waiting idly to print quotes from no-name politicians who are seeking nothing more than a moment in the spotlight.

Leland Yee, a Senator from California, who previously authored a law notoriously shot down by the U.S. Supreme Court, told the San Francisco Chronicle that “gamers have just got to quiet down.” He added: “Gamers have no credibility in this argument.” Yee, who has no discernible authority over video games or any entertainment medium, is telling medium experts and average fans to not vocalize their opinions. Which, to say, are infinitely more knowledgeable.

His bill set precedent in American law: that video games are protected by free speech laws, meaning any ban of “ultraviolent” games (a broad term in itself) is unconstitutional and therefore illegal as declared by the First Amendment. By that view, the “violent game ban” did more harm than good to Yee’s argument. An argument that was baseless anyway.

Most confusing is defining what constitutes as “ultraviolent”. Games vary so much in scope and range that prescribing guidelines is impossible. This logic implies that Call of Duty is in the same league as The Last Remnant, because both titles don the ESRB-given Mature rating. But anyone who has played the latter or knows any bit of knowledge regarding JRPGs can easily differentiate major differences, just for the simple fact that JRPGs usually shy away from showing any form of gore. As well, playing The Last Remnant is hardly an experience that would implant (or indoctrinate, as some who oppose video games have implied) the idea of extreme violence.

Last week, a Missouri Congresswoman proposed a 1% tax on sales of violent video games to fund mental health facilities. While a noble goal, and her being the first politician to consider tackling the root of unsatisfactory mental health options, it’s another misguided attempt to defuel this whole situation. Instantly one question arises: Why strictly video games? If consumable media contributes to a perpetrator’s psyche, other forms of media would slowly degrade that person’s sense of reality too.

The proposed law lists any game rated Teen, Mature or Adults Only as having to comply with this tax. Even though many games are given these ratings for a mess of reasons, including strong language and drug and alcohol usage, the bill lumps every title which qualifies into one collective. Forza Horizon, a racing simulator, has no killing or gore or any slight chance of violence; what caused the teen rating is one drug reference, language, and “suggestive” themes. (The word “suggestive” is too broad.)

While not expected to pass, the rule remains the same: this is an active attempt to derail free speech, driven by political motivations and not factual correctness. It’s only a mechanism to push this Congresswoman’s career forward. And she’s achieving her goal because major outlets are reporting this silliness and small-time bloggers are angrily protesting.

If anyone is to make a compelling argument on how to deal with violence, let them stand up now. But that person mustn’t have a personal interest in the debate. Too often are vital issues overshadowed and destroyed by the hostility in politics today, and on the souls of the people who lost their lives in Newtown and other tragedies, the same thing can’t happen again.

There are honourable people out there who know entertainment, not just video games, has zero influence. But opportunistic politicians with their own agendas banking off a senseless tragedy drown out those demanding more from their government. It’s despicable.

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  • Matt

    The games industry does hide behind those studies too much.

    On the one hand the games industry is trying to legitimise itself as a creative and artistic medium. The nature of art being of course its ability to provoke emotional responses. Games, the industry likes to cry out, just like films and books and paintings, can inspire us, can make us happy, can make us cry.

    But apparently the industry stops acting like it’s an artistic medium the moment negative emotions come into play. A game can inspire us to fits of laughter, but it could never, ever make us angry. There’s no science, and all that.

    The games industry is hypocritical. It’s about time the industry recognises that, as art, it might not be the catalyst for a mentally ill person to pick up a gun and shoot people, but it can certainly be a (not “the,” “a”) source of inspiration for such a person.

    If the games industry was actually responsible, it wouldn’t need to be legislated. Given that the entire industry is structured towards making Call of Duty look cool to kids, I can’t think of a less responsible creative outlet. But instead of manning up and engaging productively with lawmakers and the community, as film and music industries have done for years, the games industry gets almighty and defensive and pretends it isn’t a part of the real world.

  • MattN

    I personally think part of it is just that videogames appear to be an easy scapegoat right now. The more that people in the industry and gamers stand up for the medium, the less of an easy target we become.

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