Sunday, August 17, 2008

Industry Under Attack: Learn From History Edition



There are well-intentioned people out there who want to protect my son. I am grateful for their concern. Before anything else, I am a parent, and the more help I can get, the better. Unfortunately, the people offering help by telling us what we can and cannot put in our games consoles, and they are out of their ever-loving minds. It’s not the first time they’ve done this. They did the same thing to the comic book industry, and it died. Thanks to a new book by David Hajdu, The Ten Cent Plague we can see the damage done to comics and appreciate the significance of the threat to our industry. We are at war and our best weapon is communication.

The United States Department of Defense’s definition of Psychological Warfare:
The planned use of propaganda and other psychological actions having the primary purpose of influencing the opinions, emotions, attitudes, and behavior of hostile foreign groups in such a way as to support the achievement of national objectives.
Can you please tell my how the actions of the politicians who introduce false evidence into the Congressional records, or pass legislation in New York restricting First Amendment Speech are not practicing Psychological Warfare? I am not talking about Jack Thompson here. He is unquestionably the most vocal anti guy, but his outrageous statements and actions like sending letters to Strauss Zelnick’s mother prove him to be objectively nuts and worthy of little credit in the real world. The scary ones are the seemingly normal folks like Michigan governor and Democratic star Jennifer Granholm, Senators Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who all support anti game legislation but are otherwise, seemingly sane. Sure, some of them are doing it to get attention, any mention of video games makes a good headline. But many, the good ones, are doing it out of fear emanating from miscommunication. According to the British Study “Safe Children in a Digital World: the report of The Byron Review”:
There is a generational digital divide which means that parents do not necessarily feel equipped to help their children in this space - which can lead to fear and a sense of helplessness. This can be compounded by a risk-averse culture where we are inclined to keep our children 'indoors' despite their development needs to socialise
and take risks.
No matter how righteous their beliefs, or how noble their intentions, they are still guerilla fighters who use each other’s twisted, and unsupported information to cater to the public’s fear, uncertainty and doubt. As an industry, we are sitting on the sidelines, thinking their efforts will be benign, just because reality is on our side. But we cannot sit idly while our industry is under siege. We could take a self righteous approach and say we are being discriminated against, or use take the incendiary approach and compare the anti’s to Nazi’s and evoke Hitler’s name, but the use of inaccurate or inflammatory rhetoric would reduce us to their level of discourse. We must frame the argument and we must prevail – or at least stand together strong enough and long enough to for them to find alternative prey – “Hey guys, look at that Interweb thing, it’s loaded with bad things” .
The most egregious attacks are no more and no less the result of opportunistic bullies seeking to gain widespread attention by preying on what they perceive to be a susceptible target. History says they will move on, but it does not guaranty our industry will survive.
They follow the same pattern each time.
1) Cite “valid research” to show harm to the kiddie;
2) Find an extreme example of conduct (popular or not) which when taken out of context will shock a broad audience unfamiliar with the medium;
3) Propose legislation rather than parental supervision; and
4) Ignore the facts.
The emotion stirring threats of prior generations is comical today, but it was very serious in its day. Around the turn of the 20th century, French Judge Louis Proal saw a great threat to the world’s youth. In his book,, Passion of Criminality; A Legal and Literature Study he cited “research” showing novels by Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Zola and even Shakespeare plays, to be harmful agents when placed in the hands of innocent children. Proal cited research from a noted expert, to show “real damage.”
In an article in the Semaine litteraire of Geneva of October 30th,1898, M. Philippe Godet, who has had opportunities, both as instructor and friend, of seeing a great number of young men at close quarter, declares that a certain psychological Novel (I refrain from giving the title) has done an irreparable amount of harm to young readers. ‘This is an actual fact, and I have the proofs before me! The book, with all its culture, has wrought havoc that I have seen with my own eyes.’
While the reference to the close quarters with a great number of boys would raise more concern today than the study, Proal saw this “research” as enough to support his hypothesis, especially when coupled with real world evidence of a young man harmed by a novel. He presents the story of Ducret, who at 17 was jilted by a girl and “to stifle his pain, he gave himself to a life of profligacy, frequented the public dancing rooms and took to drinking.” Today we call this “college.” One drunken evening, he strangled an old woman, intending to rob her, but gave up and turned himself in to the police. The police found lines from a Victor Hugo novel and “it was this that seems to have dictated his final action. . . “ Obviously, at least to Proal, in what would later be known as a Jack Thompson moment, the boy was not to blame, Victor Hugo, was responsible for driving an otherwise innocent boy to crime. And for this, Victor Hugo should be punished.
Absence of an evil intent is not enough to prevent a book’s being harmful, or to relieve the Author from the responsibility of the mischief he causes. There is a classification of crimes in Literature no less than Penal Law, there is willful murder, and there is manslaughter by misadventure. To kill a man by carelessness or failure to observe regulations is a fault the Law very rightly punishes. Absence of criminal intention does not eliminate moral, no even penal, responsibility. Man living among his fellow-men is bound to think of the consequences of his acts, and is liable to punishment if he causes another’s death by his carelessness. I have myself had to try a landowner, who to keep his win sound added a deleterious substance to it which poisoned those who drank it; the man had no intention of killing anybody, yet was condemned for involuntary manslaughter. Similarly the Writer who mixes in his Tales sophistries that pervert the mind and lead his readers into suicide, adultery and crime, is guilty of an offense for which he is directly responsible. When M. Bourget’s Disciple commits a crime, which is the logical consequence of the master’s teaching, the latter is morally responsible for the crime he has led up to, and the disciple’s mother is justified in blaming for the master for the It is really easy for us to laugh at this today, but as president of Eidos I was served with a complaint naming Eidos as a defendant in a wrongful death action filed by the parents of the children who were tragically killed by the Columbine shooters. mischief that has ensued.
The plaintiffs used the same argument raised by Judge Proal. The court in Sanders v. Acclaim, Activsion, Apogee, Atari, Capcom, Eidos, Id, Infogrames, Gt Interactive, Interplay, Midway, Nintendo of America, Sega of America, Sony Computer Entertainment America, Squaresoft and others, found the game companies had no duty to the Columbine victims, and more significantly, Lara Croft was no more responsible for the death of those children than Victor Hugo for the acts of Ducret. Similarly, years after Proal, the objectionable novels were welcomed into homes and new “evil” novels, like Catcher in the Rye were banned from society long enough to become part of high school curricula. While the attacks on the novel did not really stick the tactic did.  

Fifty years later, the same community smelled blood at the rise of Rock and Roll music and specifically, Elvis Presley. Politicians and keepers of the moral flame could not rap their heads around his performance. After his appearance on the Milton Berle Show, his second on television and before the famous Ed Sullivan appearance when he was shown from the waist up, the New York Journal-American called his “primitive physical movement difficult to describe in terms suitable to a family newspaper” and The New York Daily News reported that Elvis “gave an exhibition that was suggestive and vulgar, tinged with the kind of animalism that should be confined to dives and bordellos.” Fortunately, before the attacks could really grab hold, major media found they could make more money with Elvis, than against him. Kind of like those retailers who won’t carry M rated games. . . unless they are Halo or GTA and make a lot of money. Music survived the efforts to protect the kiddies and as the generation, which was supposed to be corrupted by the amoral, content moved into positions of power, the content became theme songs for political campaigns, and the anti’s found new types of music and media to attack.

Unfortunately, The American Comic Book did faire as well as novels and music. David Hajdu’s recently released, brilliant book, explains the rise and fall of comics in the United States and how the industry was destroyed by threat of legislation. I encourage anyone in the game business to read it. If you don’t want to now, hopefully you will at the end of this article, which liberally steals from the book. The parallels between the comic book attacks and the game business are uncanny and scary.

Comics enjoyed their golden age from the late thirties to late forties. Selling eighty to one hundred million books a month in 1948, the business rivaled many other forms of media and in today’s dollars generated about USD 7.6 billion annually – at 5 and ten cents a copy. With each book being passed on to many more readers. Comic book penetration easily surpassed 90% of the US households, about the same penetration as the game business today. . The industry looked unstoppable. Then the attacks began. Sterling North, the forties version of David Walsh wrote an article which was syndicated across the nation. Hajdu explains, his piece “A National Disgrace”: included:
Virtually every child in America is reading color “comic magazines – a poisonous mushroom growth of the last two years.
Badly drawn, badly written and badly printed – a strain on young eyes and young nervous systems – the effect of these pulp paper nightmares is that of a violent stimulant. Their crude blacks and reds spoil the child’s natural sense of color; their hypodermic injection of sex and murder makes the child impatient with better, though quieter stories. Unless we want a coming generation even more ferocious than the present one, parents and teachers throughout America must band together to break the “comic magazines.
North’s column pandered to fear. He is specifically showing the general threat to parents. Don’t worry his method of argument does not make sense either. He is showing the threat, and substituting his own “common sense” argument, for research, and ignores the facts. “Common Sense” is the term they use when they cannot support their position with valid, peer-reviewed research. This is the same tactic used by current day North, David Walsh for his National Institute of Media and the family.
Walsh ignores any studies to the contrary and explains, in the same manner North did earlier, why video games are unique and should be treated in a unique manner. In a 60 Minutes interview he explained:
Does repeated exposure to violent video games have more of an impact on a teenager than it does on an adult?

"It does. And that's largely because the teenage brain is different from the adult brain. The impulse control center of the brain, the part of the brain that enables us to think ahead, consider consequences, manage urges -- that's the part of the brain right behind our forehead called the prefrontal cortex," says Walsh. "That's under construction during the teenage years. In fact, the wiring of that is not completed until the early 20s."

Walsh says this diminished impulse control becomes heightened in a person who has additional risk factors for criminal behavior . . .

"And so when a young man with a developing brain, already angry, spends hours and hours and hours rehearsing violent acts, and then he's put in this situation of emotional stress, there's a likelihood that he will literally go to that familiar pattern that's been wired repeatedly, perhaps thousands and thousands of times,"
Anti game advocate Leland Yee uses the same type of “common sense” argument in his recent interview on GameCyte.com when he distinguished games from other media:
Well, those are not what we call interactive activities. These are what we call passive activities – you simply read something, or observe something, and that’s pretty much it. In these ultraviolent video games, it is the interactive nature where you literally have to do certain things in order to cause a particular consequence. And so, your brain chemistry and your brain – sort of connections — are now set where by doing certain things, you cause certain horrific activities to occur. It is that interactive nature that we’re really trying to get at.
Both men are child psychologists; neither can give peer reviewed support for their argument. Both create the same logical sounding, but unsupported fear of the new, unknown medium in their cry for legislative intervention. To be effective, they must ignore the facts. North showed them how to do this too. Hajdu explained, at the time of North’s first article, Dr. Lauretta Bender, a child psychiatrist in New York presented research indicating:
“a great deal of benefit in comic books and virtually no harm. The comic. . . is the folklore of the times, spontaneously given to an received by children, serving at the same time as a means of helping them to solve the individual and sociological problems appropriate to their own lives. . . Comic books may be said to offer the same type of mental catharsis to [their] readers that Aristotle claimed was an attribute of the drama. . . Well balanced children are not upset by even the more horrible scenes in the comics, as long as the reason for the threat of torture is clear and the issues are well stated.“
Bender’s research was not as sexy as North’s. Her work is kind of a downer, no action. Never ones to let facts interfere with a good argument, the anti comics collective ignored research in favor of real world anecdotes. Our friends Mr. Walsh and Mr. Yee take the same approach to the report of the Surgeon General of the United States in his Youth Violence: A Report of the Surgeon General:
the preponderance of evidence indicates that violent behavior seldom results from a single cause; rather, multiple factors converging over time contribute to such behavior. Accordingly, the influence of the mass media, however strong or weak, is best viewed as one of the many potential factors that help to shape behavior, including violent behavior.
Later studies questioned the methodology of the studies cited by Yee and Walsh and recent studies suggest benefits in game play similar those cited by Bender relative to comics. These dry studies are never as sensational or appealing as real life anecdotes. Stories of crime and suicides with comic books at the scene, or game consoles in the bedroom always get more press. The press provides a platform for the antis. Of course, no one would consider the possibility of the coincidental presence of a medium consumed by most the country at the scene of these atrocities; only causal tie.

In the forties, a boy was killed playing Russian Roulette in Washington D.C., another hung himself in Pittsburgh, and both were tied to comics. The Pittsburgh Coroner blamed comics as the inspiration for crime and cause for the rise of juvenile delinquency and the New York Times picked up the story. These stories should sound familiar to the game community. Every time there is a school shooting, or a juvenile delinquent, the media looks for the games in his bedroom. The inevitable conclusion is “we must stop these things from getting into our kids hands.” The choice of action is inevitably, a content-based restriction on the offending materials. The only content-based restriction in the entertainment world.

One of the United States most jealously guarded liberties, is the First Amendment right to free speech. The Amendment precludes the government from placing any restrictions on protected speech. So long as speech is not obscene or treasonous, it is protected by the Constitution. With the exception of child pornography and bestiality, which the Supreme Court determined to be “obscene per se” obscenity is determined by local community standards. Community standards vary greatly. I remember a Dutch animator coming to me after a talk I gave at the Rotterdam Film Festival to ask about obscenity.
“Are there restrictions on content in the United States?”
“Yes, obscene content is restricted.”
“What is considered obscene.”
“It is community standards, but bestiality and kiddie porn are obscene per se?”
“I see, how do you define bestiality?”
“I don’t think you should publish in the States.”
In rare cases, the Supreme Court will allow a restriction on the First Amendment if i) there is a compelling interest, which cannot be protected any other way; and ii) the proposed law is narrowly tailored to meet the compelling interest. When building an argument, the antis always go for the kids. What could be more compelling than our children? Who doesn’t want to protect kids? They consistently try to show a compelling interest through display of gruesome enough evidence to alleviate the need for scientific support and some type of “expert” opinion linking the cited evil, to criminal acts. Hajdu pointed to the action relative to comics when in 1947 the National Fraternal Order of Police in 1947 declared parents helpless to stop the scourge:
“We should act for the nation’s mothers, They are helpless to protect their children from the lurid booklets through [which] cavort half-nude women, belittle law enforcement and glorify crime.”
The city of New York responded, as did cities and townships across the country by passing laws penalizing and fining stores for selling inappropriate comics to minors. Stores were raided and shop owners were fined, but when the cases started to reach appeal, the courts found the laws to be unconstitutional. The antis failed to show a compelling interest because they could not show a causal link between comics and the bad acts. In 2005 after the Hot Coffee incident, David Walsh’s National Institute on Media and Family issued a report indicating:
"There has been significant industry progress and reforms over the last decade, but ever more violent and sadistic games are still ending up in the hands of children . . . Retailers would rather appear as if they care about children instead of actually small steps to protect them,"
Senator Hillary Clinton heard the cry and proposed restrictive legislation:
"I have developed legislation that will empower parents by making sure their kids cant walk into a store and buy a video game that has graphic, violent and pornographic content . . . Today's report is yet further proof that we need to make sure parents have the tools and support they need to make informed decisions for their children."
After meeting with leaders in the game industry, Clinton backed off her position and agreed the industry was making efforts to ensure inappropriate content did not get into the hands of minors. But this was not good enough for the new Governor of New York. Three years later, Patterson made this eerily familiar statement as he signed a New York Bill into Law, which among other things, penalizes retailers for selling inappropriate games to minors:
“We have the obligation to be constantly vigilant about amending our laws to protect the residents of New York State. Many of these bills will do just that by closing loopholes or creating new laws to enhance the quality of life for all New Yorkers. . . . The first duty of government is to provide a safe society for our resident to live, work and raise their families. These new laws will enhance the protections afforded to the citizens of this state and will address gaps in protection that have existed for years. I applaud the Legislature for working with me and my staff to reach agreements on fixing these problems.”
Patterson ignores the evidence from the FTC secret report indicating a fall in mistaken sales of M rated video games to minor from 85% in 2000 to 42% in 2005 and 20% on average, in 2008, with failure as low as 6% at Game Stop. They also ignored the action of the ESRB, concluding its investigation and having the offending game off the shelf in a matter of days. Clinton opened the door for the national press to create an opportunity for people to make names for themselves. New York is not the first state. Legislation was passed across the country targeting violent games. In each of nine cases, the Entertainment Software Association fought the egislation and it was found unconstitutional. The most severe proposed legislation was proposed in Utah. The State House of Representatives passed a bill calling for a mandatory jail sentence for selling an M rated game to a minor, a sentence more severe than for selling crack cocaine. If a retailer sold crack to a minor, they would get probation, if they sold crack bundled with Halo, they would go to jail. Fortunately, the bill did not pass the State Senate.
Hajdu shows us striking similarities from the war on comics. Research published by Chicago’s “Institute for Juvenile Research” and the “Journal of Educational Sociology” among others presented long-term studies concluding comics had no causal connection to crime or delinquency. The problem with long-term studies is they take a long time. It is much easier to simply ignore them.

In the fifties, Frederic Wertham, a Dr. at New York’s Lefargue Clinic, published his book, Seduction of the Innocents and started the war on comics again. Wertham’s research was more anecdotal than scientific but he cleaned up real well and testified before Congress in a lab coat. The timing was perfect from a content perspective. The industry, like video games today, was roughly 30 years old. Comic readers, who started reading Batman and Superman as kids ,were closing in on their thirties and looking for more mature content. Al Feldstein, editor at EC, said most of his readers were adults at the time of the Werthem attacks. Similarly, gamers who got their first NES in the late eighties are closing in on their thirties. According to the ESA, the average age of a gamer today is 33. Adult comic and game consumers love the media, but want something different at 30 than they did at 10. Superheroes are cool, but as young adults, we want to read stories like we see in other media. The market delivered. The books contained adult stories, and adult situations. They were written for adults, and read by adults. But for folks like Wertham and Walsh, they act as great tools. Wertham paraded uglies across the media and created smoke where there was no fire. He ignored the adult labeling on the front of the books and presented them to the public as books aimed at children. In case the stories were not bad enough, he spiced them up a bit and with stories of sexual acts and drawings not really present in books, but to an audience who never picked up a comic book, they sounded very real. We saw this same tactic used by Fox News when two women who never played Mass Effect, but were certain it contained full frontal nudity and sex cornered Geoff Keighly in a live broadcast.
The media’s promotion of Wertham’s parade of uglies commandeered Congressman Robert C. Hendrickson and Senator Estes Kefauver’s 1954 Congressional hearing on juvenile delinquency by encouraging unsolicited letters from all over the country requesting action to be taken about the harmful effects of comics. Wertham’s testimony received a lot of attention, but much like every court determining the Constitutionality of video game legislation, Congress found no legitimate research to support his claims. The report dismissed the idea of censorship and rejected legislative intervention. It went further to complement, the action of the community itself, coincidentally, the action they complimented, the formation of the Comics Magazine Association of America (CMAA), killed the industry. The same approval given by New York’s Senator, Hillary Clinton, prior to passing of legislation by both State houses and signed by the Governor.

The CMAA imposed the content-based restrictions even the legislature refused to impose. It was going to make sure comics were cleaner than any other medium. Rather than the rating systems used in every other media, they imposed strict content restrictions on themselves.
Comics could not be sold unless they were approved by the CMAA, among the forty-one guidelines were:
- Crimes shall never be presented in such a way as to create sympathy for the criminal, to promote distrust of the forces of law and justice, or to inspire others with a desire to imitate criminals. 

- No comics shall explicitly present the unique details and methods of a crime. 

- Policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority.

- If crime is depicted it shall be as a sordid and unpleasant activity.

- Criminals shall not be presented so as to be rendered glamorous or to occupy a position which creates the desire for emulation.

- In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.

- Scenes of excessive violence shall be prohibited. Scenes of brutal torture, excessive and unnecessary knife and gun play, physical agony, gory and gruesome crime shall be eliminated.

- No unique or unusual methods of concealing weapons shall be shown.

- Instances of law enforcement officers dying as a result of a criminal's activities should be discouraged.
- All scenes of horror, excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism, masochism shall not be permitted.

- All lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations shall be eliminated.

- Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls,
- All elements or techniques not specifically mentioned herein, but which are contrary to the spirit and intent of the Code, and are considered violations of good taste or decency, shall be prohibited.
- Profanity, obscenity, smut, vulgarity, or words or symbols which have acquired undesirable meanings are forbidden.

- Nudity in any form is prohibited, as is indecent or undue exposure.

- Suggestive and salacious illustration or suggestive posture is unacceptable.

- All characters shall be depicted in dress reasonably acceptable to society.

- Females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities.
- Illicit sex relations are neither to be hinted at or portrayed. Violent love scenes as well as sexual abnormalities are unacceptable.

- Passion or romantic interest shall never be treated in such a way as to stimulate the lower and baser emotions.

- Seduction and rape shall never be shown or suggested.

- Sex perversion or any inference to same is strictly forbidden.
The CMAA code went into effect in 1954 and still exists today. Mainstream publishers did not break from the code until the 1980s. This gross overreaction did get Congress and many legislatures off the back of the industry, but it also put thousands of people out of work and killed the industry in America. These self imposed content restrictions guaranteed the American comic industry would remain at a 4th grade level and alienate the adult readers who grew up loving comics and still supported the industry. Adults who entered the market with ground breaking comics from Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Jim Lee and Todd MacFarlane in the late eighties are continuing to read and grow the market, but they are still seen as fringe, and top selling comic books today sell in the high tens of thousands. When compared to Japan where publications like Shonen Jump sell millions per week, the loss is apparent.  

The game industry has been able reject self imposed content restrictions, in favor of ratings. The ESA approach, is “put whatever you want in a game, we will tell you who can buy it. But, Federal and State legislatures still try to impose them. While the system is proving more effective each year, the calls for legislation continue. Legislation eerily similar to the comics code was passed by the State of California, only to be enjoined as Unconstitutional prior to enforcement ( I know this is long, but bear with me, it is worth reading. This is your business and you should know what people are trying to do):
- "Violent video game" means a video game in which the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being, if those acts are depicted in the game in a manner that does either of the following:

(A) Comes within all of the following descriptions:

(i) A reasonable person, considering the game as a whole, would find appeals to a deviant or morbid interest of minors.
(ii) It is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the community as to what is suitable for minors.
  (iii) It causes the game, as a whole, to lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.

  (B) Enables the player to virtually inflict serious injury upon images of human beings or characters with substantially human characteristics in a manner which is especially heinous, cruel, or depraved in that it involves torture or serious physical abuse to the victim.
- For purposes of this subdivision, the following definitions apply:

"Cruel" means that the player intends to virtually inflict a high degree of pain by torture or serious physical abuse of the victim in addition to killing the victim.
"Depraved" means that the player relishes the virtual killing or shows indifference to the suffering of the victim, as evidenced by torture or serious physical abuse of the victim.
"Heinous" means shockingly atrocious. For the killing depicted in a video game to be heinous, it must involve additional acts of torture or serious physical abuse of the victim as set apart from other killings.

"Serious physical abuse" means a significant or considerable amount of injury or damage to the victim's body which involves a substantial risk of death, unconsciousness, extreme physical pain, substantial disfigurement, or substantial impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty. Serious physical abuse, unlike torture, does not require that the victim be conscious of the abuse at the time it is inflicted. However, the player must specifically intend the abuse apart from the killing.
"Torture" includes mental as well as physical abuse of the victim. In either case, the virtual victim must be conscious of the abuse at the time it is inflicted; and the player must specifically intend to virtually inflict severe mental or physical pain or suffering upon the victim, apart from killing the victim.  Pertinent factors in determining whether a killing depicted in a video game is especially heinous, cruel, or depraved include infliction of gratuitous violence upon the victim beyond that necessary to commit the killing, needless mutilation of the victim's body, and helplessness of the victim.

The legislation reads like an updated version of the industry killing comic code. The spirit is the same. This bill passed both State houses and was signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger. I don’t think anyone could argue with its value or morality as prison guidelines for Guantanamo, but legislators seem unable to delineate the distinction between fantasy and reality. The funny thing is the legislation would be too restrictive for Guantanamo. Worse, it looks like they never played a game. I guess there is no more Call of Duty 4 for the kiddies, but what about Sonic? Is the Eggman a depiction of a human being?
No media in the history of the United States has been the subject of a content-based restriction. Content-based restrictions do not establish clear guidelines, they create a chilling effect through broad, undefined demilitarized zones. First used in a legal opinion by Justice Brennan in 1965, the term refers to the social impact of penalty bearing legislation. If I am a game retailer and I know I will have to pay $5,000 if I accidentally sell an M rated game to a 16 year old – notice there is no intent requirement in the legislation – I just won’t sell M rated games. If I don’t sell them in the store, I am not going to order them from the publisher, who in turn will not make them any more and the average gamer, who is 33 years old is shit out of luck.
We don’t have to guess what will happen if State legislatures are successful in their efforts to create content based restrictions on games., we’ve seen what happens. Right now we have a presidential candidate – at least at the time of this writing – who had equated video games to cigarettes and alcohol and believes they should be regulated in the same manner. She also made a commitment to “work to protect children against violent video game content” as president. Two Congressman introduced a bill weeks ago proposing Federal action against retailers who sell games to minors –both misstated or ignored material facts. At the same time, our industry’s government relations organization with a 9 and 0 record of battling anti game legislation is losing members on an almost daily basis. More and more studies are showing games do not lead to violent or aggressive behavior, but we learned from the comic business, the truth doesn’t matter.

In hindsight, we know the gravity of the threat and the kind of individual comic reading creates. The message is clear, if you read comics, you might just grow up to be president of the United States
.

I admit, Bill Clinton is not the model of morality, but comics are no more responsible for making him president than for his innovative use of a cigar.





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