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Saturday, August 06, 2005

Update to "Hot Coffee" Scandal

This post is rated "PG-13" for mildly offensive language and situations.
This post is also rated "M" for Mature, as it contains arguments that should be handled by those possessing a modicum of maturity and common sense.

There is some continuing fallout from the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas "Hot Coffee" story I covered briefly a ways back.

It turns out that Jack Thompson, the staunch critic of the video game industry, may have been (according to GameSpot.com) receiving death threats (scroll to "Rumor #2") over his public criticism of Grand Theft Auto and Rockstar Games. I would say that, in all likelihood, he is receiving such threats - the non-denial by the FBI that an investigation is underway pretty much seals the deal that this is actually occurring.

Let me state this now - I do not agree with Thompson's methodology (or, for that matter, his lava-heated rhetoric) in terms of criticizing the video game industry, but I for damn sure don't disagree enough to ever wish him ill will or to put up with people even jokingly suggest that kind of thing. That's just wrong.

He is, meanwhile, back in the public eye with fresh criticism for a game called "Killer 7", a game developed by Capcom Inc. for the Nintendo GameCube and Sony PlayStation 2. He cites a review from IGN.com, a popular video game and media review site, where he quotes how the review describes that the game contains "full blown sex sequences". The "sequence" is two fully-clothed characters, to put it delicately, vocally enjoying the pleasure of each other's company (but not "The Act" or any nudity). The IGN review in question goes on to state, very bluntly, that the game is rated "M" for Mature for a reason - it contains material COMPLETELY inappropriate for someone under the age of 17 as it contains blood, gore, violence, and sexual situations. I mean, thats pretty clear, right? Parents shouldn't, under any circumstances, be buying this for any of their kids under that age. But it isn't any more lethal and dangerous than an R movie, as those have an age-limit of 17, too.

The ethical, and social, question becomes this - how can games and movies be rated so similarly, and yet treated so differently? An R movie (and, for that matter, even some PG-13 ones) is no better for children than an M rated game, yet I don't see nearly as much ink being spilled and oxygen being spent on movies being the root cause for the "harm to our children". Where the hell is the fair application of these standards to movies, TV, and games? The video game industry has the ESRB for a reason - to impartially rate the content of a video game so a buyer can make an informed decision as to the kind of material they are bringing into their home. Meaning, if you are the parent of a teenage son, who is not 17, you are likely better off buying way less "M" rated games (if any at all) and more "T" (for Teen, appropriately enough) games to better suit his age and maturity level.

Jack Thompson, instead, completely misses the point about the rating system, or Killer 7's rating. The system is (by and large) completely fine in regards to rating the content of games - it is the dumb-assery of parents who can't be bothered to read a label that is the problem. Dismantling the ESRB or instituting government controls will only exacerbate the problem further, and completely overlooks the fact that the ESRB can only go so far in terms of preventing kids from getting material completely inappropriate for them. The ESRB cannot stay a parent's hand from reaching for the credit card when their 12 year old wants the latest copy of Grand Theft Auto - that violates a whole new set of legal tenets about privacy and the ideals of free choice, something with which Mr. Thompson should be well-acquainted.

Thompson further ruins any of his arguments by giving the perception of being completely wild-eyed about every popular game on the market. His (laughably) calling the game The Sims 2 as "worse than Hot Coffee" for its "nudity" demonstrates that he, clearly, isn't examining the game completely. Egad, comically-pixelated, "nude" Sims is suddenly "Adults Only" material! EA Games, demonstrating a God-like ability to not burst out laughing when they said this, stated that, even if you remove the pixelation, the Sims are about as nude as a pantless Ken and Barbie doll - in other words, nothing there to see, folks.

Do I think the ESRB is perfect? Not completely - the fact their review system largely just requires a video, provided by a game's developer, with "content highlights" that may raise concern isn't always going to be enough. The juvenile antics of Rockstar Games just sneaking it past the ESRB into the final game, even if it can't be accessed by normal means in-game, proves this to be inadequate. I would expect the ESRB to adopt a "trust, but verify" position - they'll take a developer's opinion on the face of it, but want to draw their own conclusions just to be sure. That may have to go as far as the rating board having to play the game (horrors!), maybe even pick over the game's source code if they have to. Is it going to be unpopular with developers if it gets to that point? You bet it will. But they'll only have Rockstar Games to thank for screwing up things up for everyone - maybe then the developer community and some buyers can start exerting some peer pressure to make better-suited games, instead of lowest-common-denominator dreck.

Installing a government oversight program is completely wrong for dealing with this situation, as it is going to put bureaucrats who are, to put it nicely, bureaucrats - completely unqualified to make a decision above what tie color they should wear. The government would then seek to put a highly subjective set of standards into place to rate a game's material - instead of the set-in-stone guidelines for ratings in the ESRB's system. Think of it this way - how do you think a parent is going to feel about a game having a rating description "May or may not be too violent or offensive for some, we're not quite sure, we'll need more time and money to study the issue and come to a conclusion maybe in six months"? I mean, do we really need to turn a possible government facet into something that can turn into a game of political one-up-manship? Do we really need another set of shit-fits by politicians because someone appointed to the video game ratings board is "too liberal/radical/conservative/libertarian/green" for the job?

You want to solve the problem of controversial games possibly interfering with your son or daughter's day-to-day lives? Stop buying them! They can't move out until college or later, so they're still under your rules! I know, its shocking! Parents can and should make the decisions about the kind of material allowed into their homes!

It's so common sensical, it just has to be right, right?


...Right?
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