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Friday, August 12, 2005

Reheated Hot Coffee

Probably the last post on those eeeeeevil video games and the "Hot Coffee" mod fiasco. But, then again, I am a ginormous video game afficionado - which, in some circles, translates into a psycho-killah in the making.

Anyhoo, there was a drive by Michigan Democrats last week (as well as a few Republicans, so this does cut across the aisle) to make sure that the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas recall was "complete". By "complete", I can only take that to mean "blow this completely out of proportion and blame the wrong people". From this entire fiasco, we can establish a few basic things :

1) Grand Theft Auto has mature content,

2) the GTA developer left in a juvenile sex game as unused code that was not intended for activation,

3) Said developer neglected to tell the Entertainment Software Ratings Board that, oops, they left that in there. But its ok because its unfinished code and absolutely nobody has the will or means of decompiling and examining their code. All of our customers are idiots!

4) Rockstar Games finds out the hard way that, surpise-surprise, not all of their customers are idiots and that they managed to gain access to the unused "Hot Coffee" code after all! Not only that, they went public with it, so now we get to get all the PR vultures out there fighting for a microphone to make blanket denunciations about video games as an entire medium. Not surprising, given the fish-like attention spans that some of these parents had to have had when they buy these Mature rated games for their ten-year-old. It's amazing, sometimes, that these people know which end is up on a tax return.

So what do we have going on in Michigan? We have a bunch of politicians hemming and hawing and "urging" retailers to pull a game they have (if they're smart) already pulled from their shelves. Wow, thank God we have a legislature to spring into action to "urge" retailers to do something they've already done. Wouldn't want that redundancy to go to waste.

Meanwhile, the Governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm, sent letters to retailers in the state to urge them not to carry games that have an Adults Only rating. While there have only been three "Adults Only" rated games (and 14 "other" media - namely screensavers or imported software) on the ESRB site, never once have they been sold at the retail level on a mass scale. Meaning, Wal-Mart and Target don't carry Leisure Suit Larry or Singles as part of their regular video game stock - nor, that list now includes, the currently-rated-AO Grand Theft Auto.

So, the Governor lunges into action by making sure that retailers are (redundantly) urged to not carry Adults Only games, like Wal-Mart is suddenly going to become "Whip-n-Chains-Mart" tomorrow. Retailers, not surprisingly, are exceptionally gunshy about selling AO games anyway, so thats why you see a lot more "Mature" rated games that were once AO - the developers took a lot of the content out to meet the "M" rating's requirements. Reminding them of long-standing policy is pretty hollow.

The state legislature's Senate passed a bill, SB249, back in May that made it a crime for a retailer to sell or rent an M or AO rated game to anyone under the age of 18. The Michigan House is currently looking over the bill, seeing if it can survive the immediate challenges that'll be brought on by the ESRB. This would all sound honky-dory, if but for one thing.

It is not the retailer's job to be the parent in this equation.

Nor should they be in fear of being punished because a careless parent buys a kid an M or AO-rated game by proxy. In any case, most retailers have beaten most state legislatures to the punch by "carding" kids who want to buy those kind of games - I know for a fact that Target has, on three different occassions, asked that I show a driver's license when I tried to purchase a copy of Halo (M-rated), Resident Evil 4 (M-rated), and Soldier of Fortune 2 (M-rated). I mean, I don't even look 18 anymore (I would hope, anyway) but I can appreciate the lengths that retailers are already going to try and stem the rush of underage kids buying Mature-rated content.

Rather, I would think that the best way to deal with the problem of kids getting their hands on material ill-suited for the age level is to start fining the parents. This neatly solves two things - ignorance about the ratings sytem (would you really want to buy an M-rated game for a ten year old after it cost you, say, ten times the price of the game when you were fined by the government the first time?), and the source of cash to actually buy them ($500 is a huge negative financial motivator to not buy Mature-rated video games for your child...ever again.)

Will that ever happen? Perhaps, when pigs fly.


But I'll end with one last point, with an excerpt in the AP article on GTA's re-rating:
...[State] Senator Mark Schauer said the rating change did little to change his mind that the industry can no longer effectively regulate the sale of M- and AO-rated games. "It is disgusting that these types of images are available," he reportedly said. "It's pornography."

That is just absurd. Treating the deception perpetrated by Rockstar Games as a means to tear down the ESRB does so much more to hinder than actually help this situation to improve. The ESRB was told by Rockstar Games, in their original submission of content highlights for rating, that this, that, and the other was "all" the objectionable content inside their game. They did not tell the ESRB about "Hot Coffee", they got the M rating they wanted, they sent the game to retail, made their money, and then the lid was blown off on their deception. Does the ESRB need to improve its rating methods? Undoubtably- Rockstar Games has proven that taking a developer at their word is not good enough any more, which is a damn shame (but ultimately not surprising). But for politicians and public crusaders to use this as the "be-all, end-all" cudgel to crush the ESRB is just suicidal - does anybody really think that government regulation will solve the problem of inattentive parents and deceptive developers? Instead, how about we start seeing a little bit more public shaming of Rockstar Games and Take-Two (the publisher) for putting this kind of garbage in the game and then trying to lie about it?

Those two are the real enemy in this situation - not the ESRB, not retailers, and certainly not the video game industry as a whole.
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Monday, August 08, 2005

A News Icon has Died

Just received the news that ABC News anchor Peter Jennings has lost his battle with lung cancer. He will be missed, to be sure.

Today should not be a day to analyze his impact on the Mainstream Media, or what he should/not have done in his life - it is way too soon to judge. My sympathy and condolences go out to Peter's family, and I wish them well.

Michelle Malkin, as always, has a roundup of reactions from across the web. I will, likely, be back later this afternoon or evening with a more thorough response to this very sad event.

Rest in peace, Peter.

*UPDATE*

Apologies, I will not have much of an update forthcoming. Many people have written far better responses than I could have, and the Trackbacks alone in the link to Michelle Malkin's blog easily captures the gravity of the event. It is truly sad to have anyone pass away from cancer, and I can only imagine it was magnified ten times by the public stature that Peter Jennings held. Best wishes with the family.
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