Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Menace to society

As the Associated Press reported (hat tip to Polinaut), U.S. Eighth District Judge James Rosenbaum says that a pending state law that would have fined minors for obtaining "adult-only" or "mature" video games is unconstitutional.

According to the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB), a non-profit, self-imposed regulatory body of the video game industry, games rated Adults Only (AO) "have content that should only be played by persons 18 years and older. Titles in this category may include prolonged scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity." Its Mature (M) rating, also covered under the law in Judge Rosenbaum's ruling, indicates less of this content than in AO games.

Some examples of games rated AO by the ESRB are:
  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, for "Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs"

  • Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude Uncut and Uncensored, for "Mature Humor, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Alcohol"

Game Politics.com has posted the judge's ruling and provides detailed coverage of the law, which received bipartisan support during the last Minnesota legislative session from such nominal adversaries as DFL candidate for governor and current Attorney General Mike Hatch and Republican AG candidate Jeff Johnson. Johnson, then state representative from House District 43A, sponsored the legislation, with Sen. Sandy Pappas (DFL-St. Paul) sponsoring the companion bill.

According to the Pioneer Press:
Passed in May, the law was aimed to protect game players younger than 17. Backers pointed to games such as "God of War," in which players gouge out eyes, sever limbs and make human sacrifices, and "Manhunt," in which a serial killer uses a nail gun and chain saw to slay victims.

Pappas said the judge's conclusion that the current body of research didn't show violent video games harm children and teens defies logic.

"You score points for how many women you rape, how many cops you kill," Pappas said. "How could that not affect them psychologically?"

Jeff Johnson said this in a press release: "When you have readily accessible video games that reward little children for beating prostitutes to death or killing and mutilating cops, I think some small restriction on youth access to these games is reasonable — and constitutional."

Regardless of whether a law can be crafted that satisfies the courts, consumers are demanding evermore outrageous imagery, like a drug addict continually seeking a more intense high. Unfortunately, this trend goes beyond video games, into "mainstream" subscription TV, Hollywood movies, music, and the Internet — all too easily accessible by kids.

Parents must be informed and vigilant (read movie reviews, watch what video games come into your house, monitor your kids's Internet usage, enable your TV's V-Chip content filter). Entertainment industry groups are providing ratings systems to avoid government regulation, but the ratings systems assume the presence of a parent who will use them to exercise appropriate judgment.

Politicians, clergy, newspaper editors, and other community leaders should keep warning us about these cultural menances to our youth, the future of our society.

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