July 05, 2006
The Governance Of Games
Politicians Rally Against Cartoon Skunks
This election year politicians have been trying to ban the sale of violent video games to kids. This is an old ploy. Politicians have pitched laws nationally and in California, Washington and Illinois, and lately in hurricane-ravaged Louisiana, where you'd think the governor would have more pressing things to do.
As it is, games come with ratings. For instance, kids 10 and older can buy titles labeled "E 10+". In all my years of shopping in game stores, I've never seen a kid buy a game rated "M" for "mature" (for people 17 and older).
A year ago, I spoke to fourth-graders in a Las Vegas classroom. I asked if they had played "Grand Theft Auto" games, which have lots of killing. The tone is exactly like in the action films starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, who parlayed his violent personae to become what? Oh right, the governor of California.
Some kids told me they had played "GTA," but none owned it. They played a friend's copy bought by a parent, a friend, or an older relative's "GTA." How is a law going to change that unless it criminalizes parents and older brothers?
Politicians are fear mongering to non-gamers who don't know much about the game industry. In the process, they are underestimating the voting power of gamers who are sick of being vilified by proxy — and who don't have lobbyists putting enough money in reelection funds.
And we are a huge, neglected constituency. American gamers spent $7 billion on games last year. By comparison, the movie industry pocketed $9 billion in ticket sales. Unlike movies, there is virtually zero sex in games, and mild nudity appears only in the rarest of "M" games.
The most popular game kids are playing this summer isn't "GTA." It's "Over the Hedge," based on the animated film about a turtle, raccoon and animals that frolic in people's backyards. A skunk beats up evil rats with a toilet plunger. The raccoon goes atop roofs to save a porcupine's kids who yelp, "Help! I'm small and frail and cuddly!"
"Over the Hedge" — very cute, pretty and entertaining — is rated "E 10+." Stores do not sell the $40 game to nine year-olds.
I don't want to be disingenuous. "Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City" is a big seller — among adults. It's rated "M" for the hijacking of cars and shootings. It is popular not for its crime, but because the look and feel of it was spectacularly crafted by Rockstar Games, which perhaps has never put out a badly constructed game.
Another popular game this year is "Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis." That's right, it's a Ping Pong game rated "E" for "everyone." Players look realistic, and the table tennis is so addictive, it makes me laugh at the silly fun, whether playing against the computer or online against other gamers around the world.
Another recent hit is "Tomb Raider: Legend," the stunningly gorgeous, thrilling adventure of Lara Croft. She's an Indiana Jones-style woman who jumps fearlessly from beautiful mountain ledges, and shoots bad guys while retrieving treasures. With her big brain, she says such witty things in context as, "Death by irony is always painful."
"Legend" is rated "T." If you're 12, you already can't buy the $40-$60 game.
Some politicians recently grumbled that kids can buy these games with credit cards, online. The folly of this argument is a kid who uses a credit card from a parent could also buy X-rated movies online, or actual weapons. That's a debit card issue, not a game issue.
And that's the priority? Take games away from credit card-armed kids, who can buy knives and porn instead? Is that rational?
("Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories" for PS 2, PSP — Plays very addictive. Looks good. Very challenging. Rated "M." Four stars out of four.)
("Over the Hedge" for Xbox, PS 2, GCube — Plays cute and fun. Looks good. Easy. Rated "E 10+." Three stars.)
("Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis" for Xbox 360 — Plays addictive. Looks great. Very challenging. Rated "E." Three stars.)
(Tomb Raider: Legend" for Xbox 360, Xbox, PS 2, PSP — Plays intriguing and fun. Looks phenomenal. Challenging. Rated "T." — Four stars.)