It looks as if politicians just aren't going to let video games continue to operate without regulatory oversight. We've already seen Rep. Jim Matheson's bill
, which would basically turn a voluntary system (the ESRB) into a mandatory one with fines handed out for violations. It's a cynically redundant piece of legislation which would score Matheson a cheap political win, if it only had a chance in hell of passing. (The bill is even more redundant than that -- Matheson had this same bright idea twice before, in 2006 and 2008
Now, at the current Judiciary Committee hearings on "gun violence," Sen. Charles Grassley has suggested that current rating system just simply isn't good enough
"There are too many video games that celebrate the mass killing of innocent people — games that despite attempts at industry self-regulation find their way into the hands of children," Grassley said at a Judiciary Committee hearing called to examine the causes of gun violence in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last month.
Really? Everyone's current scapegoat, Celebrate Mass Killing: Modern Warfare [Current Iteration]
and its spinoff, Celebrate Mass Killing: Black Ops
, tend to celebrate the killing of people trying to kill you. And only if by "celebrate" you mean, "advance the storyline," and if by "advance the storyline," you mean "reach arbitrary hotspot that prevents enemy re-spawning and allows your more capable squadmates to turn a doorknob or something in order to continue celebrating mass killings."
But more seriously, despite the attempts of the government to regulate tobacco and alcohol sales, these items still find their ways into the hands (and mouths) of underage persons. And despite the government's best efforts to keep porn out of the eyes and hands of youngsters, many, many teens have seen a thing or two and attempted even more. No system is perfect but I'm willing to put the stats of the purely voluntary ESRB (and the retailers involved) up against the stats of any government regulated, sin-tax-paying item.
As for actual dangerous items currently regulated by federal and state governments, here's where they line up. Cigarette sales to minors are at 8.5%
, falling from 40% in 1997 (2011 statistics). If there's a national percentage on alcohol sales, it's very well hidden. Here's some information from various locales on underage sales compliance rates. Blount County, TN - 9.7%
, Escambia County, FL - 5.8%
, Fort Wayne, IN - 4.3% (liquor stores)/8.8% (bars and restaurants)
, Washington, D.C. - 9.5%
, Salem, NH - 2.9%
, Boulder, CO - 13%
. So, overall, roughly in line with cigarette sales, if not possibly lower.
Both percentages are admirably low, but compare those percentages to what the ESRB has achieved without
the threat of arrest or loss of a retail license.
According to stats released by the FTC
(h/t to commenter DCX2
for tracking this down), underage teenage shoppers were only able to obtain M-rated video games 13% of the time, as compared to 38% for R-rated DVDs, 33% for R-rated movie tickets and 64% for music with a Parental Advisory sticker.
Grassley seems to feel that putting the government in charge of enforcement would keep fewer M-rated games from "finding their way into the hands of children." Perhaps he should first take a look at how effective existing regulation is at keeping cigarettes and alcohol out of minors' hands. According to the CDC, 39% of high school students had consumed alcohol in the last 30 days
. Not only that, but underage consumption (people aged 12-20) represents 11% of the total amount
of alcohol consumed yearly in the US. As for cigarettes, the number is only 19.5% of high school students
So, even a well-regulated market fails to prevent these items from being used/consumed by minors. Regulating the video game market will result in much of the same. Deciding it's now a crime
to sell a minor an M-rated video game won't prevent a family member or friend from purchasing the latest "celebration of mass killing" for someone under the age of 18. Most people are going to feel that handing off Call of Duty to a 15-year-old weighs easier on their conscience than handing them a six-pack of beer, a pack of smokes or a gun.
But here's the key issue: the government can safely regulate tobacco and alcohol sales without fear of trampling on the First Amendment. Not so with games, although Grassley seems willing to put on his boots and start trampling.
Grassley pointed to evidence that a mass killer in Norway had played the popular "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare" game and had referred to the game as part of his "training simulation."
"Where is the artistic value in shooting innocent civilians?" Grassley asked.
Oh, I see. We'll know what art is when Grassley points it out. Once again, Call of Duty is labeled an "innocent civilian shooter," somehow missing the point of the game completely. Sure, one could argue that Grand Theft Auto is an "innocent civilian shooter," but just because you can
do it, doesn't make it the overall point of the game. You don't advance the story by shooting innocent people. It's always an option, but it's never required. (Personal note: I'm fairly sure I've run over way more
civilians than I've actually shot, but I rarely get the urge to drive up and down the sidewalk at 60 mph
when I'm behind the wheel...)
Once you have a politician asking for regulation and questioning artistic value in the same breath, you've got a problem on your hands. The Supreme Court has already determined
that government regulation of video game content is a violation of the First Amendment, but recent events have seemingly made it "OK" to push this dubious agenda again. The president has authorized a study
into violent media (including video games), but it looks as if these legislators don't have any interest in collection actual evidence before making their move.