Two decades ago, it was the sounds of heavy metal acts like Iron Maiden and rappers like 2 Live Crew who were shaking Congress
Today, lawmakers say the fault lines lay along violent, sexually-themed vidgames like “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.”
Critics including Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) have claimed that these games are eroding kids’ morals — and possibly even their cognitive abilities. All four have made clear they’d like to see some kind of government regulation.
They’ve already initiated legislation toward that end. So far, they haven’t succeeded, but don’t expect them to give up trying.
Why? Because next-gen game platforms like Sony’s PlayStation 3 promise even sharper, almost hyper-realistic images of vidgame violence — and, of course, it’s an election year.
“Some politicians believe this issue has political resonance,” says Sean Bersell, a spokesman for the Video Software Dealers Assn., which recently joined forces with the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Assn. to hire a D.C. lobbyist. “There’s no political downside to going after video games.”
“In a way it makes sense,” adds Gail Markels, senior VP and general counsel for the Entertainment Software Assn., which has started an online program to enlist gamers’ support in its quest to stop vidgame regulation. “When politicians decry content, whether it’s on television or in movies or in any media, it guarantees a lot of media attention.”
About a year ago, Clinton, Lieberman, Santorum and Brownback introduced the Children and Media Research Advancement (CAMRA) Act, which called for $100 million in federal funding for the Centers for Disease Control to study the effects of electronic media exposure on kids. Though television and the Internet were included, it was clear vidgaming was the prime suspect. Clinton even singled out one controversial game for criticism.
“The disturbing material in ‘Grand Theft Auto’ and other games like it is stealing the innocence of our children and it’s making the difficult job of being a parent even harder,” she said at the time.
Fuel was only added to the Congressional flame when it was revealed last summer that RockStar Software, publisher of “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas,” had included hidden features within the title that allowed users to have virtual sex — a revelation that changed the top-selling game’s rating from “M” (mature) to “AO” (adults only) and got it pulled from stores.
Five states and one county already enacted laws that restrict sales of M- and AO-rated games to minors, but courts have struck down most of them as unconsitutional and have blocked the rest pending similar legal challenges.
In December, however, Clinton and Lieberman tried it on the Senatorial level, introducing the Family Entertainment Protection Act.
This bill stands a better chance of succeeding because it’s piggybacked on CAMRA, which just last month won approval by a Senate committee. CAMRA still awaits a full Senate vote, but in a year when no incumbent wants to risk being seen as “pro-violence” or “anti-kids,” approval is likely.
A CDC study resulting in even just a possible link between video violence and negative health effects could justify a ban on sales to minors. But the Florida and Oklahoma legislatures aren’t waiting for the results: They’ve got legislative bans pending.