Friday, July 01, 2011

Won't someone think of the children . . .

I’m normally against all forms of censorship, but the recent overturning of a proposed California law to ban the sale of violent video games leaves me perched rather precariously on the fence. Don’t get me wrong, I love violent video games. Whatever games console I have lying around usually gets updated around the same time the next Silent Hill or Resident Evil instalment comes along. I also thoroughly enjoyed playing the notorious Manhunt. However, I’m not sure twelve-year-old kids should be playing these games.

Attitudes are changing now that the Nintendo and PlayStation generation have grown up and are old enough to have children of their own. Video games have grown up too and are no longer seen as solely for children’s entertainment.

Not everybody appears to have caught on

It always reminds me of a (possibly) apocryphal story about a video/DVD rental store clerk and a certain, highly notorious, Japanese animated film.

Dad walks up with two young sons in tow and puts a copy of Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend on the counter.

I’d like to rent this film.

Clerk looks down at fresh-faced young boys.

Um, I’m not sure it would be suitable for them.

Whaddya mean. It’s a cartoon. Action, explosions, giant robots, that kind of thing.

Um, it’s quite . . . extreme.

Don’t be silly. It’s a cartoon. Rent me the goddamn film or I’ll call your manager.

Clerk (hands up):
Okay. Whatever you say.

The next day.

Dad storms back into store and slams video down on the counter.

You sick fuck! What are you doing renting me this sick filth! Fucking pedo! I’ll call the police on you.

Um, I did say it wasn’t suitable for minors.

I don’t mind age restrictions. They’re good defence when the moral meddlebutts try to use the Think-of-the-children! card when they want to ban something. Britain, I think, uses a similar ratings system to the one used for movies, which seems sensible to me. When the moral meddlebutts next get in an indignant froth about the latest GTA or Manhunt and how children shouldn’t be playing such sick filth, it’s easy to counter by pointing at the 18 certificate and asking how children are playing the game in the first place. Think-of-the-children! becomes Where-are-the-parents? and draws a lot of venom out of the meddlebutt’s attack. I’d rather developers had the freedom to create games for adults covering adult themes, without worrying about a latter-day Mary Whitehouse whipping up a moral panic and shutting them down.

Like the original blogger, I’m not sure if this is a victory to be celebrated. It’s always hard to know with these things. The moral meddlebutts are getting sneakier at depriving the public of things the meddlebutts disapprove of. There are ways to ban things without explicitly banning them, in the same way a NC-17 rating will financially destroy a film in the US. Maybe this was a battle that needed to be fought and won.


  1. I don't quite understand the ambivalence expressed by you and the original blogger. The author of the article writes, "Although this ruling is an important milestone for the games industry in the US, it's unlikely to shut the door on future legislative efforts." And you echo, "It’s always hard to know with these things. The moral meddlebutts are getting sneakier at depriving the public of things the meddlebutts disapprove of."

    Well sure, that's something to be concerned about, but that's *always* the case with US court decisions (since the court obviously can't anticipate and preemptively block all the future legislative moves the 'moral meddlebutts.') I mean, the same worry would still be present had the decision gone the other way, so it's not clear to me what you would have had the court do.

    Also, note that the ESRB (the US game ratings board) is still in place and still putting age-appropriate labels on games (like "Teen", "Mature", etc.) So the 'point-to-the-certificate' strategy you mention is still perfectly applicable.

  2. Also: the 'de-facto censorship' worry expressed in the article (and your comparison to NC-17 movies) is already a reality in the US. This was especially apparent in the case of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which had its ESRB rating bumped up to "Adult Only", and consequently the game was dropped by many major retailers (until the game was modified.)

  3. Maybe I'm wrong, but I thought the ESRB system didn't have any influence on retail restrictions. So a game that is meant for adults can be sold to a minor depending on the store. Though it's okay for an adult to give the game to a minor, unlike tobacco/alcohol sales.

    If the meddlebutts influence the retailers they can effectively cut the market, thus changing big-name games. Still that secondary system leaves massive loopholes.

    Personally, I feel the meddlebutts have some good points, not necessarily in the extreme behavioral arena, but that games definitely have psychological impacts with some children.

  4. @C Thanks, some good points. In Britain the 18 certificate is very broad. A lot of mainstream Hollywood films receive this classification without any problems. That would probably explain both my and the original journalist's ambivalence.

    If receiving an 18 certificate meant the film (or game!) wouldn't be sold or shown in usual outlets, then you're right, it becomes a case of de-facto censorship as the games company can't financially justify making the game in the first place.

    Yeah, us Brits probably didn't spot the differences in the classification system and repercussions from getting a bad rating. The games companies had to fight and win this one and were right to do so.

  5. @Civildeviation. I'm not convinced on a lot of the arguments about links between violent games/movies/pornography and violent behaviour. Too many "researchers" pursuing their own agendas.

    I don't think kids should be playing games like GTA either. They're grown-up games dealing with grown-up themes.

    I really hate the Think-of-the-Children argument. It's a nasty weapon - emotive, and sadly very effective at dragging normally middle-of-the-road people onto the wrong side of the censorship line. I'd rather it was disarmed completely by making it clear the game/film/book/whatever is not for children in the first place, so responsible adults can enjoy it without the worry of some meddlebutt killjoy taking it out of their hands.

    Of course, if the classification system isn't clearly set up to handle the distinction, then you have a problem . . .

  6. Hah, regarding your dad-in-rental-shop scenario, that's pretty much what happened with me. To the best of my recollection my dad got a bunch of VHS from a friend and, thinking they were just cartoons, _set up a TV in mine and my brother's room_. At the age of about twelve we both had a balanced reaction to Overfiend---a bit embarrassed at times, and neither of us has killed any loved ones yet. I seem to recall finding the plots a bit thin, but it helped my (already extant) vore (pre-)kink along nicely :)

  7. Wicked City was my anime inspiration. Arisa from Delivery Special Soap owes her existence to the soapland demon from this. :)