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IGDA Condemns 'Oppressive Censorship' Of California Game Law
IGDA Condemns 'Oppressive Censorship' Of California Game Law
April 30, 2010 | By Kris Graft

April 30, 2010 | By Kris Graft
More: Console/PC

The International Game Developers Association on Friday condemned censorship of video games, as California's long-debated video game law heads to the Supreme Court.

"Video games are at the heart of technical and artistic innovation," said IGDA Chair Gordon Bellamy. "Singling out games from other media is not only unconstitutional, according to courts throughout the country, but it also stigmatizes a leading industry in our economy that's embraced by millions in all walks of life."

IGDA's condemnation of censorship comes as the U.S. Supreme Court decided to review California's video game bill, which seeks to put age restrictions on the sale of games deemed "violent." Senator Leland Yee authored the bill - and California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who took time out of his busy schedule to act in the upcoming violent film "The Expendables," supports the proposed measure.

IGDA commented on that bill specifically, saying, "Limiting the sale of video games based on violence is oppressive censorship, singling out one form of expression based only on popular myth and biased research."

The organization added, "Video games are a form of expression whether they're intended for entertainment, simulation or training. Like books, film, and television, games are capable of conveying many messages and many points of view."

IGDA said that the game censorship indicates a double standard, as movies, television, print and other forms of media are protected as free speech.

The group also said that it supports the game industry's current self-regulation body, the Entertainment Software Rating Board, adding that the IGDA supports "fair and objective" research about video game violence.

"The IGDA condemns the censorship of expressive media in all forms, but especially when marketed for political gain by legislators," the association said.

IGDA is just the latest video game industry body to condemn the California law. Industry trade group the Entertainment Software Association said it would fight the law, while publisher Electronic Arts said, "Censorship and content restrictions are a very real threat to video games."

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Dave Endresak
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I agree with the statement that this law and various others are censorship. This seems pretty straightforward.

At the same time, I think the IGDA may want to offer a press release stating that the Entertainment Merchant Association's policies regarding specific genres such as AO games and their refusal to offer such products to the consumer are also censorship. The same is true for other organizations as well as companies such as EA. It's rather hypocritical to criticize one element while embracing or at least tolerating other examples throughout the industry.

This is true for any industry, of course. For example, the ALA is always fighting against efforts to ban various forms of literature. Similarly, all ratings of any kind are censorship because they are merely subjective appraisals of content, and such appraisals vary with individuals around the world as well as over time. The Supreme Court and the federal government have admitted this fact when attempting to legally define the concept of "obscenity." Both the Supreme Court and federal government have stated that a specific definition is bound to failure, although the court went ahead and did it, anyway, due to the necessity to have something on the books as a legal reference. However, the legal definition is not the same as a dictionary definition. Instead, it's a specific instrument crafted for legal proceedings, and prone to all of the subjective fallacies of such crafting.

I could discuss this at great length (and have in other venues) but I think I'll just end my reply here. I only wanted to offer the point that there are many examples where censorship is being tolerated or embraced but no one is saying much against them.

Kevin Reilly
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Jeffrey, it is censorship. It does not strictly ban the sale of the games, but it does prevent the sale of games with "violent" content to minors and penalizes retailers for failing to comply. It does not refer to the ESRB ratings, therefore the determination of what will be deemed "violent" will be left to the local DA's. Anyone with a particular sensitivity to violent content can complain that the game should not have been sold to their child. Who will get to determine the appropriate level of violence children can view in their games? It certainly won't be rational gamers, but rather the non-gamers who believe the media paranoia that games cause real world violence.

But we need to understand that the law can have chilling effects on what content is offered to the public. For example if CA passed a law stating that TV stations cannot offer programming to children that depicts violent activity by or against animals because it is "obscene". In order to comply with such a ridiculous limitation, Discovery would simply pull shark week off the tube to avoid liability. Now everyone is denied access to the content. Will it go this far if the law goes into effect? Who knows, but if Wal-Mart refuses to carry a game then sales will suffer and publishers will shy away from investing in those types of games causing all of us to suffer for the sake of the children.

E Zachary Knight
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Alcohol and Tobacco are not considered speech. Any restrictions on those products are not comparable to proposed restrictions on video games.

As for pornography, the Supreme Court has carved an exception to free speech that allows for the regulation of obscene sexual content. At this time, the Supreme Court has not made any exception to free speech for violent material. Until such an exception is made (and the Supreme Court has been pretty reluctant so far) video games will be protected from government regulation as long as they do not fall within the definition of obscene sexual material.

David Rodriguez
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"...governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who took time out of his busy schedule to act in the upcoming violent film "The Expendables," supports the proposed measure."

You'd think a man who made a name for himself through violent entertainment would understand how bad this would be to our creative industry. But no, in-between his bloody killing spree he supports it. What an atrocious hypocrite.

Dave Endresak
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According to the definition of "censor," any type of restriction of access is censorship. To censor something is to remove parts (i.e. restrict or prevent access) that are deemed "offensive." However, terms such as "offensive" and "obscene" (or for that matter, terms such as "joyous" or "successful") are subjective to each individual or group. An individual can only learn if there is unrestricted access to information. That includes learning to applying critical thinking skills in order to compare and contrast various information in the search for self-actualization.


As I pointed out, the Supreme Court has created an arbitrary legal definition of obscenity because it was required to do so, but the court and the federal government stated at the same time that a definitive statement about subjective concepts such as "obscene" is impossible (I am refering to the statements in Miller v. California, of course, which is the current legal test for "obscenity.") Please refer to my comments below regarding violence and how it fits into the whole picture.

@ everyone, I guess:

Violence is not guaranteed protection within the industry due to the legal climate outside of the industry. This is true for any media industry. For example, Robocop was rated X due to violent content. Paul Verhoeven is not American but it was his first Hollywood film. He was totally frustrated with dealing with the MPAA and their ratings system as well as their demands for editing the content of his film. He feels that the edits forced onto him by the MPAA actually made the film more violent rather than less because it made the depiction seem more realistic compared to his original, X-rated version.

Pornography was mentioned briefly by Jonathan. However, what does he mean when he mentions "porno"? What he considers "porno" may not be what I consider "porno" (and almost certainly isn't, of course). Some people would consider homosexuality, transexuality, and other diverse elements of sexual identity and expression obscene and pornographic. Some definitions of the term even include certain types of (nonsexual) violence as being pornographic simply due to the extreme nature of the violence in question. Even games such as Zero/Fatal Frame or Silent Hill may be deemed pornographic or obscene by various consumers who are offended by such content. Of course, such individuals probably feel the same way about various horror or action movies, or gothic stories and "film noir" types of works.

As one senior professor I know pointed out in a brief article she published many years ago about Japanese culture and society, the Japanese do not have the concept of "original sin" and have developed a life philosophy separate from the influence of many Western cultures. This type of observation applies to other societies, too, of course. Likewise, the concept of what is considered "sexually explicit" varies from culture to culture and across different time periods. The ancient Greeks did not share much of modern views of sexuality being somehow "sinful" or "obscene," for example.

Even the concept of what is acceptable for minors varies from culture to culture. For example, Latin American children's literature may feature sexuality, violence, and swearing that would be deemed totally inappropriate in certain other cultures. I have seen a Latin American mother buy God of War for her son who seemed to be about 10 years old or so despite the extensive warnings offered by the GameStop employee who explained that the game contained sexual content and extreme violence. The mother's statement was something to the effect that, "well, he has to learn about these things sooner or later, so it might as well be now."

However, the point is not merely the cultural differences, but rather the differences in individual perception and choice about what is acceptable or not. All of these types of concepts are subjective, and this is what the federal government and Supreme Court stated in the 1970s case Miller v. California when attempting to create a definitive test for obscenity. Specifically, the federal government Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography stated that attempts to legally define such subjective concepts are "unsatisfactory" and the Supreme Court concurred. One important statement about such concepts was, "Errors in the application of the law and uncertainty about its scope also cause interference with the communication of constitutionally protected materials." There are several other, similar problems pointed out and agreed upon during the Supreme Court deliberations.

Getting back to violence, the fact is that this is simply another subjective concept. My mother finds content from Star Wars novels to be too violent but my sister is a big fan of the shows and the novels and finds it acceptable. However, my sister finds content such as the horror games I mentioned unacceptable. Meanwhile, she has no problem killing monsters/enemies in games like the Tales series and many others. In fact, the differing cultural views of violence has been mentioned by Japanese gaming industry professionals who cannot understand how anyone would view Street Fighter and similar games as being violent while Japan rejected the American fighting game Mortal Kombat as being too violent. That's a pretty clear example from the gaming industry of how the concept is very subjective in nature.

I guess the bottom line is that no one should believe that they live in a society where they have freedom of choice because most choices are made for you long before you ever have the opportunity to exercise your own discretion.

Nick Donaldson
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A law like the one in California is a solution in search of a problem. Even if it were a problem, laws like this one aren't the best first solution. Beyond being bad and unnecessary legislation, a sales restriction is unconstitutional if games are to be considered speech; whether or not they are considered speech can be debated but IF they are considered speech then the law is flat out unconstitutional.

Echoing Ephriam, comparing games to alcohol, tobacco, or firearms is ridiculous. Not only are there some legitimate claim to those three categories being potentially harmful to self and others if used improperly (or even used at all), they are not explicitly protected by the First Amendment from legislators (federal originally, but state and local after the 14th Amendment due to incorporation) from passing laws that in anyway infringe on speech (even though they regularly attempt to do so).

@Dave and Jeffrey: The argument in this case is that the law is unconstitutional. Constitutional limits apply only to government; private entities can censor or limit whatever they want within the limits of their domain (e.g. their stores, studios, or among the members of voluntary organizations such as the EMA).

As I said above, the real issue in this case is whether or not games are considered speech. If so, the government cannot touch them. If not, then they may be fair game (though that still wouldn't make the law sensible or right).

And if you think that they are speech but age restrictions in sales are not an abridgment of free speech, where exactly is the cut off before it would be considered as such? 30 to play a 'violent' game? 40? What if instead they could be sold to persons of any age, but only on Friday and Saturday between 10 P.M and 2 A.M?

More than likely scenarios such as that would never occur. But law makers shouldn't allowed excuses to go beyond the limits of their authority even for the most minor issues or best of reasons. After you really want to give the mouse that cookie?

Daniel Martinez
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"Schwarzenegger took time off his busy schedule to act..." such unnecessary spin it makes me not want to read the rest of the article even if I AM on the side of the games. That kind of tactic is very FOX-like and really puts a damper on the article as a whole.

Doug Poston
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@Jeffrey: 'Fox News' is far from the only bias "news-tainment" source, but they are the current Poster Child for it (IMHO).

Nick Wiggill
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People who argue against this "censorship" (with or without quotes) repeatedly claim the tired stigma of, "But who's to say where to draw the line?". The way you see it is that your job as a games industry pro is the highest calling, and you don't owe it to anybody, not even the wellbeing of society, to be limited in that. And you claim that what kids see on a regular basis for a substantial number of hours every week, has little to no effect on the way they see the world, since it hasn't been *proven* to do so (note the fallacy here that what we as human beings have not proven, is, in the absolute sense, untrue). Since, after all, they were born with fully functioning, critical adult minds. And since after all, adults themselves are immune to any kind of psychological influence. We all know that.

OK then; so you want to make games containing extreme violence and hardcore sexual content, but let's assume you're a decent sort who doesn't want harm to come to kids, and that you actually give a damn enough to want to do something about it. BUT you definitely don't see why adults should be censored from consuming what they will. OK. I'm with you.

So what do you do?

1. Acknowledge that mass media affects everyone, whether that pleases your professional sensibilities, or not.

2. Stop believing/implying that "kids can learn to think for themselves" while they're in the thick of some psychologically profound influences (media or otherwise). Kids have to be *taught* to deal with this sort of thing. I come from a place where street orphans grow up with no guidance except hatred, poverty, violence, chemicals, and their peers (who are subjected to the same). You don't want to know what people like this end up becoming. SimilaThat's an extreme case, but it's a universal issue -- kids need guidance.

3. Stop assuming that someone else is going to deal with the problem. Implying that most parents are socially responsible is incredibly ignorant. Parents typically have full and difficult lives, and they can only do so much. Most will eventually bow to the pressure of "what do all the other parents let their kids do?". Because you can't monitor your kid 24-7. Continuing to lamely accept that things work the way they should, because the ESRB / the parents / someone else will deal with it appropriately, is playing a dangerous game. In truth, the system is fundamentally flawed (read on).

4. Start making it your responsibility instead of consistently feigning innocence. No, we as game developers are most certainly not innocent. As someone who produces media that kids may want to consume, yes, you do have responsibilities. Start by applying/supporting political pressure to have your country's primary and secondary educational system completely overhauled to teach kids from the earliest age how to disseminate information, how to debate topics, how to do unbiased research, how to selectively consume information, how to maintain a healthy intellectual, emotional and physical state. I'm not kidding. Kids who begin learning valuable skills early on have become some of the greatest geniuses in history. Imagine if we embraced that on a global scale.

Proper education, folks. It's the only way the world's going to change for the better. Stop trying to control the kids, and start delegating the processing tasks to their own brains -- once you've effectively equipped them to do so. And a generation of kids who commit suicide, inflict violence on the weak, and lack motivation to live a productive life DO NOT qualify.