For some strange reason, the US government seems to have been gunning for the video games industry this year. After seeming to positively respond to video gamers last year in officially declaring video games as art through providing them with the same access to funding other forms of art get, 2012 has been a whole different ball game.
First there was SOPA, an act which threatened every website that could be even vaguely linked to piracy. Somehow this ended up managing to endanger anyone who made their living from websites that involved the gaming industry. Then, over the last week, H.R. 4204 has emerged.
The Violence In Video Games Labeling Act is apparently an attempt by Representatives Joe Baca and Frank Wolf to get all video games labelled up with the words “WARNING: Exposure to violent video games has been linked to aggressive behaviour.”
This is, of course, stupid.
Games which would require these labels include games like Wii Fit, Kinectimals and even several Sesame Street games, labels which would helpfully inform parents that buying these games for their children would be bad for them, in much the same way as a carton of cigarettes.
Beyond being merely idiotic in this respect though, if this bill were passed it would be genuinely harmful to the games industry.
The problem here is that while most of you reading this article take a genuine interest in video games, most people who play video games don’t.
Well, simply put, most people who play video games aren’t gamers in the traditional sense. As I have previously written about, a huge portion of the demographic of people who play video games is now made up of casual gamers, people who buy Zumba Fitness and party games for a bit of light relief every now and then, or because they believe these games will improve their lives in some way.
While casual games have damaged the games industry in some ways, in others they have been a blessing. Thanks to casual games, the market for gaming has grown exponentially over the last five years (credit for this largely due to the Wii and the iPhone). As a result, large games companies, including Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft, have been able to keep on releasing as many good quality games as ever despite the collapse of the global economy.
However, Reps. Baca and Wolf seem to be determined to put a stop to this old fashioned economic growth lark, their bill clearly being an attempt to stop people from buying video games.
Annoyingly, if it gets passed, it will likely work to some extent. This is due to the fact that of those people who play games casually there are very few who will actually take the time to look into the claims of these warning labels at all, being more than happy to accept the government’s word as the truth and stop buying video games.
After all, for many, they were never any major part of their life. The problem with this then is that we as gamers who understand that there is no clear correlation that would suggest that video games cause violence would still want to buy video games. The industry (in the USA, at least) would be hard pressed to deliver due to a huge dip in profits from the casual gaming market.
Effectively Reps. Baca and Wolf’s bill, if passed, could have a detrimental effect on the USA’s gaming industry.
Of course though, it is rather unlikely that anything like this will ever get passed due to the multiple levels of ignorance demonstrated by Reps. Baca and Wolf.
Firstly, if anyone in government takes the time to read through studies on the connection between video games and violence they will notice two things.
One, that there are many, many people out there who are playing genuinely violent video games and aren’t particularly violent, at least not any more violent than human beings are generally. Of the 25 million people who played CoD: Black Ops, very few of them have ever shot someone in the head.
Two, if someone is homicidal and has been playing too much Battlefield, it is probably something a little more provocative than a video game that has pushed them over the edge.Their desire to kill people probably drew them to that kind of game, as opposed to the other way around.
However, one thing studies have shown is that exposing yourself regularly to violent material can have a significant impact on your psyche. This isn’t from studies just about video games though, but rather ones about everything in our lives. Furthermore, because the US government has classed video games as a form of art, the passing of this law would effectively set a precedent. If one type of art has safety warnings on it then all types should. Paintings, plays, books, TV shows and films can all have a significant and potentially dangerous impact on your mind. Therefore, if video games get this warning then other media probably should as well. Honestly, I severely doubt that the US government would ever be willing to do.
On top of this, the bill itself shows those who wrote it have very little knowledge of the games industry and so are altogether unfit to propose this piece of legislation!
Even leaving the aforementioned economic problems aside, their very qualification for having labels placed on game cases shows their ignorance. For a start, the ESRB rating that would decide whether or not games received these labels (every game rated above EC being required to have one) are provided voluntarily and so are not legally mandated.
As well as this, the very people that would have supported this bill five years ago (concerned mothers for example) are now among the crowd of casual gamers mentioned earlier. I’m not sure how much they would care as to whether the bill is passed or not. Sure they may respond by not playing the games when new warnings appear on the cases, but as to whether there are many who would actively seek to get this pushed through any more – I just don’t think they are all too numerous.
So what should we think about H.R. 4204?
Well, in a nutshell, it is a potentially dangerous but ultimately pointless bill that should not really gain very much support at all. At most, the sheer ignorance it demonstrates provides something to laugh at. At the least, it isn’t worth thinking about at all.
One final thought though. In taking a look at how silly this proposed law is in of itself, it has highlighted something for me that I hadn’t noticed before. The games industry, as it currently stands, relies rather heavily on the casual market, a market that relies on the whims of people who aren’t necessarily gamers.
People who don’t particularly care about gaming.