Click here to read this week's twoplayer game comic.
Threatening EA with litigation for the actions of their fan community is like threatening Target because someone stripped a store mannequin and drew nipples on the breasts with a magic marker. EA, or any game publisher, cannot be held responsible for the creations of their fans just because they've publicly stated that they support fan art and fan mods. Doing so is the equivalent of blaming someone that publicly supports artists for the graffiti that showed up on the side of the local National Rail train car. As members of the gaming media, we can do more than just make sure that the gaming community is aware of the attacks on our industry, of the way that the "gamer" demographic is consistently used as a scapegoat for grander schemes, and dismissed as nothing but an ill influence on the young minds of our nation. In fact, what we have to do is reach beyond the borders of our established community.
The reason parents listen when a politician attacks a game is not because they hate games; it's because they are parents trying desperately to find the right path for their children in a world that doesn't really make it clear where that right path is. The gaming community isn't responsible, and should not be responsible, for pointing that path out to anyone. The whole point of the rating system isn't to trick parents into letting their children play bad games, but to help parents walking one type of path distinguish between the games that belong on their child's road and the ones that don't. We are not at war with parents. Parents are our strongest allies. When we realize that, when we realize that politicians are not the people we have to satisfy, but the parents instead, then much of our problems with rouge mistakes like Hot Coffee will disappear. I am a fan of the rating system, but if parents do not understand it, then we're doing something wrong. If parents do not feel that they can trust what a box says on the back about its content, then our rating system is crap, and needs to be looked at one more time.
I'm angry that certain people are attacking the industry because I feel that the attacks are driven by less than pure motivations, but if our industry were to stop being angry at attacks like this and instead focus on actually finding solutions, I think we could accomplish something great. Behind the ill-conceived accusation is a parent with a legitimate misgiving. The negative coverage of the video game industry in popular media and grandstanding litigation are just symptoms of those misgivings, and if we can't bring ourselves to look beyond the offensive to the heart of the issue, then we're in trouble.
Let's figure out how to reassure and help parents that need help and reassurance.
I keep thinking that things will be better when current generation game players grow up healthy and become parents themselves, that then maybe the fear will dissipate. I don't think that's true anymore, though. I think that the game players of the 80s are now the game players and parents of today. Attacks on the video game industry are fundamentally popular with the average parent not because they don't understand what it's like to play video games, but because they are scared parents. Until the first time you hold a child in your arms, I doubt that you can understand how terrifying it is. Exciting, yes, but unbelievably terrifying, too. Suddenly, you have a life that you are responsible for, and no matter what anyone tells you about natural instinct, holding that child in your arms is when you realize that you have no idea how to go about protecting them. Attacking games works because we're human, and humans care more about their child's well being than our own, and so we're willing to worry more about what our kids play than what we played ourselves.
Parents are afraid because they're not sure what to believe, and they don't know where the safe path lies.
I've been reading a great deal of research lately that suggests that fantasy violence is not just a form of play, but a crucial part of our development as children. Playing games that imitate real life violence is part of the way that humans deal with real life tragedy beyond our control. This is why in the weeks following 9/11, the most popular movies in the theater were violent, which is unusual for the season. We use our fantasies to control what we can't control in real life, and there is no one in the world with less control of their lives than children. Play therapy in psychology is a method that allows children to play out their aggressions and fears through their toys; it scares me to think that we might be moving towards a society that's so scared of one person expressing or seeing a negative image that we're willing to toss aside personal freedoms in order to suppress them. I'd be willing to say that we as a people need these elements of our life, unpleasant as they may be, and we're in the process of trying to strip them from our awareness.
Should every child be exposed to the killing and death that is present in some video games? No, of course not. But for the government, or lawyers or legal representatives, to dictate what a parent can and cannot expose their child to via litigation – well... that's scary. Parents have to be allowed to decide for themselves what their children can or can't play, if anything just because sometimes a parent will be right when the government is wrong. What we need to do as an industry is make video games a part of a safe path, not by stripping offensive content from games, but by making sure everyone knows where and what it is. Let's fix our rating system, and be a part of the solution parents are looking for.