For the past month, the nation's focus on gun control laws has been unprecedented. We are all aware that Congress is focused primarily on resolving the country's national debt fiasco, but also that Vice President Joe Biden was assigned the task of meeting with various powers that be to discuss what can be done to reform our gun laws. One of those entities was a conglomerate of representatives from the video game industry. The topic is nothing new to the gaming community who has been taking flak from Congress, the media, and parents for decades. What Mr. Biden took away from those meetings, however, may or may not surprise you.
After reviewing the Vice President's findings, United States President Barack Obama signed a twenty-three point executive order for Congress to act upon and address the issue. Nowhere in the order does it propose any changes which need to be made to video games in this country. How could it? While delicately balancing reform and the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, requiring game developers to censor violence in their products infringes upon another: the First Amendment, which guarantees the freedom of speech and expression.
The video game industry already self-regulates itself in an effort to keep violent and inappropriate games out of the hands of children. Every game must be assigned a rating by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) to be sold in retail stores the United States. Ratings range from Early Childhood to Adults Only. The games in question typically carry a rating of "T" for Teen or "M" for Mature. The rating descriptions are as follows:
- Teen: "Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gaming and/or infrequent use of strong language."
- Mature: "Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language."
(If you are curious as to the process of how games are rated and to what standards the other ratings are applied, please visit www.esrb.org.)
Each ESRB rating carries an age suggestion and many retailers abide by these when selling games to prevent minors from playing them. However, the decision often lies with parents on whether or not their children are responsible enough to play them. There are no policies or regulations preventing adults from purchasing games for minors, but there may not need to be.
"We don't benefit from ignorance. We don't benefit from not knowing the science."
Contrary to what the National Rifle Association (NRA) would have the public believe, the Vice President placed virtually zero blame for the Sandy Hook, CT shooting or for gun violence in the country as a whole on video games, but he did suggest the industry change the way it is perceived by the public. The relationship has been studied (as well as that between games and other national issues) many times before with little to no correlations found, but Mr. Obama would like Congress to "fund research on the effects violent video games have on young minds" stating, "We don't benefit from ignorance. We don't benefit from not knowing the science." However, Congressionally funded research often raises the issue of political agendas. Especially, if its findings offer a very different opinion than studies before it.