It’s no secret that politicians have been using fear tactics to villainize gaming for almost three solid decades. Despite a Supreme Court decision which qualified video games for protection under America’s First Amendment (Freedom of Speech), bipartisan politics haven’t ceased trying to find ways around the ruling and often utilize video game content as a fear tactic. In 2014 it was the Republican party who came together and attempted to put a damper on this ever increasingly popular medium’s reach.
With the 2014 election behind us, there is a sense of dread coming over the video gaming community as both the House and the Senate have gone red. The GOP, by way of the Ways and Means Committee, are attempting to impose a revised federal tax code.
Within the code was an allowance for all corporations to qualify for a permanent Research and Development credit, lifting R&D credit limits that exist in the tax code currently. However, the Tax Reform of 2014 would exclude companies that create ‘violent’ games, simultaneously violating their right to free expression under the eyes of the law.
There is a long history of youth geared mediums being villainized by the media and politicians, under the guise of protection and necessary examination. For video games this battle is nearly 3 decades in the making, but the pop culture fear wrangling is much older than that. To top this historical ignorance off, this last Congress was extraordinarily unpopular. A recent poll shown that the Congress who put this bill forward had a not-so-shocking 3% approval rating.
Fredric Wertham published The Seduction of the Innocent in 1954. Through his critical analysis, a widespread hysteria enveloped parents trying desperately to understand why the youth were so violent. The analysis claimed that comic books were the cause of teenage deviance, particularly homosexuality.
From there, Americans in particular have been blaming the newest media sweeping interests of younger children for their outrageous, and sometimes tragic, behaviors. The details can be examined, however, it is undeniable from the perspective on an informed adult gamer that the sensationalization hasn’t stopped, but at least Wertham later apologized for his commentary on his deathbed.
America has a long history in particular with trying to blame video games for violence. Perhaps this is because the majority of politicians are older and haven’t had the same ties to the gaming scene as many of us do today. Or maybe it’s because gaming has been tied to gun violence and angry music since the Columbine tragedy. However, the sensationalization of what kind of havoc video games have caused does not mean that there is evidence to suggest it is true.
Censorship is at the forefront of this issue. It’s all about a false sense of morality and indignation that older generations have no problem singling out the gaming industry for. Censorship and First Amendment Right’s violations include enforcing age restrictions for arcades, or requiring fingerprint scans for the purchase of Mature labeled titles. For a country which prides itself on the freedoms it upholds, there are a lot of politicians willing and able to take that away, despite the fact that most voting aged Americans enjoy video games.
In the 90’s, it was the Democratic Party who set their sights on censorship, most notably by attempting to dampen sales of vulgar music through labels. It was around then, in 1994, when the self-regulated Entertainment Software Ratings Board became a staple for video games. Not only did these ratings fail to lessen the sales for either medium, but they also didn’t stop the epidemics these politicians seemed to think were being caused by them.
The ESRB, while potentially stifling, allows for a standard rating system to help consumers (especially parents) understand what kind of content is inside. The 90’s were filled with graphic and experimental games. Often times consumers could be left shocked or triggered by the more vulgar content, particularly when a game was new or relatively unheard of. This kind of warning isn’t censorship, and similar systems can be found used across many mainstream mediums.
There is little to no discussion about removing these labels, and as games are for a wide range of audiences, a content label serves many new consumers well. However, there is no reason that the ESRB and other rating systems like it should not replace the guidance and attention of a parent. Likewise, the ESRB ratings should not be used as a basis for neglecting a company’s rights to compete in a capitalist market. Video games are the only form of media under this kind of scrutiny in 2014. Could one imagine a world where this kind of restriction applied to movies, books, or even television as it becomes increasingly more vile and violent with each passing year?
The Tax Reform Act of 2014 is not planned to be voted on during the remaining year. There is still time to make Congress aware that we as voters, gamers, and American adults are NOT okay with the way they are violating freedom of expression and attempting to stifle a particular brand of video games, it’s hard to imagine our elected officials feel this how the U.S.A should be.