GDC 2009: The new face of game censorship

Free-speech lawyer says political correctness is the new enemy of the game industry, implores publishers to become more proactive about stifled expression.

by

SAN FRANCISCO--When it comes to restrictive legislation, the gaming industry has had some significant wins. Antigaming laws passed by states such as California, Minnesota, Illinois, and Louisiana have all been deemed unconstitutional and eventually abandoned. And while other states such as New York and Utah continue down the same path, it seems the game industry has history (and more importantly, legal precedent) on its side. But Lawrence Walters--an attorney from free-speech and constitutional-rights specialist firm Weston, Garrou, Walters, and Mooney--says that while the industry may have the upper hand against its critics from the "family values" right, there's a new enemy that could further ignite the game censorship debate.

The thought police could be just around the corner.

Walters--in his 2009 Game Developers Conference session titled "Silencing The Censors"--identified political correctness as the new battleground on which critics of games will base their future censorship arguments. Walters said the industry should take this new threat as seriously as those who have called for the prohibition of games due to violence, sex, or drug use during the past decade.

"We are in a culture war here," Walters said. "Like it or not, the video game industry is on the frontline of a war between the family values groups on one hand and the civil libertarians on the other hand. We didn't ask for this--we're just trying to entertain people with a product the public seem to want."

"Just when the decency police and moral values group have been all but defeated in the courts--both of law and public opinion--a new threat has emerged from our left flank: political correctness," he continued. "The leftist thought police are now wanting to impose their view of propriety on modern cultural discourse. We're now seeing objections to racial slurs and sexist video game content that feminists and minority groups take offense to. Now without taking a position on the propriety on that content in modern video games, this trend is just as damaging to free expression rights."

Walters pointed out legislation pending in New York that aims to prohibit sales to minors of games that have various degrees of profanity, racist stereotypes, derogatory language, and/or actions toward a specific group of persons as setting a dangerous precedent.

"Think about that for a minute. Would we ever in a million years tolerate the government passing a law that movies cannot have profanity, racial jokes, or derogatory language? That would eliminate practically every movie made," he said.

"Now we can debate all day long whether racist stereotypes or derogatory language is even appropriate in video games, but that's for us to debate, and not for the government to decide," Walters said. "If this law passes, I think it will open the door for some very dangerous forms of thought control the likes of which we haven't seen in this country."

Walters says the best way for the game industry to combat its opponents is by becoming more proactive and not just by responding to laws that have already been passed.

"It needs to reveal its enemies for who they are--radicals on the left and on the right--and marginalize them. They need to speak with a cohesive and united voice on issues related to censorship and video game violence," he said.

Discussion

40 comments
frankmondana
frankmondana

This whole issue is getting old. The motion picture ratings are a joke. You have to decide if "sci-fi" violence is the same as "violence". What is "strong language"? The game rating system is pretty straight forward. The details are simple. An "M" rated game that says "strong sexual content" says it quite simply. "Violence" is just that. I have come to trust this system when getting games for my young son. I can't trust the MPAA ratings.

Merl57
Merl57

this debate will never end because people are brought up unable to think for themselves by terrible parents who do not let their children decide what is right or wrong. Parents are failing and FAILING on this issue they need to take control here and I think there should be laws against banning media on its content because it is just wasting so much time and energy which should be focused on other issues like education so people can be informed on stuff like media and video games because obviously they do not understand them, we need to teach people how to live balanced lives and I give kids credit because they are smarter than adults think and know what is going on before we think they do

janderdarkmoon
janderdarkmoon

@Zloth2 To sat that legislation like this is ok because it's designed to help kids means you're missing the point. The point IS that if you give something moral justification (in this case the children) one can take away any right from the people. It's not like this is a new practice either and I'm not just talking about the patriot act (although it is a very good example.) Don't worry we can now tap your phone read your email and screen Arab airline passengers, but it;s okay it's so the terrorists won't get you. Laws meant to limit freedoms always begin like this, in the guise of benevolence, in the end they are just another form of control meant to whittle away freedom.

DonTonyDeluca
DonTonyDeluca

what he is saying is true, political correctness will become the new enemy for legally games can be violent and sexual for we have so much media with that already. the problem is that children who play these games with parents unknowing or uncaring are there concern, along with ethnic groups and parties that may be a minority or less involved. these kinds of things can cause problems, but as Walters said, we wont stop watching or making movies of the same sorts. I dont know how far this will go, but it could be an issue for a while

MrHatnClogs
MrHatnClogs

@Link_Destined_1 "Excessive political correctness is one of the cancers that is killing society." I cry when I see what Political Correctness did to Nickolodean. No Ren and Stimpy, no more Rocko's Modern Life, and God forbid if they show Invader Zim! What I loved about the 90's (I'm 21 now) is the stuff they got away with in kids shows! Looking back I can't believe the stuff that was in my favorite shows. For example looking through IMDB quotes: [Ed is spying on Rocko's backyard, where a nudist party is being held] Ed Bighead: Bev! Oh, I can't believe it! Do you know what that *weirdo* next door is up to? Bev Bighead: Oh, shut up and mind your own business, Ed. Ed Bighead: But, Bev! They're, well... *Nude*! [Excited, Bev grabs the binoculars from Ed] Bev Bighead: Oh, Ed! Oh, you're right! Yes! This is disgusting! [in whisper] Bev Bighead: Quick, Ed, get the telescope out of the hall closet! XD

MrHatnClogs
MrHatnClogs

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

fps_d0minat0r
fps_d0minat0r

are these the same politicians who think its ok to sell cigarettes as long as the box says smoking kills? ......how stupid...

fps_d0minat0r
fps_d0minat0r

ahhhh.....more nooby politicians trying to get involved in the gaming industry.

npramsey
npramsey

I hate political correctness and censorship both, but prohibiting the sale of inappropriate games and movies to minors is hardly a form of censorship. Developers can still create the content, adults can easily buy it, and parents still have the right and ability to screen what their children play. Laws like that just make it easier for parents to screen content for their families, which I think is a good thing. This is far better than actual censorship. Parents ought to be in control, not the government,. and not the children themselves. I'm talking from a perspective of old-fashioned family values, not crazed leftist propoganda. Now, I still dislike that games are singled out for this kind of treatment. I also hate how sensitive, prissy, and weak our society has become. Still, it isn't a violation of free speech to prevent the use of innappropriate language in an elementary school. Mature use of free speech means using that right responsibly around children.

MSPeck17
MSPeck17

This guy knows what he's talking about. Unfortunately, politically correct is a bunch of bullocks. No matter what you do or say, you can never be right. I'm not politically correct, I'm just blunt about it. Everyone understands what you mean, sure it might be offensive to somebody but I'm not going to bother myself with beating around the bush because someone can't handle the truth. The way I see it is people are stupid. You don't like what a movie/video game/musician is saying, how about this, don't listen to it. Don't buy it. Instead you're going to make a fuss over something saying, "that's sexist and immoral," when the real fact of the matter is that you're not as open-minded as the next person. I'm a 20 year old male, if I played a video game where I was playing as a woman fighter and I control said fighter to shoot a male enemy in the twice in the face and once in the head, the first thought that pops into my head is NOT, "WHAT!! THAT'S SEXIST, YOU'RE MAKING MEN LOOK WEAK TO BULLETS!" No, instead, I squeal with delight and say, "Wow! She's one bad chick!" People want to censor things they have no right to censor in the first place. If you don't like something, don't listen to it. Who are you to judge someone else's tastes or likes or dislikes? Sure, say what you want, it's a free country, but how dare you say I'm wrong or I'm a sadist because I enjoy violent games. Do I say anything because you want to play the Bible Game and have a nice sit down with the family? No. I let you play what you want because it's your money, you spend it how you want. But I didn't excite myself over turning 17 because I could finally buy mature rated games on my own so that I can by My Horse and Me 2 or the Bible Game. Absolutely not. I've said it once, I've said it a million times, people like Jack Thompson and that idiot for a Secretary Hilary Stupid Clinton need to shut up. I don't condemn them because they're stupid, which they are, but I will condemn them because they speak out against violent video games that they haven't even played themselves. Okay, I get it, you don't like violence, you think it makes our children do bad things. I get it, you're stupid. It's the same thing as Michael Vick and the Pitbull dog fighting. Pitbulls are great dogs, I would know, I have one, and it wouldn't harm a hair on any persons head even if I told it to. It's all in how it's raised. If you raise it to bite someone, yeah, it's going to bite someone. If you're an incompetent parent that can't teach your children the difference between right and wrong, you're a failure as a parent. It's not that difficult to sit down with a five or six or seven year old and play a game with them and ask them what would happen in real life if they shot somebody with a gun in the chest at close range? Would they run for cover or fall to the ground and die? My cousin is seven and he plays slightly less violent games than I do but he knows the reality boundary because I've explained it to him. There's consequences in real life and running down a street, hijacking a vehicle and shooting someone with an AK-47 a la Grand Theft Auto isn't the right thing to do. Bad parents make bad children and bad children make bad decisions. It's not the media that teaches children that it's okay to run up and punch somebody in the gut. It's not the media that makes children believe they won't die if they blow up because they'll just respawn back at a hospital, perfectly fine. It's bad parenting that doesn't teach them the difference between a story and reality. How hard is it to sit down with your kids for an hour, play a video game and make them realize that it's just that, a game. It's not real, it's fake. Just for pretend. You kill someone, you go to jail and likely die yourself. If they don't realize that, then you failed and they're just stupid. What ever happened to people just being crazy? The Columbine shootings, yes, they played video games. Yes, they killed people. Did the games tell them to kill someone? No, they got picked on all their lives and so they had enough intellect to realize, Hey, if I get a gun, I can kill all of them. Video games have nothing to do with people killing each other, people having a very bad day that make unrational decision, kill people. Movies, video games and music has nothing to do with it. I'm tired of it. Get a life people, stop blaming an industry that entertains for your failures in life. [/rant]

Ozzie234
Ozzie234

"The biggest problem with democracy is that one idiot can shout louder than 100 people in a silent majority" So that's a BIG problem with democracy??? Sounds more like dictatorship rule to me.... gah.

Ozzie234
Ozzie234

The thought police has always been there in this biz... so just keep hammering its ugly face wherever it turns up. And kudos to Rockstar for staying on the edge.

008Zulu
008Zulu

"Think about that for a minute. Would we ever in a million years tolerate the government passing a law that movies cannot have profanity, racial jokes, or derogatory language? That would eliminate practically every movie made," he said. In the case of the Waynes brothers, this would be a blessing.

Link_Destined_1
Link_Destined_1

Excessive political correctness is one of the cancers that is killing society.

Hvac0120
Hvac0120

Do not fear Big Brother. Though his eyes are on us, our thoughts will always remain our own and cannot be controlled by an outside force. Those that fall to the will of Big Brother are fallen soldiers who could not stand on their own feet.... The ESRB does a great job of filtering games by content and by themes presented. No law is needed to regulate consumers or prevent them from viewing content they have a legal right to. _

BloodMist
BloodMist

Well, i wouldn't be too worried about that myself, political correctness has never held any water when it comes to censoring any form of media, and with the video game industry being the most profitable media format, and believe me money does talk in these matters, there's no chance in hell any such law would ever pass. I'm just glad the industry hasn't been subject to any real censorship despite being attacked time and time again, with the exception of maybe the ESRB giving out AO ratings far too liberally.Thank the heavens for that because in the past, the movie industry and the comic industry were scapegoated the same way and they got screwed for a few decades.This is all of course from a US perspective as other countries haven't been so lucky(The UK and Aussie censorship boards suck royally).But that's still relatively few countries in the worldwide scheme of things.

somberfox
somberfox

Just one thing about these laws that they keep pushing: They're completely unnecessary. The industry already self-regulates, games with offensive content are not sold to kids, and kids that have them got them from parents who aren't doing their job properly. This isn't about regulating content that children can buy, it's about slippery sloping into banning of games altogether.

kardon16
kardon16

i know what should be illegal: instalation limits and dlc locked on disc

Gao_Wuji
Gao_Wuji

Many people are pointing out that New York and other states are trying to put limits on minors being able to purchase these games, not restrictions on the games themselves being made. While this sounds like a fine and sensible idea you have to think of future ramifications. Laws like these limiting access of some things to minors seems great, but it's a flood gate situation. First games like BioShock which show large amounts of violence are not being sold to anyone under the age of 17... ok that seems sensible. Then they say a game such as Halo is unacceptable... while you kill it's not very graphic so it seems a little less sensible. Now you want to ban children from buying Super Smash Brothers because it encourages them to go around having slap fights with their friends on multi-leveled platforms... wait....what? Law is largely about precedence. If you allow them to restrict one thing, then it's even more difficult to stop them from restricting the next thing, and so on, and so on, and so on.

bad_fur_day
bad_fur_day

Who the *%$! are these family values groups and civil libertarians??? Why dontcha piss off out of our games. I don't get to play Manhunt2 because of these a-holes. It's called a THRILLER!!! yer uptight old granny's. Sorry for the swearing.

llakallaka
llakallaka

0mGGGG... someone can please put a mop up these politicians' @## ... god damn it.. they think they're gonna win some votes by granting some hypocrite's ideas of censoring or even banning games... what those hypocrites should do is get a hold on to their kids... the esbr rating works just fine...ur kid's 10, manages to get a M-rated game... ITS UR PROBLEM !@#&... its ur ### up kid who made the choice to get the game... the problem is under your roof... the gaming community did the good deed to warn you about the content... second ... think of the good majority of good people behind the gaming industry... (PROBABLY u wouldnt be so feisty when someone shouts out loud to close ur company and put a law there to ban ur activities) ....WELL LEAVE THIS PPL ALONE... GOD DAMN IT... they do their work just like you... what makes you think you are better...if you were better if would have been u there coding games... but no ... you have a shi#ty job so you have to talk out of misery of ur lives..pity... just pity...ofc the rich ppl dont say nothing... u know why... THEY LOVE GAMES...sometimes they even INVEST in games... so that leaves that mediocre hypocrite bunch of ppl talking who have nothing to do all day but complain how their lives suck big time end they latch on to one thing in the mere idea to reach success... and ofc politicians support them... they want votes and to appear on FOX news... screaming like @(!* Mass Effect has sex scenes... PS: im sorry to the gs community... i just hate this kinda ppl and politicians trying to take from us one of the things we love : gaming... sorry for the rage and language... thou im not from US... gaming is worldwide and Walters is giving a great message there... STICK TOGETHER... SINK THE HYPOCRITES DOWN!!!!

Gen-Gawl
Gen-Gawl

I think his argument is flawed. He said that NY is trying to pass a law prohibiting sale of those games to minors. Then he says how would hollywood feels if the GOV said they can't make those movies. No one said the game industry couldn't make those games. Just as no one is telling hollywood they can't make those movies. But the GOV is setting age limits for both so his comparison doesn't hold water. btw, I personally want the GOV totally out of my entertainment.

nickythenewt21
nickythenewt21

1984 is such an amazing book. Now that that's out of the way, I agree with this guy.

Zloth2
Zloth2

"Think about that for a minute. Would we ever in a million years tolerate the government passing a law that movies cannot have profanity, racial jokes, or derogatory language? That would eliminate practically every movie made," Quite so. But then, that's not what New York is doing. That legislation is restricting content sold TO MINORS. Would we pass laws that block children from easily seeing movies with lots of profanity and whatnot? Yes, we would - and did. But hey, anything to hype up the masses, eh Gamespot?

skullboy950
skullboy950

breakitapart, I was gona say the same thing well said! :)

Jedilink109
Jedilink109

I'm with this guy. Games are expressing themselves in all kinds of ways, and I think that's fine. I don't like it when you're in a war game and the enemy is marginalized and made to look like savages while America is the saving grace. That's stupid and lame, but if it's for jokes, or for a game with an actual point, then I'm all for it. Say what you want to say. I STILL don't understand why games are singled out when other forms of media aren't. Not saying EVERYTHING should be judged, I'm saying people should be allowed to make what they want to, and not be infringed upon by the government.

enoslives7
enoslives7

The biggest problem with democracy is that one idiot can shout louder than 100 people in a silent majority. The good news for gamers is that the video game industry is all powerful now, and some radical idiots(like Senator Lieberman) no longer have enough power to stand against our combined might.

gamefreak3111
gamefreak3111

We must kill the censors! TO DEATH! lol. Just kidding... TO DEATH!1!!!one!!!!!

chibi-acer
chibi-acer

@ Maverick4Ever One of the problems with democracy is that majority rules, and gamers don't have a big enough vote. I voted against Hillary in NY, but it didn't stop her from being elected.

Maverick4Ever
Maverick4Ever

Completely agree with the article, but I do have one additional thought. We all share the blame for the government trying to censor things. It is NOT that the government is inherently evil, it is that for too long and to this very day we have been electing evil people to run our country. If we didn't vote for politicians like Hillary Clinton, or that guy from California (Yee or something), we really wouldn't have these sorts of problems.

spartan_lord
spartan_lord

totally agree with the article, i would have liked to hear him say something about the censorship already taking place in other countries, like Australia didn't get GTA3, Germany never seems to get any decent games either. Still a bloody good article

Cicatraz_ESP
Cicatraz_ESP

Well said PumpkinBoogie, completely agree.

BUCK3TM4N
BUCK3TM4N

this guy is my new hero. nice pic pumkinboogie re5 was good

user9000
user9000

While I'm not a fan of profanity, racial jokes, derogatory language, etc. I have got to agree with this article 100% I think too many people in this world want someone else to set the line, so that someone else will take the heat for crossing it. I have to give a big hand to game companies like rockstar and others who may cross the line, but don't try to place the blame on some scapegoat.

cool_beans1
cool_beans1

Agreed PumpkinBoogie. lol love the pic with Big Brother in it too.

PumpkinBoogie
PumpkinBoogie

Absolutely on point writeup! This is definitely something we all have to take heed to--not just game developers, but gamers too. We have to stay alert and aware for such a new deceptive way that the government may try to prohibit games; just because we win our gaming (legal) battles left and right doesn't mean the war is over. The fight to freely game as we see fit (without crazy censorship) is a continual thing and something none us should take for granted.

MonkeyWrench127
MonkeyWrench127

Totally agree. It's about time gaming got the respect it deserved. It has moved on from times when it wa just about kids and teens and "geeks" and is now a serious form of entertainment. Everyone seems to forget how popular it is...