Thierer States Intervention in Gaming Industry Unnecessary, Unconstitutional
WASHINGTON D.C. - Recent federal, state and local proposals to regulate electronic game content are driven by myths that should not serve as the basis for government intervention, states Adam Thierer in "Fact and Fiction in the Debate Over Video Game Regulation," a new Progress on Point released today by The Progress & Freedom Foundation. In the paper, the author dispels misperceptions driving efforts to regulate the gaming industry and explains that stringent industry self-regulation has been effective.
Adam Thierer, Senior Fellow and Director of PFF's Center for Digital Media Freedom, identifies six myths commonly used in support of government regulation of game content and points out why each is flawed:
- Myth: The industry's voluntary ratings scheme fails to provide comprehensive information and is not stringently enforced.
To the contrary, the industry's self-imposed ratings system is the most sophisticated, descriptive, and effective ratings system ever devised by any major media sector in America. In addition to a standardized ratings structure, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) also provides over 30 descriptors with detailed information on game content. The ESRB also imposes corrective action, including monetary fines, when marketing or rating industry standards have been breached.
- Myth: The majority of video games contain excessive violence or adult-themed material.
In reality, the vast majority of video games sold each year do not contain intense violence or sexual themes. In 2005, less than 13 percent of electronic games received a "mature" or "adults only" rating from the ESRB. Moreover, over 80 percent of the top twenty selling electronic games over the past five years have been rated "for everyone" or "teen" by the ESRB.
- Myth: Proposals to restrict the sale of violent video games will be deemed constitutional in the courts.
State and local laws attempting to regulate video games have been struck down as unconstitutional. Of the six of the cases detailed in the paper, all the decisions cited First Amendment concerns, vague legislative language, and lack of scientific evidence of a link between aggressive behavior and video games.
- Myth: Federal regulation will build on the industry's ratings system, not install a burdensome regulatory regime.
Congressional intervention could cause game developers to abandon the industry's voluntary ratings system because of fear of legal liability. If enough developers do so, it could lead to the adoption of a federally mandated regulatory regime / ratings system. Any government ratings system would raise serious First Amendment concerns.
- Myth: There is a direct correlation between exposure to violent video games and decline in social and cultural indicators.
No correlation between video games and aggressive behavior has been proven. Moreover, almost every social / cultural indicator of importance, such as juvenile violent crime, has been improving in recent years and decades. These improvements have occurred even as media exposure and video game use among youth has increased.
- Myth: Video games have no social or educational value and instead reflect a new societal preoccupation with violent entertainment.
Contemporary electronic games often require the player to use complex cognitive skills, such as analyzing complex social networks, managing resources, and tracking subtle narrative intertwinings and patterns. Some scholars also believe games can have cathartic benefits. Finally, contrary to what some critics claim, violent themes and images have been part of literature and other forms of entertainment for centuries.
Thierer concludes that legislative proposals to regulate electronic games are driven by myths and misinformation regarding ratings, content and possible effects of the games. The industry has established an independent, comprehensive ratings system that provides extensive descriptive information about game content. This system has so far been effective. A federal regulatory regime could prove to be cumbersome, unconstitutional and have a "chilling" effect on expression and creativity.
The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.