GTA: Sex, Violence, and Video Games - Teasing out the Issues
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At least one commentator has observed that the simulated sex scene looks like the misdirection of a professional magician – after all, any teen-age gamer who can download and use the hack to reveal that content can probably circumvent any porn filters his parents put on the computer and find the real thing. Rather, it raises the question of the effect the games themselves have on those who play them. In the hands of a stressed-out thirty-something programmer, a first-person shooter can be a great way to let off some steam. But what lessons does an impressionable teen-ager learn from such a game? This is the whole point of the ratings system.
Some gamers have objected to criticism of the game, in the face of the recent furor over the sexual content, as an assault on free speech. They rightly point out the hypocrisy connected with allowing graphic depictions of violence while raising a hue and cry over cartoon sex. Their arguments miss the heart of the matter.
In a word, it is responsibility. Game companies need to take responsibility to make sure their games go through the quality checking process appropriately. This way, the ESRB can rate them appropriately, and parents can choose to take responsibility for what games they allow their children to play – even if they don’t play the games themselves, parents will at least know what to expect.
Unfortunately, taking responsibility isn’t as easy as it looks, particularly in the face of hackers. In a recent press release, the ESRB called on “the computer and video-game industry to proactively protect their games from illegal modifications by third parties, particularly when they serve to undermine the accuracy of the rating.” According to ESRB vice president Patricia Vance, a parent “doesn’t necessarily know that mods are available for their 13-year-old to go out and find that could radically alter the product. If the rating itself is being undermined by third-party modification, I think we as an industry need to figure out what to do about it.”
Take Two president Paul Eibeler considers this a difficult task. He observed that “the decision to re-rate a game based on an unauthorized third party modification presents a new challenge for parents, the interactive entertainment community and anyone who distributes or consumes digital content.” While one game company did sue when hackers modded one of its games, it is nearly impossible to prevent modders from discovering a game’s secrets and posting hacks that add their own touch. Unless game companies want to go after everyone they suspect of breaking click-wrap contracts – which would be prohibitively expensive in terms of money and goodwill – they will have to become more careful about what they leave on the disk. If they do not, they will find themselves targeted by heavier guns than they put into their own games – with the government holding the trigger.
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