When President-elect Barack Obama announced this week that Sen. Hillary Clinton was his choice for Secretary of State, we noted that the diplomatic nature of her new job would distance the former First Lady from domestic social issues, including those relating to video game content.
And, as Hillary moves away from the video game arena, one thing becomes clear: The video game industry no longer faces any high-profile political opposition in the United States. Sounds crazy, I know. But consider that, in 2008:
- Jack Thompson self-destructed. Sure, Thompson will still be a critic, but his recent lifetime disbarment flushed whatever mainstream credibility he had left.
- The National Institute on Media and the Family was co-opted by the video game industry. Earlier this year NIMF accepted a $50,000 grant from the ESA, a mind-bogglingly bad decision. How does a watchdog organization justify taking money from the people it is supposed to be watching? Not surprisingly, NIMF’s 2008 Annual Video Game Report Card was a valentine to the game biz.
- Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has, for some time, been preoccupied by internecine battles with his former friends in the Democratic Party. He hasn’t been heard from as a game industry critic since he stood with David Walsh during the release of NIMF’s 2007 report card. In fact, most recently, Lieberman (and Clinton) offered their support for the ESRB’s new game rating summaries.
- Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), as mentioned, will be focused on foreign affairs.
There are remaining critics, to be sure, but they are fragmented and most lack the national profile of Thompson, Walsh, Lieberman and Clinton. Will one of these emerge to fill the void? Hit the jump to see…
- Mitt Romney – the former Massachusetts governor is a likely contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. In his 2008 bid he was a strong critic of content in games and other media. Lately, however, he has been keeping a low profile. It’s likely that his team is strategizing for Romney’s next run. Will games be a focus? That’s hard to say, but far-right Republicanism is out of fashion these days and Romney is known to go with prevailing winds.
- Lt. Col David Grossman (US Army, ret.) – Grossman has been in the national spotlight in the past, but in recent years he seems content to stick to the lecture circuit where he address law enforcement and education groups, primarily. He is a srident game violence critic, however.
- State Sen. Leland Yee (D) – Having pushed California’s video game law through the legislative process, Yee is definitely a player. But at this point there is little for him to do except await the ruling of the 9th US Circuit Court on the California law. And, whatever happens at that level, many observers expect the California law to wind up before the US Supreme Court. Beyond that, Yee is an active legislator who works hard to serve his San Francisco-area constituency. Games are far from the only issue he needs to concern himself with.
- Parents Television Council – The Los Angeles-based morality group has been a harsh, albeit occasional, critic of game issues. As their name implies, they seem much more focused on TV content.
- Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood – the Boston-area group generally seems to tackle game issues when one of Rockstar’s high-profile titles comes along. They lobbied successfully to get GTA Vice City Stories ads removed from Boston’s transit system and called for an AO rating for Manhunt 2 (which the ESRB had already decided). Although the group is active on other issues, games do not seem much on their radar these days.
- Lyndon LaRouche – the fringe LaRouche political cult was all over the game violence issue after Virginia Tech, but seems to have dropped it in favor its traditional economic and political conspiracy theories. In any case, credibility is nil.
There are, of couse, other critics, among them, politicians. Bills targeting the ESRB rating process are currently active in the House and Senate. But these are viewed – at least from here – at election year posturing. They are expected to die when the 110th Congress closes up shop on January 3rd.
At the state level there hasn’t been a significant law passed since 2006. This year’s New York statute is toothless political fluff. How can we tell? Note that the game industry hasn’t moved against it in federal court.
There are academic critics as well, most notable Brad Bushman of the University of Michigan, Craig Anderson of Iowa State and Karen Dill of North Carolina’s Lenoir-Rhyne College. But while the academics occasionally author a book, pen an article or testify before Congress, they do not appear well-suited to the advocate’s role.
To be sure, the industry deserves credit for making its own path less difficult. Patricia Vance and the ESRB, in particular, have achieved a remarkable transformation since the 2005 Hot Coffee fiasco rocked the game biz to its core. Over the last 18 months, however, the rating organization has conducted a tireless outreach campaign in an effort to win over key state-level politicians. ESRB has also added useful educational and content evaluation tools for parents.
At the sharp end, Mike Gallagher’s Entertainment Software Association has pursued the traditional lobbying route. The ESA has spread cash around via political campaign contributions as well as its newly-purchased friendship with NIMF.
At the state level, legislators who might once have been giving thought to proposing game legislation are now beginning to pay attention to costly legal defeats in places like Louisiana, Illinois and Minnesota.
Thus, a combination of serendipity and legal success leaves the U.S. game industry without a high-level watchdog – at least for now.