The ACLU on Congressman Joe Baca’s Video Game Labeling Bill

The ACLU blog has an interesting comparison of what the comic industry did when German-American psychiatrist Fredric Wertham published "Seduction of the Innocent" a book that claimed that comic books were harming the nation's youngsters. After Congress flexed its muscle and grand-standed on the issue, the comic book industry decided that the best path was to create the Comics Code Authority, which self-regulated all comic books released in the U.S. The system was abandoned just last year.

While the ACLU does not like self-regulation, it says that government controlled regulation is nothing short of an assault on free speech, but the best part of the post are the three points on why the new video game labeling act sponsored by Joe Baca (D-Calif.) and Frank Wolf (R-Va.) is overkill. In case you have forgotten, the bill would put a label on most video games with the following warning: "WARNING: Exposure to violent video games has been linked to aggressive behavior."

Here's why such a law is wrong, according to the ACLU:

1. The warning the bill would require is simply untrue. As with comic books, there is little evidence that violence in video games has any detrimental effect on gamers. In fact, there is countervailing scientific evidence that video games may actually be beneficial in terms of enhancing gamers' problem solving skills. And, as game developers have pointed out, the interactivity of some modern video games can lead players to more closely associate with game characters, and, even more than with other media, to feel guilt and other complex emotions through control over characters' actions.

2. Any time Congress tries to turn the screws on a mass medium, that medium ends up needlessly self-censoring. In response to the Baca/Wolf bill, however, game developers are certain to pump the brakes in terms of creativity and narrative innovation. This is exactly what happened in the 1950s following the Senate hearings on juvenile delinquency and the industry's creation of the Comics Code Authority. Groundbreaking horror and science fiction comics virtually disappeared, leaving the industry dominated almost exclusively by relatively sterile superhero comics.

3. The video game bill interferes with parental rights and obligations. The warnings will undoubtedly chill video game sales, including sales of titles that have little or no violence at all. A not-insignificant subset of parents will unquestioningly take these warnings to heart, and refuse to purchase games for their children (when, in fact, the unsold games would have no harmful effect). Recall that these warning labels would be required for any title above an E rating (there is only one rating below E: EC, for "Early Childhood"). Numerous games without any violent content, like Little Big Planet or the Sims, will be branded with the cigarette-style warning, pushing sales down and chilling speech.

You can read the entire post at ACLU.ORG.

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