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Bayh's video game crusade misguided

By Scott Tibbs, December 5, 2005

The front page of the December 2 Indianapolis Star revealed an attempt by Senator Evan Bayh to put "teeth" behind the video game ratings system. The ratings were implemented a decade ago in response to outrage by some over games such as "Mortal Kombat" and "Night trap". Now, the "Grand Theft Auto" series is the flagship for the crusade by folks like Bayh, Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton to get the federal government to regulate the video game industry.

Right off the bat, the Star article misses the point. The Star describes "The Warriors" from Rockstar Games and "True Crime: New York City" in an incomplete way. Under a picture of the game box for "The Warriors" is the text "gang warfare against police". Under a picture of the game box for "True Crime: New York City" is the text "a rogue police officer guns down people".

Both descriptions are only half true. The characters in "The Warriors" do indeed fight police, but the majority of the game is spent fighting other gangs. In two levels where the police are after the Warriors, the goal is to stay away from them so as not to get arrested.

The description for "True Crime" also leaves out quite a bit. The player can choose to go rogue, but can also choose a cleaner path. The game offers the option of using stun guns and other means to take down criminals with non-lethal force. You get both "good cop" points and career points for using non-lethal force to take down an enemy who is shooting at you with intent to kill. The main goal of the story is to bring justice to the people who murdered the lead character's mentor, helping the FBI bust up major organized crime syndicates along the way.

If you are only following this story through the mainstream media's coverage, this may be the first time you are hearing the complete facts. I doubt any of the reporters have actually played any of the games they are writing about. While I don't expect reporters to play every game they write about, it would be nice if they would try to gather the complete facts instead of simply regurgitating the press releases of an activist group criticizing violent games.

There is no question that many of the games out there are not for children: that is why the ratings system was developed in the 1990's. That applies to movies, television and music as well. Games like "Grand Theft Auto" already have the equivalent of an "R" rating, meaning that they are not for anyone under 17 years old. Even before the controversy arose last summer about a hidden sex scene in GTA, the box already had a warning about "strong sexual content" in the game.

Bayh proposes "fines of up to $1,000" to stores that sell M-rated games to anyone under 17 without parental permission. Why the focus on video games? I observed pre-teens walking out of a showing of the horror movie "Freddy vs. Jason". I also observed pre-teens walking out of a showing of "The Patriot", which features gruesome death and dismemberment in Revolutionary War battles. Why do Clinton, Bayh and Lieberman believe the federal government needs to step in to mandate enforcement of the rating system for video games but not for movies? I am sure this has absolutely nothing to do with significant campaign contributions to Democrats from Hollywood.

Why does the federal government need to regulate the sales of video games in the first place? What business does the United States Senate have in regulating sales at the local Target or Wal-Mart? While video game software and consoles are sold nationwide and the federal government is Constitutionally empowered to regulate interstate commerce, Bayh is proposing federal legislation to regulate individual transactions in local stores.

Whether these laws are a good idea or not, the proper place for the laws to be passed is by the state legislatures, not the Congress. We do not need more nanny state protections from Washington, nor do we need an opportunity for the already-bloated federal government to get even bigger. Evan Bayh may believe his proposals are in line with First Amendment free speech protections, but it is certainly at odds with the Tenth Amendment's statement that "the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."