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Vi Simpson and video games

By Scott Tibbs, June 6, 2012

Now that Vi Simpson is the Democrats' candidate for lieutenant governor, gamers in Indiana should take a look at her record. In December 2005, she issued a news release that was quoted by the Herald-Times, explaining why she was proposing new restrictions on the sale of violent video games:

Right now, kids can walk into just about any store and get their hands on a video game in which they can shoot police officers, use drugs, steal cars, rape women or even assassinate a president.

The first three claims were accurate. Grand Theft Auto allows players to steal cars (duh) and shoot police officers, while the critically panned NARC allowed drug use. The last two claims were not accurate.

There is no question that video games are much more violent and have much more sexual content today than 25 years ago, and that was also the case in 2005. That said, I do not know of any game on the market in 2005 - or today, for that matter - that allows the player to engage in sexual assault. I sent an e-mail to Senator Simpson questioning her about this and her legislative aide was unable to provide the name of one video game that allows the player to do that. The aide suggested that Senator Simpson was misquoted.

That's right. Vi Simpson was allegedly misquoted in her own news release.

The claim that players can "assassinate a president" is misleading and factually inaccurate. There was a PC game released in 2004 that allowed people to re-enact the JFK shooting, but no one could "walk into just about any store" and buy it - or any store at all for that matter. The game was only available via download. Again, we have a politician proposing regulations on an industry while not having all of the facts about what she is regulating.

Here's the problem with using games like that to attack the video game industry. The PC game market and the console game market are completely different animals. No one can make a game for any console without the permission of the console's manufacturer. In the 1980's, Atari lost a lawsuit in which they tried to prevent others from making games for their system. They lost because the Atari 2600 had no custom hardware. Every console since then has had custom hardware that allows console manufacturers to control what games come out on their system.

The PC market is completely different. Anyone with programming skills can make a PC game right now. We have seen this with an explosion of flash-based web games, as well as games that can be downloaded. If you have the programming skills, you can market a PC game literally form your home - but you cannot do that on a console. Think of it this way - no one needs permission from Microsoft to write a program that will run on Windows, but they cannot make an X-Box game unless Microsoft approves. Because of this, it is either ignorant or dishonest to attack the console market based on games only available on the PC.

This is the problem when politicians try to regulate video games. They often do not have the facts about what they are regulating, and sometimes (as was the case with the hysteria over "Night Trap" in 1994) they simply make things up out of thin air. The fact that Simpson made a claim about specific content in games while being unable to name a single game with that content is troubling, especially since she was proposing legislation to regulate it.

This is not the kind of lieutenant governor we need!