Arrival of TV spawned new interest in effects – seemed more influential.
Early studies focused on exposure.
Less emphasis on direct effect, more on cognition.
Emphasis also shifted to longer term effect.
Political campaigns, agenda setting, etc important during this phase.
Audience now seen as less powerful (again)
In the early 80s, one game was “training people how to kill” according to English ministers. Moves were made to clean up the video game industry because of the “realistic images of death the rewarding of wholesale slaughter.”
Death Race, Custer’s Revenge, Night Trap; DooM, Quake, Mortal Kombat and many others become points of public debate.
1993 – Rise of the ESRB
The Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA), now called the Entertainment Software Association, worked with the US Government to create a game review and censorship board, the Electronic Software Review Board.
The ESRB had to legally define ‘interactivity’, ‘identification’ and continues to struggle with the same questions that face game writers, while working to censor inappropriate game content.
ESRB List of Game Content Warnings - Gamespot
Alcohol Reference - Reference to and/or images of alcoholic beverages Animated Blood - Cartoon or pixilated depictions of blood Blood - Depictions of blood Blood and Gore - Depictions of blood or the mutilation of body parts Cartoon Violence - Violent actions involving cartoon-like characters. May include violence where a character is unharmed after the action has been inflicted Comic Mischief - Scenes depicting slapstick or gross vulgar humor Crude Humor - Moderately vulgar antics, including bathroom humor Drug Reference - Reference to and/or images of illegal drugs Edutainment - Content of product provides user with specific skills development or reinforcement learning within an entertainment setting. Skill development is an integral part of product Fantasy Violence - Violent actions of a fantasy nature, involving human or non-human characters in situations easily distinguishable from real life Gambling - Betting like behavior Informational - Overall content of product contains data, facts, resource information, reference materials or instructional text Intense Violence - Graphic and realistic-looking depictions of physical conflict. May involve extreme and/or realistic blood, gore, weapons, and depictions of human injury and death Mature Humor - Vulgar and/or crude jokes and antics including "bathroom" humor Mature Sexual Themes - Provocative material, possibly including partial nudity Mild Language - Mild references to profanity, sexuality, violence, alcohol, or drug use Mild Lyrics - Mild references to profanity, sexuality, violence, alcohol, or drug use in music Mild Violence - Mild scenes depicting characters in unsafe and/or violent situations Nudity - Graphic or prolonged depictions of nudity Partial Nudity - Brief and mild depictions of nudity Sexual Violence - Depictions of rape or other sexual acts Some Adult Assistance May Be Needed - Early Childhood Descriptor only Strong Language - Profanity and explicit references to sexuality, violence, alcohol, or drug use Strong Lyrics - Profanity and explicit references to sex, violence, alcohol, or drug use in music Strong Sexual Content - Graphic depiction of sexual behavior, possibly including nudity Suggestive Themes - Mild provocative references or materials Tobacco Reference - Reference to and/or images of tobacco products Use of Drugs - The consumption or use of illegal drugs Use of Alcohol - The consumption of alcoholic beverages Use of Tobacco - The consumption of tobacco products Violence - Scenes involving aggressive conflict
Additionally, online games that include user-generated content (e.g., chat, maps, skins) carry the notice "Game Experience May Change During Online Play" to warn consumers that content created by players of the game has not been rated by the ESRB.
Search for A Scapegoat
Discussions of effects are almost ALWAYS political.
Social problems require complex thinking, people don’t want that.
Politicians tend to think short-term (election cycles).
Not just games – similar concerns raised over books, magazines, radio, cinema, TV and the Internet.
“ The Government takes the issue of violence in films, computer games and publications very seriously. We will continue to ensure games with violent content are banned in this country or strictly regulated in a manner that supports informed decision-making by consumers, particularly parents.”
Simple Ideas, Complex Behaviours
Search for effects denies complexity of social behaviours.
Games are social technologies
Are part of a pattern of interdependent media consumption.
Reductive focus on effects can sometimes obscure more pertinent facts.
Portrayed in American History X (R) , used later in Gears of War (MA)
Effects and Catharsis
Catharsis: the process of releasing strong emotions through a particular activity or experience, such as writing or theatre, which helps you to understand those emotions.
People with predisposition to aggression can be helped by playing games, hurt by bans.
Still very simplistic – assumes a very cause and effect dynamic.
Not strongly supported by literature – more difficult to prove in lab studies.
Some interesting survey results – heavy game players found to exhibit more pro-social behaviour
The Political Interface
Games classified by OFLC, using similar guidelines to film and video.
No “R” rating for games – highest is “MA”. Assumes only kids play games.
PS2 game Grand Theft Auto 3 (2002) banned (only country to do so)
BMX XXX (2002) banned.
Manhunt (2004) banned
Leisure Suit Larry (2004) banned
NARC (2005) banned
GTA San Andreas (2005) banned
Getting Up (2006) banned
Case Study: The Banning of GTA3
GTA first released on PC by Rockstar Games in 1997. GTA 3 was first released for PS2 in 2001.
World exploration based on criminal themes.
Broad mission structure, (stealing cars to commit crimes).
Other activities – taxi driving, firefighting which have no impact on the missions.
2D, 3D and Impact.
2D, 3D Continued
Game was assessed in-house, under Section 18.3 of Classification Act.
Released with MA 15+ rating in late October, with “High Level Animated Violence” warning.
November 6 OFLC contacted Take-2, disagreed with the in-house classification.
Main complaint: portrayal of “sexualised violence”
Game was subsequently withdrawn, just prior to Christmas
Take-2 appealed under Section 43, generating Review Board hearing.
Appeal took two lines of argument:
“ Sexualised violence” was not in the Classification Code
The link between picking up a prostitute and subsequent violence was tenuous at best.
The Review Board dismissed the appeal.
Did note that had a “R” rating been available, issue might not have arisen at all.
Games classified according to the same basic guidelines as books, magazines, films, DVDs etc.
Games look like some of these media, but interactivity makes them qualitatively different.
Interactivity also concerns the OFLC: “ because of their ‘interactive nature’ (games) may have greater impact, and therefore greater potential for harm or detriment, on young minds than film or videotape ”
Interactivity and Classification
Interactivity problematic for classification bodies; what does the player actually do?
Many games are classified on the basis of video excerpts, allowing no interactivity.
Would actual copies be any better? (expertise)
Gameplay varies from between players, and from one session to the next. How much review is adequate?
Questions still remain about “effects”
The violence debate is still open; but we know that videogame violence somehow increases some aspects of violent thoughts. Does thought then go onto behaviour?
Games are a convergent form – different media combined with interactivity. A lot of film-relevant censoring goes on – maybe it should be that way?
The games industry needs to grow up.. but so do our politicians!