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25 Feb 2009

A Utah bill that's been in gestation for the last six weeks or so -- rumored here, then confirmed here -- has finally come to fruition. GamePolitics reports:

By a 10-3 vote, committee members approved H.B. 353, a bill drafted by Thompson and sponsored by Rep. Mike Morley. The measure targets the video game and film industries by amending Utah's current Truth in Advertising law. Retailers and movie theaters which advertise that they don't sell M-rated games or R-rated movie tickets to underage buyers and then do so would be liable for fines of $2,000 per incident. [...]

HB 353 will now move on to the full Utah House for consideration.

This is a weird bill. Utah's past attempts -- HB 257 in 2006, and HB 50 in 2007 -- essentially tried (and failed) to make it a felony to make M-rated games available to minors. But this one takes a different tack, fining retailers who sell M-rated games to minors, but only *if those retailers have previously advertised that they *do not sell M-rated games to minors. This is certainly less damaging to the game industry than those other bills in that it seems to have more to do with advertising than with the games themselves, but by the same token, it seems like a pretty toothless measure and, as such, a waste of legislative effort.

There's a bigger problem, though. *If you're a gamer, this isn't news, but it's one of those problems that's become so common we've gotten complacent about it: the fact that *our critics are so frequently misinformed, and perhaps more importantly, that our industry never steps up to defend ourselves in light of their lies.

From Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka's testimony in support of HB 353:

Anything we can do to protect our children from the violence, from the filthy pornography that the only way they can get into the pornography is being good at the game. *They work hard and get to certain levels and *when they get to the high enough levels then they get into the pornography - filthy, vile stuff that you would be appalled and never want your children to see. And then as a reward, they get to kill the women...

She's referring to the Grand Theft Auto games, of course, and her inaccuracies are numerous:

  • There is no pornography in GTA, unless your definition of pornography is "any sexual content or reference of any kind". The closest thing you'll get is the Hot Coffee mod for GTA:SA, and the (brief) male nudity in The Lost & The Damned. The comically-low resolution of the former, and the non-sexual nature of the latter, clearly distance them from any generally-accepted concept of pornography.
  • GTA does not have "levels", as it is primarily a sandbox game. The closest analogue is "missions", which do not always have a strictly linear progression, and the games' content does not become any more explicit as players progress.
  • Explicit content is not used as a reward for gameplay. It is simply the overall tone of the games, and many well-regarded movies do exactly the same thing.
  • Killing the prostitutes is not a reward for anything at all, nor is it encouraged. It does provide a marginal "reward" in that you gain a small amount of cash -- should you choose to pick it up -- but this amounts to virtually nothing in the overall game economy and is not generally worth doing.

I understand that people like Ms. Ruzicka are concerned about their children (and other people's children, too, apparently). But it would be nice if the things such people are afraid of were actually real, and not inventions of rumor and fevered imagination.

We as an industry need to be much more proactive about correcting the record on these kinds of things. Allowing our critics -- even those with the best of intentions -- to paint an inaccurate picture of our industry is, in effect, allowing them to control our identity.

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politics video-games