Under-fire video games industry to sponsor politicians
February 4, 2008
Tired of being slapped around by politicians, judges and
sundry conservatives, the video games business in the US
is fighting back with an age-old weapon ... money.
The business is on a roll. No one told gamers that consumer spending was slowing in 2007; instead they bought $17.94bn (£9bn) worth of hardware, software and accessories, up a remarkable 43% from the $12.53bn spent in 2006.
Despite its contribution to the economy, the business is often criticised as a purveyor of sex and violence, based on releases such as Grand Theft Auto and Manhunt 2, which last year became the first game to be banned in the UK for 10 years.
In the US, vote-seeking politicians usually lead the call for legislation to regulate the video games makers.
"Modern-day McCarthyism" is how David Riley, an analyst with NPD Group, describes the attitude to gaming companies, referring back to the blacklisting of supposed communists in the 1950s.
NPD compiled the latest US sales statistics for 2007, which showed that only 15.5% of games sold were rated "M" for Mature as compared with the 56.5% of games sold rated "Everyone 10+" or lower and the 28% of games that were rated "T" for Teen.
The message that lots more people are playing Mario than Manhunt is not getting through to Washington DC so the industry's lobby group, the Entertainment Software Association is hoping sending money will create a new atmosphere of understanding.
In the arcane world of US political financing, the ESA intends to set up political action committees (PACs), starting in March, for various candidates and fund them with between $50,000 and $100,000. Such gestures are renowned for suddenly making candidates more understanding of an industry's position.
Funding politicians is a time-honoured tradition of the film and music businesses, which no longer receive the vitriol reserved for video games makers.
Details of who will receive the ESA largesse is unknown as its president, Michael Gallagher, unusually for a lobbyist, rebuffed several requests for an interview for this article. But the anti-games lobby is threatening retaliation. "Let me be clear of our intentions," said Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, a watchdog that rails against what it deems offensive on TV and in other media. "Any public servant who cashes a cheque from the video games industry will be exposed by the PTC as taking a stand against families, and his or her actions will be communicated to constituents in his or her congressional district."
Even though video games are rated in a similar fashion to films, the PTC blames the industry – and not parents – if children buy and play video games with a Mature rating.
"The video game industry continues to fight meaningful accountability for selling inappropriate material to children. The industry has been exposed repeatedly for its reprehensible behaviour and now they are looking for ways to buy friends in the government," said Winter.
When it comes to the candidates for US president, their thoughts on video games reveal that the ESA has its work cut out. Democratic frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, together with Republican Mitt Romney, answered a written question on whether they would they support legislation to keep the video games industry and other media companies from marketing and selling inappropriate content to children.
Senator Clinton, who in fact sponsored a bill called the Family Entertainment Protection Act two years ago after the scandal of hidden sexual content in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, said: "When I am president, I will work to protect children from inappropriate video game content."
Senator Obama too saw some role for government. "Even if the industry does do some responsible self-policing, there's still a role for the federal government to play. We need to understand the impact of these new media better. That's why I supported federal funding to study the impact of video games on children's cognitive development."
Governor Romney was less circumspect: "I want to restore values so children are protected from a societal cesspool of filth, pornography, violence, sex, and perversion. I've proposed that we enforce our obscenity laws again and that we get serious against those retailers that sell adult video games that are filled with violence and that we go after those retailers."
Video gamers were out in force on blogs recognising that the donations were necessary. "The simple side of this whole issue is that, though this gigantic pile of bullshit is reprehensible in the extreme, it's the bare minimum any industry in this country is required to do just to gain enough respect not to be hammered with oversight and ridiculous laws limiting their scope," blogged Kristopher Katz, webmaster for ZeroSpoilers.com on the ShackNews.com site.
"This is simply the most expedient and effective way to ensure our pastime's survival, until cooler heads prevail. It worked for the film industry, it can work for us," he added.