Thou Shalt Play All of Grand Theft Auto

Yesterday, CNET Reported the following:

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) on Tuesday reintroduced the Truth in Video Game Rating Act, first proposed last September. It calls for requiring video game rating organizations to play all games “in their entirety” before issuing labels and prohibiting game developers from withholding any “hidden” game content from raters. It would also punish ratings groups that “grossly mischaracterize” any game’s content.

CNET’s Anne Broache goes on to explain that one of the primary motivations for this revision of the ratings system is that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was easily modified by a downloadable file that turned the game from simply violent, to both violent and pornographic. Had the game been shipped with this pornographic content available, the game would have received a higher rating. So, the Senator is mad that the rating system is being subverted.

The subversion of the ratings system, however, will not be solved through this one mandate. To make the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) ratings affective, Senator Brownback will not only have to mandate that rated games be played “in their entirety,” but that games also be safeguarded against third-party modification.

Third-party modification, referred to as ‘modding,’ has created a huge community of enthusiasts who create everything from World War II battle recreations to J.R.R. Tolkien inspired nerd-fests. Mods can even replace the standard characters of a game with likenesses of politicians or porn stars. (Perhaps an all-Senate version of Quake III is in order?) After Senator Brownback discovers his ‘play the whole game’ law hasn’t put an end to dirty videogames, he’ll have to ban modding as well.

But he can’t stop there! Amateurs are not only modifying games, they’re also creating games out of whole cloth. These communities aren’t bound by laws that govern the sale of video games and are outside the reach of Senator Brownback’s proclivity for censorship, for now. Any non-commercial game would also have to be banned in order for our nation’s children to finally be violence, pornography, or even ‘Comic Mischief’ (defined by the ESRA as “Depictions or dialogue involving slapstick or suggestive humor”).

Of course this would be going too far, especially considering that the overwhelming majority of gamers are adults. In fact, according to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), a mere 31% of gamers are under 18. That means nearly 70% of video game players are adults who are can view pornography or violent films to their hearts content—it should be not different when it comes to video games.

More mandates and regulations won’t keep kids safe from content their parents don’t want them to see. I’m sorry to have to sounds like a cliché, but children simply need parents. Ratings system are a good idea if they’re viewed as the first, rather than the last step in evaluating a movie or game. Senator Brownback and others, in their efforts to make a fool-proof rating, are placing unnecessary mandates on publishers that will ultimately prove futile.

So, nothing beats good old fashioned adult supervision. Or just have your kid play a sport, like hockey or football, to learn about violence firsthand.