Update on the federal Video Game Decency Act

Censorship masquerades in many forms. This time it has taken the shape of the Video Game Decency Act, the brain child of Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI). Rep. Upton proposes to trot out the FTC as the White Knight to save the children from "indecent, violent or otherwise age-inappropriate content" hidden from the ESRB. While he claims that the legislation was written under the "strict Guidelines of the Constitution" one must wonder which version of the Constitution he's reading - the King James Version? Last I heard, Congress shall make "No Law" respecting the freedom of speech. Every time the government has tried to use private industry ratings or labeling systems as a basis for mandatory regulation, the law has been struck down as unconstitutional. They tried with the MPAA rating system a couple times, to no avail. Moreover, what happens if the industry decides to adopt a different ratings system? What if they decide not to rate their games at all? That would be a reasonable business response to this legislation, as opposed to subjecting one's company to possible sanctions or fines. Wouldn't that be ironic?

The chilling effect of this pending legislation, if adopted, cannot be measured. How much creativity will be stifled by developers who fear that their creation might be modified in such a way so as to offend Rep. Upton, and his ilk? How much cool content will be tossed into the developers'
recycling bin, to avoid the mighty FTC?

If this abortion of a law is actually adopted, the lawyers will have some fun with it for a while, at taxpayer expense. Hopefully a federal judge will have the guts to slap this thing down, on Free Speech grounds. In the mean time, the regulatory environment continues to grow more adversarial between the gaming industry and the government. More cooperation is necessary, and less lunatic legislation.

© Lawrence G. Walters (2011). All rights reserved.