In its latest 'debate club' chat, gaming community service Xfire brought together California state senator Leland Yee, ECA CEO Hal Halpin, Parents Television Council's Dan Isett, and more to discuss censorship in video games.
Moderated by Stanford University's Henry Lowood, the guests also included GamePolitics' Dennis McCauley, Escapist Magazine's Russ Pitts, and game researcher Matteo Bittanti, but it was Yee who was the most vocal in his opinions on the matter.
A long outspoken critic
of violent games, especially in their continued availability to children, Yee said his first exposure to what he sees as the problem came when a member of his staff noticed a 13 year old boy purchasing Grand Theft Auto
at a local mall.
"I subsequently saw video of games like Postal and witnessed some of degrading and violent behavior in these games," said Yee. "My background as a child psychologist provided me with an insight into the dangers here. I then proceeded to talk with other psychologist, psychiatrists, and saw there was extensive research here."
Asked if the U.S. Congress should be the party regulating game sales, Yee was outspoken in his support for legislation, saying, "the only way we are going to get close to [no child being able to purchase violent games] is by having some type of penalty associated with it. In addition, as long as the industry is rating their own games, we have an inherent conflict of interest."
"When every leading psychological association supported my legislation and states they believe there is a link between ultra violent video games and real life aggression," Yee said, "then we need to step back and do something. We can't wait for years to go by before we realize there is a problem. We did that with global warming and now look at the result."
Asked specifically about Yee's continued efforts to pass legislation
in California requiring warning labels on mature rated games, Hal Halpin said that the IEMA's opposition to the measures were based on the bill's "attempt to legislate the retailers into doing that which they were already doing voluntarily."
"They absolutely were not doing that," said Yee. "Very few stores had such signage or brochures prior to that bill. And if they were already do it, then why oppose it?"
Halpin responded, "We opposed it because the 'very few' you're referring to were our members, who at the time represented almost 90% of how games got sold."
Halpin also posed the question directly to the senator, asking what could be done to "work cooperatively with the ratings systems to better educate and empower parents in making the right purchasing decisions."
The senator responded by saying, "I absolutely want to work with the industry, but at times the industry has stood in the way of that. The industry even opposed legislation I had the year prior to just have a brochure available explaining the rating system and posting it so parents know what to look for," adding that "cooperation needs to come from [the industry], as well."
"I wanted to do a PSA," said Yee, "and the ESRB said I couldn't even use their ratings labels."
The debate ended on a somewhat more conciliatory note, though, with an audience asking if games should include in-game options for censorship.
"The four major platforms (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii and Vista)," noted Halpin, "all have parental controls. They just need parents to use them."
Yee responded, "We can work together on that, Hal!"
The full transcript
of the 'Two Handed Sword' debate can be found via Xfire's website, with more from all the guests on differing standards for other media, and further debate on whether the interactive nature of games should qualify them for more scrutiny.