U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) went for the heartstrings on June 20 when he held a press conference to announce his disdain for the soon-to-be-released video game 25 To Life. Among those surrounding the senator was Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmans Benevolent Association, and Rose Nemorin, widow of a New York detective killed in the line of duty in 2003.
At issue is the game’s violent story line. In it, players decide whether they want to be a cop or a gangster. If they choose the latter, in some instances they may actually “kill” police officers. Schumer’s main contention is with the gangsters, such as Freeze, a recently released bad guy who, during the game’s missions, actively targets police and uses innocent bystanders as human shields in a bloody shooting spree.
For Senator Schumer, that kind of graphic and realistic violence is beyond the pale.
“Little Johnny should be learning how to read, not how to kill cops,” Schumer said in a press release. “The bottom line is that games that are aimed and marketed at kids shouldnt desensitize them to death and destruction.”
Eidos, 25 to Lifes manufacturer, wouldnt comment on Schumers remarks. But given the past success of titles such as the Grand Theft Auto franchise, its unlikely that the game, when it’s released in August, will be withheld from either the Microsoft Xbox or Sony Playstation 2 as a result of Schumers opposition.
As game companies develop more adult-themes games, though, a chorus of politicians and various non-government bodies are trying to stifle these developers, which may generate more debates about free speech.
Last month, the Illinois state legislature passed “Safe Games Illinois,” a bill sponsored by Governor Rod Blagojevich that would make it illegal to sell M-rated video games to anyone under the age of 17. Once the governor signs the bill into law, which should happen within 60 days, any retailer who sells an M-rated game to an underage consumer will be hit with a $1,000 fine. What’s more, inadequate signage in a store alerting consumers to the law will lead to a $500 fine for the retailer.
The Safe Games bill is just the latest attempt to legislate against video game violence. Last month in California, a similar bill, sponsored by San Francisco Democratic Assemblyman Leland Yee, was narrowly defeated in committee. Yee has pledged to resurrect the bill, though. And other bills are in various stages of legislation in North Carolina, Georgia, and Washington DC.
Schumer, Blagojevich, and Yee join a long line of politicians who have spoken out against violence in video games over the years – and gained popular sympathy in the process.
Nevertheless, battles against video games have been largely won by the video game industry, as judges have ruled that banning such products based on their perceived affects violates free speech. The video game industry has implemented an age-appropriate rating system: E for everyone, T for teen, and M for mature. Similar to an R movie rating, an M rating for a video game means it’s not recommended for anyone under the age of 17.