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Kreatorino's Blog: U.S. 90's Game Rating Problem Returns

By FallenXE - 28th March 2018 - 16:03 PM

FallenXE, Lead Editor's Notes:

Today we have the pleasure of featuring an article by GameReplay's newest Writer, Kreatorino. Please give him a warm welcome and all your constructive criticism as we delve into his first blog, an examination of guns in the US, and their relation to video games and the industry at large. Do give your thoughts and opinion on the matter below!

Guns in the United States and Games in the world

When the United States of America wants to revive the 90's, we would usually think of movies or music. However, in the last couple of months there has been an increasing activism from different groups to pass new legislations to restrict guns; by looking at how it's used or to stop certain individuals from acquiring them.

So, in and interesting turn of events, we have the President of United States stating saying that there is a lack of restriction rating for violent games and that this does cause violent behaviour. Why is it interesting? Because it opens discussions that were not possible then. It's been over twenty years and new scientific research has been done, about altering brain function to become more aggressive. The counter-point to this is that, games have developed vastly and the society around it since then. So, is there a correlation in the increase of violent games to a more dangerous society? It does not seem like it.

In this short article, I review old information and dare myself to consider new research to see where things stand regarding video games violence.

The Rating System

We'll start by mentioning the Senate hearing in 1993. Involving Sega, Nintendo, the Video Software Dealer Association and Senator Joe Lieberman. It was brought up by Herb Kohl and Joe Lieberman himself who deemed video games, such as Mortal Kombat, unfit for minors. This made the Senate have two possible solutions; either to let video game companies come up with their own rating system or let the senate do it for them.

In 1994, the Entertainment Software Rating E.R.S.B. was established to deal and assign ratings to games, which is based in a combination of 5 levels for different ages, similar to motion picture rating system, with a content description system.

Not too long ago, in 2011, E.S.R.B. changed their rating procedures. Having opted to do it automatically rather than hiring humans. The amount of games been developed and the amount of hours needed to rated them exactly, became an immense task. This new system also added a solution to games which are online only. Never the less, these downloadable-only games will not have someone at E.S.R.B. review until after release, since some rating process will be automated.

The rating system is there and has little room for improvement as the idea is to give parents or the individual purchasing the game the freedom to determine themselves if the game is fit them. However, in 2005, a private company called PSVratings tried to substitute E.R.S.B. They made the claim that a traffic like system would work much better and without disruption of their 1st amendment. It would work just like if you were to purchase packaged food, you'll see categories of Salt, Calories, Saturates, Fats and Sugars with a colour background showing the amount in the product. Red = high, yellow = moderate, green = low.

The Exposure to violence inhabits people to it argument

We'll consider a couple of academic research before we deal with this claim, while recognising that the E.R.S.B. is a private company.

The fear of being exposed to realistic violence through video games makes ground for academic research, and these came to the conclusion that a connection exist. Craig A. Anderson and Brad J. Bushman research regarding aggressive behaviour test states: “Across the 33 independent tests of the relation between video-games violence and aggression, involving 3.033 participants, the average effect size was positive and significant. High video game violence was definitely associated with heightened aggression. Indeed, this effect of violent video games on aggression is as strong as the effect of condom use on risk of HIV infection.”

Now lets look at the conclusion from Lillian Bensley and Juliet Van Eenwyk who have reviewed and examined different studies done between the 80's and late 90's “Our literature review was limited to examining the associations between video games with aggressive content and aggressive and antisocial thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Negative effects other than increasing aggression, such as reinforcing racist or sexist stereotypes, have also been suggested. However, video games may also have positive effects such as training spatial skills or divided-attention performance or helping some youth deal with developmental issues”. They also comment on one of the studies done by Weaver and Zillman that argued “persons who are already callous and harbor social discontent and hostility, should be most receptive of the supportive information contained in violent displays. . .persons without such inclinations should find it hard to accept the concept that violent actions are acceptable means of conflict resolution, if only because they respond with empathic distress to portrayals of coercion and victimisation”.

A few more research to mentioned:
  • The research done by Ren Weber:http://ocw.metu.edu.tr/pluginfile.php/4825...k4/Weber_MP.pdf
    To see if the brain of a non-violent person reacts the same way as a person with violent behaviour when playing violent video-games. By having them monitored using a fMRI scanner. The test looked at key regions of the brain, the amygdala and the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC).

  • One week of violent video games alter brain function in young men by Dr. Yang Wang: https://www2.rsna.org/timssnet/Media/pressr...rget.cfm?id=570
    A test done to 22 young men of age 18-29, half of them were to play violent video games for a week and the other half weren't.

  • Research done by JAMA Pediatrics: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediat...article/1850198
    This looked at the long term behaviour effects of 3034 children through-out a period of 3 years. The children were given empathic tests. With statement like “When I see a student that is upset, it really bothers me” or questions like “Suppose a boy says something bad to another boy, John. Do you think it’s wrong for John to hit him? ” Then student had to respond in a 4-point scale for each statement.

The First Amendment

There is either not much or a lot to say about it, since you could focus by the fact that is either generally known, or how important United States history is. This is because it laid a great foundation for cases and scenarios like the one we are tackling in this article. Without it, results would have outcome to a very different life for different social groups. The gaming community would have not been the one we see today. This is the bill of rights that protects free speech including the press, beliefs, assembly and alike. The amendment looks at the government as an adversary to the people and keep it a bay and allows the people have debates, conflict of interest, secularity.

How well is this amendment held? Well that depends. The Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School case determined that minors are not completely protected by it. The students of the school had planned to show their support for a truce in the Vietnam War in different ways, for instance they wore a black armband.

Now the school had prohibit such possible action from the students, ending in the students suing Des Moines, because the school was violating the students right of expression.

I welcome you to read further into this case but my conclusion is that we can all say fuck at any time, but to go to a specific place in a group of let say 100 and say fuck with a megaphone while holding signs for 2 hours, this are two different things. Then this is the difference of how the first amendment is used. Establishments are in their right to prohibit, banned actions that do disrupt their operations.

The Brown v Entertainment Merchant Association Case.

Before this case took place, there were other previous attempts to legislate some sort of regulatory control to prevent sales of video-games to minors, E.S.A. was involved in these proposed state laws in Michigan and Illinois. (Later on in 2006 the E.S.A. v Foti case had the same outcome, that is the court ruling in favour of E.S.A.).

The Brown case is also known as the Schwarzenegger v E.S.A. case. Involving the Senator of the state of California Leland Yee at first, which passed the AB1179 bill in 2005. So for a time under 18s would have been unable to buy violent video games, plus adding extra modification to labelling the game box/case. Governor Arnold passed it as law in October of 2015 and then the Entertainment Merchant Association were preparing a lawsuit to overturn the law. Their concern regarding the effect is going to have in the gaming industry was heard, but it was the ambiguity of the term violent games which lead to the a court hearing. The outcome may be not to surprising as the court rule against the law been enforced.

What is surprising is that Schwarzenegger appealed not once but twice against the court ruling to allow something that he vigorously defended. First through the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, but again they could not show the court how harmful were these violent video games that all their assertions were merely conjectural, also if the law was passed it implied that the state could control the minors thoughts and that wasn't their intent. Other facts were considered to rule against the appeal.

When Schwarzenegger appealed for the second time, he went straight to the Supreme Court. He and the Entertainment Consumer Association took another approach to deal with the appeal. They decided to launch an online petition, which then followed by a couple of organisation advising the court to consider social research through an amicus brief. Games like Portal 2 and Super Mario Bros. were cited as violent in this brief but in the end the court agreed that if there was a way to uphold this law, it would require a novel extension to the first amendment principles to expression concerning violence. Therefore making video-games as much entitle to free speech as the best of literature.

The decision was not pleasing for those who supported the law, stating that the court had ruled for companies profit over the well being of the children of California.


Video-games are not a simple thing to deal with, they don't serve a single purpose and if they do they then is really hard to pin-point what it is. If we look at video games as an art then the question arises of how much of it is art and how much is made through graphs and statistical methods. As an artist there comes a point were your art does not become personal anymore. Because it has to sell and what you do doesn't sell. So how much of it is your art and how much is just a blueprint? There is certainly research showing their effect, and altering perception, brain function, behaviour. But there is no research showing an exact match if a violent act been committed due to a specific video game. Video games do change people's personality due to peer behaviour. Language changes and new ways to support yourself while gaming arise and are created, but this is not exclusive to video-games since other entertainment mediums have done it for a lot longer.

If a new law is intended to be pass at any point in the future and considering that video games are untouchable, at least in my eyes, then I would guess a law would be aimed to developers, distributors and publisher. Retailers are not the go to place for video-games, at least here in the UK. For myself I literally just buy games online now and many old classics are now free online, where do I find mods?. This is not a concern of getting violent video-games online but one of keeping my personal information private.

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