Talk Digital: Censorship in the Gaming Sector

The Digital Hub is once again throwing an elaborate, extravagant exhibition, and once again, they’re focusing on video games. Ordinarily, the Digital Hub’s exhibitions are of little interest to me. They remind me of the time during the the dot-com boom when the company I worked for threw large cocktail parties every week, inviting all their friends around to come and get drunk for free. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves as much as they can without drawing attention to the fact that the emperor is stark bollock naked.

However, their talk about censorship caught my eye for a number of reasons, not least of which the fact that I was invited along by one of the panelists. The first, and hopefully last time I’ll ever be on an email distribution list with Ryan Tubridy.

The talk was actually quite interesting, in spite of the fact that not a whole lot was actually said. Well, there were a lot of words thrown about, but not a lot of points were actually made. This is especially true of the speaker from Trinity College who spoke for ten minutes without saying anything that hadn’t already been said. There was a lot of roundabout talk about self-regulation and the importance of classification, but one of the key issues – the one of “what have we got to protect the children from” – seemed to get lost in the discussion.

Most astounding were the comparisons being made. Karlin Lillington, a fairly tech-savvy young lady, made the comparison between parents letting kids play violent video games and parents letting kids drink alcohol. Likewise, someone else made a comparison to physical/sexual abuse of children.

I mean, let’s not get carried away here, guys.

Although, in the case of alcohol, it seems like an obvious link (giving children access to something they’re not supposed to have), neither of these comparisons hold up to any kind of critical thinking, and only serve to further confuse an already-complicated and emotionally charged issue.

Another thing that came up was America’s Army, one of the most-quoted examples of the dangers of videogames because of its primary use as a ‘recruiting tool’ for the U.S. Army. Although it certainly is a recruiting tool, it is not used to help show people how much fun it is to kill things in the army - if you weren’t already inclined towards joining the army, this game would most certainly not persuade you. Instead, the U.S. Army hope that people who are already predisposed towards this kind of behaviour will play the game, and when they finally do sign up, the recruitment office can instantly call up the player’s stats, to see how well their potential recruit did.

Towards the end, I think everyone was in agreement that censorship was the wrong way to approach this issue, and that classification and education were the way to go. A particularly funny moment came when one of the organisers found out that GTA gives you the ability to have sex with prostitutes, then beat them up and get your money back. “My teenage boys play that game, and I never knew about that.” Cue many sheepish looks when it was pointed out that this game was rated “18”, and her boys shouldn’t have been playing it in the first place. But how does one classify a game like Spore, for example, which is so completely open-ended that virtually anything is possible?

The debate about regulation raised an interesting question, and one that I’ll be thinking about for quite a while… how exactly does one educate parents? Point of sale education isn’t good enough. Part of the problem comes from the perception that “games” are the same as “toys” and, as such, all acceptable for kids. How do we convince parents that there are games made explicitly for adults?