‘It is only sensible for external forms of censorship to control games production, as the industry itself cares only about profit and sales’.


The games industry is a multi billion pound industry with one company, EA Games, generating revenue in excess of 2.9 billion last year. However, due to the fiscal pressures laden on the industry, profit and sales are the only considerations of the majority of companies. It is essential for external forms of censorship to control games production as all industries worldwide should have external rules or regulations governing them. Without such watchdogs, explicit and decrepit material would be easily available to our youth. However, it should be noted that these watchdogs do make mistakes in their assumptions and at times, some decisions can be ludicrous.

Censorship in games would be defined as “Any attempt, whether successful or not, made by any group or individual to restrict public access to computer games on the grounds that a lack of such regulation would lead to moral and/or psychological corruption among some or all sections of the population.” [ 1 ] This considers classification as a form of censorship. Classification should be considered as an extremely positive and important influence as it helps prevent minors from interacting with unsuitable content. Only in extreme circumstances should a game be banned from the adult population. Our right to freedom of expression should not be infringed on.

Often something that is acceptable in one region may not be in another. Particularly, Japanese society is more permissive when dealing with offensive language and adult content. There have been many occasions of controversy in games in the US whilst the same game in Japan would have passed without notoriety. [ 2 ] Devil May Cry, God Hand and Samurai Spirits were all censored in their US versions. If it is acceptable in one culture, it should not be censored or banned outright in another. Giving these titles an adult rating would have sufficed.

Lobbyists in favour of banning games do have some reasons for concern. In 2002, two men died from South Korea and Taiwan. Both had played computer games continuously for 86 and 32 hours respectively. [ 3 ] In 2005, a 28 year old South Korean man died after playing the MMORPG, World of Warcraft, for 50 hours straight. [ 4 ] His funeral was held online but was overshadowed by the death of another gamer who played the same game. [ 5 ] All of these people had not slept properly and consumed very little food. The similarities in these cases suggest it was more a case of exhaustion and malnourishment than any moral or psychological corruption. The developers cannot be blamed if their users find their games excessively addictive. All these people had a choice.

Violence is one of the major themes in majority of games which are banned. In 2003, two American step brothers, Joshua and William Buckner, aged 14 and 16 respectively, fired shots at vehicles killing a man and wounding a 19-year-old woman, claiming to have been inspired by GTA III. [ 17 ] In 2003, 18-year-old American Devin Moore stole a vehicle, shot and killed three police officers after grabbing one of the officers’ weapons following an arrest. It was claimed that Moore had been inspired by the same game. In November 2001, 21-year-old American Shawn Woolley committed suicide after what his mother claimed was an addiction to Everquest. In 1999, American high school students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 13 people and themselves in the Columbine High School massacre. Both had been fans of Doom and Wolfenstein 3D. [ 16 ] There are a number of other murderers who blame GTA for their actions. They and their supporters need someone to blame.

Each of these cases has other factors involved. The largest contributor to the deaths of these innocent victims is the gun industry itself. The easy accessibility of firearms in the US is astounding. GTA III was also released in Europe and yet not a single similar case has emerged. This is the single biggest factor comprehensively proving that American Gun Laws are to blame. Yet no one is pointing the blame at the Gun Industry, all of it has been laid at the door of the Games establishment.

Computer games in contrast to other forms of entertainment like WWE, are being penalised unfairly. Here is an entertainment show with no classification, only a warning mentioning that viewers should not try the stunts at home as the wrestlers themselves are specially trained at doing so. Consequently, young impressionable children do not realise the dangers of mimicking such stunts. During the period 1999 – 2001, three children were killed whilst emulating these wrestlers. The same may be said of children’s shows such as Power Rangers. During every episode, the characters engage in combat in some form. Yet these mainstream shows are considered suitable for the 3+ age bracket. [ B ]

In 1999, Brazil banned Doom, MK, Requiem, Blood, Postal and Duke Nukem. [ 6 ] This was in response to the deaths of three people by a maniac wielding a shotgun. There was cocaine in his system and he had been taking medication prescribed for stress related problems. However this mindless act of violence was blamed on his love of computer games.

Political issues are the main concern of the Chinese censorship board. Command and Conquer: Generals was banned due to some targets in the game which were historic to the Chinese. Hearts of Iron I and II, and FM2007 were prohibited due to depicting Tibet, Sinkiang, and Manchuria as independent states. [ 8 ]

Due to its Nazi history, Germany have some intriguing laws. Wolfenstein 3D, Mortyr, and Commandos:Behind Enemy lines were all prohibited due to containing swastika flags or portraits of Adolf Hitler. It does not matter that the aim of these games is to kill Nazi’s; these symbols are considered as propaganda. The majority of the MK series and Manhunt are also banned. Germany’s BPjM monitors such games on a list which are then exposed to strict trade restrictions. [ 16 ]

South Korea banned Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction, GRAW2 and Splinter Cell all due to the fact that they all mentioned a fictional war between North and South Korea. However in 2006 this ban was lifted in response to promote freedom of expression. [ 9 ] Mexico has banned GRAW2 due to the involvement of Mexican Border officials and Mexican soldiers. The Darkness is banned in Singapore due to its swear words and graphic violence. The Pokemon series is banned in Saudi Arabia due to the gambling connotations attached to trading cards. It also allegedly promotes Zionism as a six pointed star that appears on several of the playing cards. [ 12 ]

Gamers in Australia are losing out the most due to their extreme censorship laws. Their system is one of the most stringent in the world. Games cannot be rated for adults as this only applies to film. Games must be suitable for 15+ or else they are refused classification. The criteria for censoring games are questionable at the best of times. Duke Nukem was originally refused on the grounds of pornography. There are scantily clad women but no more than a 15 rated film. The list of games that had to be edited or refused is vast. [ 1 ]

Sexuality in games is common whilst generally never being the sole motivator in the console market. There is a plethora of games in the PC that is aimed at the adult industry. Nintendo and Sony do not license this type of genre. Over the years, many games have ended in trouble over nudity. The essential element is that almost none of these ever showed a full frontal nudity. In comparison with film, TV shows and books, the games industry is leagues behind in the extremes that these mediums have gone to. In film, nudity is often displayed in 15+ and even some 12+ rated versions. This derived moral issue seems hypocritical in this context. No game should be banned due to a small level or reference of sexuality. Tabloid newspapers containing topless models are sold to the general public every day. By classifying games with the same rating system as film, it should be treated with the same levels of consternation.

Games dealing with sensitive social issues can highly offend some people. Some games are made with the purpose of incitement to hatred on the grounds of race or religion and these games should be banned as they are correctly deemed offensive. This is completely acceptable and the developers should be jailed & prosecuted. Resistance Records is one such company. This is a Neo –Nazi organisation which preaches white supremacy. New technology has made creating games more simplistic allowing anyone with basic ICT skills the opportunity to make a “game”. The obscene racist material that this company produces warrants an international uproar. Many ethnic minorities are discriminated against in games. This is primarily portrayed in the form of racial stereotypes or racist imagery. This is extremely worrying if children are allowed to play these games as this may subconsciously form negative views against other races. [ 29 ], [ 30 ], [ 31 ]. These stereotypes only occur as too few minorities are in the games industry itself. [ 32 ] Homophobia has been touched on by some games. Sexist or even in some cases misogynist views are displayed. [ 33 ] Games are being used as propaganda tools. AA and Hizbollah are aimed at teenagers and contain mild graphics making it suitable for this age group. These games should be aimed at adults who can make a mature opinion. It is in this area that censorship can fulfil its duty to society.

The most recent case of a game being banned is that of Manhunt 2. With the media fuelled frenzy, moral panic set in worldwide. Rockstar Games are no strangers to controversy having released the GTA series. However this game should be classified for adults, not banned outright. While Manhunt 2 is extremely violent and GTA showed illegal activities such as prostitution, drugs and money laundering, they are essentially only 3rd person shooter computer games.

The audience for computer games is far more eclectic than certain detractors of the industry claim. Studies carried out by the ESA in 2006 show that the average gamer age is 33 in the USA and 28 in the UK. Overall, it indicated that 69% of gamers are over the age of 18 and so are unfairly penalised over games which are banned.

Companies cannot be blamed for needing to make a profit in this capitalist driven world. They are only as good as their last game. The costs are astronomical. The industry itself employs millions worldwide. Many companies have folded over unsuccessful games. Even large corporations, for example EA, close down loss making sections, regardless of their previous track record. This puts producers and developers under enormous pressure.

Allowing the games industry to solely patrol censorship would be a mistake. One solution is to have a committee representing the games industry which works in conjunction with the current censors. Changing the rating system may help. Introducing a 21+ rating may please the public. It must be considered that as film and games are different platforms, the same classification rating system may not be suitable. A film might be watched just once compared to role playing a character for countless hours.

The games that are banned for novel reasons, other than offensive language, explicit content and violence, are intriguing. Perhaps we need games to show the stupidity of violence between North and South Korea. Perhaps Tibet, Sinkiang and Manchuria should be independent states. Perhaps gambling should be allowed in Saudi Arabia. Perhaps there should be a Zionist state. The only misdemeanour these games have committed lies in exposing the irony of the world today.

All the violence that is blamed on games always has some other major underlying factor. In Brazil it was cocaine and stress. The Virginia Tech Perpetrator, Seung-Hui Cho, had a mental disorder. Devon Moore, Joshua and William Buckner all had easy access to firearms and were “bored” at the time. This theme is common throughout.

There is conflicting evidence regarding the link between violent video games and violence in real life. Some studies state that there is a direct link between the two [ 18 ], [ 20 ], [ 37 ], while others find no such link [ 21 ], [A ], [22 ], [ 41 ]. These state that it is your disposition that determines whether or not you are violent. This seems logical. People were violent before computer games were invented. Alcohol, depression and socio economic circumstances play a significantly larger role in violence in young people.

All countries should follow Korea’s example and “allow freedom of expression.”

Bibliography:

[ A ] Scott, D. (1994). The effect of video games on feelings of aggression. The Journal of Psychology, 129, 121-32.

[ B ] Myers, David. G. (1998). Psychology, 5th edition, Worth Publishers, Boyatzis, 575- 576.

References:

[ 1 ] http://anthonylarme.tripod.com/gc/ (Date Accessed 10/11/07)

[ 2 ] http://www.rpgamer.com/editor/2003/q2/051903do.html (Date Accessed 10/11/07)

[ 3 ] http://www.vnunet.com/vnunet/news/2120472/second-gamer-dies-massive-binge (Date Accessed 10/11/07)

[ 4 ] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4137782.stm (Date Accessed 10/11/07)

[ 5 ] http://news.softpedia.com/news/Two-Fanatic-World-of-Warctaft-Gamers-Have-Died-Becouse-Of-WoW-11821.shtml (Date Accessed 10/11/07)

[ 6 ] http://uk.gamespot.com/news/2447352.html (Date Accessed 10/11/07)

[ 7 ] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_banned_computer_and_video_games#_note-0 (Date Accessed 10/11/07)

[ 8 ] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_games_in_the_People%27s_Republic_of_China (Date Accessed 10/11/07)

[ 9 ] http://uk.gamespot.com/news/6163609.html (Date Accessed 11/11/07)

[ 10 ] http://www.wral.com/entertainment/blogpost/1248223/ (Date Accessed 11/11/07)

[ 11 ] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Darkness_%28video_game%29 (Date Accessed 11/11/07)

[ 12 ] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/1243307.stm (Date Accessed 11/11/07)

[ 13 ] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zionism#_note-59 (Date Accessed 11/11/07)

[ 14 ] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duke_Nukem_3D#Controversy (Date Accessed 11/11/07)

[ 15 ] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Tech_massacre (Date Accessed)

[ 16 ] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_game_controversy (Date Accessed 11/11/07)

[ 17 ] http://www.theregister.co.uk/2003/09/11/grand_theft_auto/ (Date Accessed 11/11/07)

[ 18 ] http://newsnet.byu.edu/story.cfm/43928 (12/11/07)

[ 19 ] http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn8449.html (Date Accessed 12/11/07)

[ 20 ] http://mentalhealth.about.com/cs/familyresources/a/vidgameviolence.htm (Date Accessed 12/11/07)

[ 21 ] http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1779820,00.html (Date Accessed 12/11/07)

[ 22 ] http://www.news.uiuc.edu/news/05/0809videogames.html (Date Accessed 12/11/07)

[ 23 ] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postal_2 (Date Accessed 11/11/07)

[ 24 ] http://www.actiontrip.com/features/videogameindustry.phtml (Date Accessed 11/11/07)

[ 25 ] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commandos_%28series%29 (Date Accessed 11/11/07)

[ 26 ] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reservoir_Dogs_%28video_game%29 (Date Accessed 11/11/07)

[ 27 ] http://www.news.com/Adult-oriented-video-games-prospering/2100-1043_3-5886552.html (Date Accessed 12/11/07)

[ 28 ] http://www.123helpme.com/preview.asp?id=23897 (Date Accessed 12/11/07)

[ 29 ] http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/parents/video_games/concerns/race_videogames.cfm (Date Accessed 12/11/07)

[ 30 ] http://www.cbc.ca/canada/british-columbia/story/2006/07/20/bc-video-games.html (Date Accessed 12/11/07)

[ 31 ] http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20040823/news_mz1b23video.html (Date Accessed 12/11/07)

[ 32 ] http://kotaku.com/gaming/race/racial-stereotyping-in-video-games-237379.php (Date Accessed 12/11/07)

[ 33 ] http://spooky.ms11.net/pages/p2.html (Date Accessed 12/11/07)

[ 34 ] http://card.wordpress.com/2006/11/29/editorial-sexism-in-video-games/ (Date Accessed 12/11/07)

[ 35 ] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_Arts (Date Accessed 12/11/07)

[ 36 ] http://anthonylarme.tripod.com/gc/gamesthesis.pdf (Date Accessed 12/11/07)

[ 37 ] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/10/051012082710.htm (Date Accessed 12/11/07)

[ 38 ] http://www.psychology.iastate.edu/faculty/caa/abstracts/2000-2004/01AB.pdf (Date Accessed 13/11/07)

[ 39 ] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/07/060727162108.htm (Date Accessed 13/11/07)

[ 40 ] http://gamepolitics.livejournal.com/tag/terrorism (Date Accessed 13/11/07)

[ 41 ] http://www.pbs.org/kcts/videogamerevolution/impact/myths.html (Date Accessed 13/11/07)

Appendix

Acronyms:

EA – Electronic Arts

ESA – Entertainment Software Association

MMORPG – Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game

GRAW2 – Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2

BPjM – Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Medien (Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons)

MK – Mortal Kombat

GTA – Grand Theft Auto

WWE – World Wrestling Entertainment

FM2007 – Football Manager 2007

AA – America’s Army

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