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Rated M for Moral Panic: Content Considerations in Video Game Legislation

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Abstract:

Recent years have seen an increase in the number of legislative efforts to restrict the sale of video games to minors and to regulate the rating practices of the video game industry. To examine the intent and approach of these efforts, I conducted a discourse analysis on over 80 bills proposed at the state and federal levels between 1999 and 2006. My analysis concludes that such efforts have been fueled by a moral panic surrounding games, and that legislative proposals have frequently been unconstitutional and largely unfeasible because of a widespread lack of understanding of how games actually function.

Bills proposed to restrict sale reveal a perception of video games as linear, narrative media with no meaningful value as a whole. The justification offered in such bills suggests a distrust for new technology more than a compelling interest in protecting children. These bills typically do not pass, and those that do have thus far been successfully challenged in court as unconstitutional. Bills proposed to require the video game industry to promote and distribute ratings have all passed unchallenged, though new labeling requirements have been ruled unconstitutional, and a particularly noteworthy ongoing attempt to change the rating assignment process will also likely meet with court challenge if it passes. This approach apparently draws on academic recommendations to require games to be played through in their entirety, and calls for a study to consider whether a universal rating system would be preferable to the system administered by the video game industry.

The proposals and justification offered in these bills suggest that critics and policymakers may be unaware of the technical properties of video games, so I propose three concepts to help explain issues that remain unaddressed in legislation proposed to date. “Content variability” refers to games’ tendency to change between play sessions, resisting traditional techniques of formal content analysis. “Content modifiability” refers to many games’ ability to be augmented by material offered by players. “Content meaning” refers to the potentially valuable thematic purposes of game play and spectatorship that may appear objectionable when taken out of context. I conclude by suggesting alternative options for concerned parents, policymakers, and the video game industry itself, potentially including refined content descriptors for games, greater attention to parental control technologies, and the use of player-generated “walk-throughs” to augment existing information about game content.

Most Common Document Word Stems:

game (210), content (83), rate (81), video (68), bill (61), esrb (43), legisl (41), state (35), sale (34), may (34), violent (32), propos (29), restrict (29), play (29), would (28), 2006 (26), system (26), law (24), violenc (22), player (22), use (21),

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Video games, computer games, legislation, ESRB, ratings
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Name: NCA 93rd Annual Convention
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http://www.natcom.org


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MLA Citation:

Tocci, Jason. "Rated M for Moral Panic: Content Considerations in Video Game Legislation" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the NCA 93rd Annual Convention, TBA, Chicago, IL, Nov 15, 2007 <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p193516_index.html>

APA Citation:

Tocci, J. , 2007-11-15 "Rated M for Moral Panic: Content Considerations in Video Game Legislation" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the NCA 93rd Annual Convention, TBA, Chicago, IL Online <PDF>. 2013-12-15 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p193516_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: Recent years have seen an increase in the number of legislative efforts to restrict the sale of video games to minors and to regulate the rating practices of the video game industry. To examine the intent and approach of these efforts, I conducted a discourse analysis on over 80 bills proposed at the state and federal levels between 1999 and 2006. My analysis concludes that such efforts have been fueled by a moral panic surrounding games, and that legislative proposals have frequently been unconstitutional and largely unfeasible because of a widespread lack of understanding of how games actually function.

Bills proposed to restrict sale reveal a perception of video games as linear, narrative media with no meaningful value as a whole. The justification offered in such bills suggests a distrust for new technology more than a compelling interest in protecting children. These bills typically do not pass, and those that do have thus far been successfully challenged in court as unconstitutional. Bills proposed to require the video game industry to promote and distribute ratings have all passed unchallenged, though new labeling requirements have been ruled unconstitutional, and a particularly noteworthy ongoing attempt to change the rating assignment process will also likely meet with court challenge if it passes. This approach apparently draws on academic recommendations to require games to be played through in their entirety, and calls for a study to consider whether a universal rating system would be preferable to the system administered by the video game industry.

The proposals and justification offered in these bills suggest that critics and policymakers may be unaware of the technical properties of video games, so I propose three concepts to help explain issues that remain unaddressed in legislation proposed to date. “Content variability” refers to games’ tendency to change between play sessions, resisting traditional techniques of formal content analysis. “Content modifiability” refers to many games’ ability to be augmented by material offered by players. “Content meaning” refers to the potentially valuable thematic purposes of game play and spectatorship that may appear objectionable when taken out of context. I conclude by suggesting alternative options for concerned parents, policymakers, and the video game industry itself, potentially including refined content descriptors for games, greater attention to parental control technologies, and the use of player-generated “walk-throughs” to augment existing information about game content.

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Document Type: PDF
Page count: 24
Word count: 6706
Text sample:
Game Legislation 1 Rated M for Moral Panic: Content Considerations in Video Game Legislation In the summer of 2006 Congressional Representative Cliff Sterns proposed the “Truth in Video Game Rating Act” (H.R. 5912). The act would require all video games to be played in their entirety before being assigned a rating which would presumably bring video game rating processes more in line with movie rating processes. Requiring complete play-through may seem reasonable in theory except for a major flaw
what is essentially the same bill multiple times or reintroduce a bill with small changes. 2 Here is an example of a state’s own definition of “extreme and loathsome violence” in an “ultra- violent explicit video game ” from Michigan’s SB0463 2005: real or simulated graphic depictions of physical injuries or physical violence against parties who realistically appear to be human beings including actions causing death inflicting cruelty dismemberment decapitation maiming disfigurement or other mutilation of body parts murder


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Violent Video Game Play as a Predictor of Moral Disengagement: The Roles of Play Frequency and Interpretations of Violence


 
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