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8:41am on Tuesday, 19th September, 2006:

Know Thy Constituents


The US Senate has passed the Children and Media Research Advancement Act, which authorises funding for research into the impact on children of TV, movies, DVDs, mobile phones, the Internet and video games. Well, that's what it's supposed to do; actually, given the track record of the senators that proposed it, we can probably forget the TV, movies, DVDs, mobile phones and Internet components...

The research is to be managed by the Centers for Disease Control. Great! That means, in order to be fair, the IGDA should get a shot at managing research into Viral Hepatitis C.

Fortunately, CAMRA (a CAT if ever I saw one) has yet to be awarded any actual funds, and this is where it may be rendered impotent.

As it happens, I'm in favour of denying children access to certain video games, just as I am plenty of other things. I wouldn't want my 12-year-old reading Lady Chatterley's Lover just yet, for example. I'd prefer this kind of access-to-materials things to be up to parents rather than governments; I like the idea of an impartial ratings body (the BBFC is excellent) but I'm less happy with its judgments being legally enforced for private consumption (which, fortunately, the BBFC's aren't). The PEGI system for games seems to work, too, although different cultures have different ideas as to what constitutes, say, "discrimination". It's also a little unself-conscious in that the symbol it uses for fear might well scare some people all by itself.

That said, the CAMRA bill seems intent on tackling a "problem" that doesn't exist. I can only imagine that the likes of Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman think they're going to get votes out of demonising computer games.

They're not.

The thing is, most US citizens under 30 grew up playing these games. They know they're basically harmless. What's more, many of their parents — while not necessarily playing games themselves — also know they're basically harmless. I've no idea whether Chelsea Clinton played computer games when she was younger (or, indeed, if she plays them now), but either she did (in which what harm did they do her?) or she didn't (in which case her mother is somewhat out of touch with the electorate).

Hillary Clinton is 58, and Joe Lieberman is 64. Grown-up gamers are (let's say) under 30. Next year, she'll be 59, he'll be 65, and grown-up gamers will be under 31. The year after: 60, 66 and under 32. In 20 or 30 years, the US President will probably have grown up playing computer games, and it'll be unimaginable that it was ever an issue.

So CAMRA is a pain, but we don't really have to worry: we win in the end.

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Copyright © 2006 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).