The video game industry has brushed off the recession. But can it escape the wrath of Washington (and state capitols) unscathed?
Michael Thompson at Ars Technica reports on the latest attempts to crack down on video games. Most notably, Congressman Joe Baca of California has introduced the Video Game Health Labeling Act of 2009, which would treat games the way the Surgeon General treats cigarettes. Any game with a Teen or higher rating gets a warning label slapped onto it: "WARNING: Excessive exposure to violent video games and other violent media has been linked to aggressive behavior."
Thompson notes, however, that pretty much all past attempts to regulate video games have been struck down as unconstitutional. But those attempts seem to be quite different than Baca's bill. They were state-level bills that sought to directly limit the sale of video games. This bill is federal legislation and is more akin to "soft paternalism"--we won't actually stop you from buying the game, but we'll sure as heck make you feel guilty about doing so. Whatever the effect, it can't be good news for one of the most productive entrepreneurial sectors of the economy (the video game industry is set to surpass movies and music in size in a few years.)
Much like the Internet, video games are part of a last frontier (some would say Wild West) of loose regulation. Sure, there are the ESRB ratings, but they seem far less important to the video game industry than the motion picture ratings. But also like the Internet, there is extraordinary pressure for more restrictions to be imposed for the sake of "the children."
How long will courts keep striking down these restrictions? If warning labels on cigarettes and other products have been upheld, what's stopping the same happening to video games?