April 8th, 2006

Proposed Video Game Law on GP Correspondent's Home Turf

Now it's personal...

Saskatchewan, Canada, home to GP Correspondent Jabrwock, will soon be adding video games to its list of age-restricted media. Recently, Saskatchewan Justice Minister Frank Quennell (left) proposed new standards for the Film and Video Classification Act and its media regulations.

The changes would allow the Saskatchewan Film and Video Classification Board to enforce the age restrictions of "M" and "AO" rated games. Currently the Board only has jurisdiction over films and videos. The Board also depends on the British Columbia Film Classification Office (BCO) for the actual classifications of films, altering them only alters if it sees fit. Normally the BCO doesn't rate video games, adopting the ESRB rating instead.

Penalties for selling age-restricted media to a minor under the age limit would also increase from $2,000 maximum to $5,000 maximum for small businesses, or six months in jail, with $100,000 (!!!) maximum for a corporate violator. Curiously enough, an exemption is granted to Japanese Anime, since its distribution is limited.

Quennell told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that most companies are already voluntarily adhering to industry standards and do not rent mature video games to children. Now, however, all companies will have to pay close attention to software ratings, as they already do for videos, DVDs, and movie tickets.

"A game rated by the industry as 'adults only' could have been sold to a 12-year-old without us having any recourse in the law... Now we will have a recourse. There will be penalties for doing that," Quennell said.

The proposed legislation would bring Saskatchewan in line with Manitoba, BC, Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia in terms of ESRB ratings enforcement. Shawn Pershick, a local store owner, says that he already makes kids get parental permission before renting games.

"The days of video games being just for kids are long gone, and parents have to realize that."

CM: In contrast to the furor over US video game legislation, opponents here in the Great White North face have three major obstacles. First, our freedom of speech is a lot more flexible, so there is no need for questionable studies such as those uses to justify laws in Michigan and Illinois. Also, children have NO rights until the age of majority. Finally, movies and videos are already restricted, so games aren't being singled out. Also unlike the ESRB, the local ratings board are fully public, which means their decisions and ratings processes are transparent, in case someone wants to appeal or complain.

-reporting from Saskatchewan, GP North American Correspondent, Colin McInnes, aka Jabrwock

Spike Lee Waffles on Violent Scene in Latest Film

It's a case of art imitating... well, other art.

Famed director Spike Lee (Do The Right Thing, She Hate Me) created a video game within his recent film Inside Man as social commentary on just how violent games have become. Then, in a fit of pre-release publicity, Lee expressed concern that someone might rip him off by taking the bloody bits and placing them into a real-world game.

"We found this small outfit that does animation and we thought of the most horrific things we could think of in a video game," he told Ireland On-Line

"We haven't seen a video game with the grenade in the mouth (that explodes). And the sad thing is somebody is probably gonna make a game out of it and take that as inspiration."

Lee is obviously not a fan of the GameCube remake of Resident Evil, then. Or, perhaps Turok's memorable Cerebral Bore weapon.

The director's quandary poses an interesting question about the perception of games as compared to other forms of media. Lee's quote implies that we get to see the grenade-in-mouth incident onscreen. So does Spike believe that this is perfectly suitable content for a film, but not a game? And is this attitude shared by other film directors?

For additional details on how Spike Lee's fictitious game, "Gangstas iz Genocide" was designed, check out this excellent piece by Sheigh Crabtree in the Hollywood Reporter.

(A nod to fellow GP correspondent Andrew Eisen for the game examples)

-reporting from the U.K., GamePolitics correspondent Mark Kelly

ESA's Doug Lowenstein on Girl Gamers & "Gamer Shame"

While editing correspondent Monica Valentinelli's excellent debut article (above), GP was reminded of ESA president Doug Lowenstein's comments on women gamers during last year's E3 keynote. Doug was spot-on with these remarks:

"There is another major and well-known gap in market penetration for the video game industry: women. It's true that ESA data shows that women make up a third of the console gaming community and 40% of the PC community but we also know that many of these women are casual gamers who might invest more time and dollars into this form of entertainment if we produced content they could more easily embrace."

"But it is more than just content with cross gender appeal that's necessary. We need a cultural shift so that young girls and women feel that playing games is not a testosterone monopolized hobby reserved for their boyfriends and husbands."

"Last February, a woman gamer writing under the name Fizgig on the site womengamers.com asked, 'Why do my mom and I lower our voices when she wants to tell me about the new level she just finished with her Amazon in Diablo II? Why don't I tell people at the university where I work that I play videogames?' The reason, she posited, is that women like her have a sense of 'gamer shame.' 'Gamer shame,' she wrote, 'is a powerful social convention and the gaming industry really isn't doing a very good job of combating it.'

It's hard to argue with her complaint that our own industry, mainly through our marketing practices, reinforces the stereotype that most gamers are men. Our challenge as an industry is to break down the social conventions she described if we are to truly create, again in Fizgig's words, 'a gender neutral inclusive gaming community?[in which my daughter] could proclaim her love of games to the world without any shame at all.'

Stirring stuff from the video game industry's point man. If the topic interests you, GP recommends Sheri Graner Ray's excellent book, Gender Inclusive Game Design: Expanding the Market.

Girl Gamers More Prevalent & Have Their Own Gaming Preferences

When you think of girl gamers, don't think Barbie.

Detroit Free Press game columnist Heather Newman, citing 2005 ESA statistics, writes in this morning's edition that women make up 43% of all video game players. Newman also delves into issues of gender and violence in the girl gamer's world.

"Critics say the men's club of developers... sometimes leads to demeaning portraits of women. Frequently women are portrayed as sex objects, like the buxom babes who crawl all over the heroes in most action games. Or they're immoral targets of violence, like the prostitutes you can beat up for cash in 'Grand Theft Auto.'"

The flip side to playing games like GTA are so-called "pink" games targeted specifically for girls. According to Newman, both the GTA's and the pink titles "tend to drive women away." Fortunately, however, due to the rise in the number of women gamers, industry analysts agree that developers and publishers are working to increase gender diversity among their employees.

Newman attributes part of the increase in female gamers to the connection women share with one another and simply because gaming is fun.

Ruth Songer, for example, a 54-year-old woman, told Newman that gaming is her "dirty little secret."

Take a peek at the article's sidebar for info on how female gamers can become involved in an online gaming community.

-reporting from Wisconsin, GP Correspondent Monica "Daemonchild" Valentinelli.

GP: We welcome Monica to the fold...