Game politicians discovered the gaming industry in 2005. A small bit of forgotten code buried deep in the bowels of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas turned out to be an interactive sex game, confirming the worst fears of parents fed a daily media diet of terror. First came the media, pushing out tut-tutting reports about sex and violence in games. The parents came next and, following in their wake, so did the politicians, promising a governmental solution to all things parental. An industry still in its growing pains found itself staring down the barrel of a legislative gun. The noise machine turned on us.
Concerned fans in search of information on this new threat faced a real lack of sources. Politics just isn't as cool as flaunting the latest exclusives, at least to most of the gaming press. If you want to know whether the Oklahoma legislature is considering a measure to make selling violent games that are "harmful to minors" a crime (hint: it passed), there's very few places to turn. One of them is GamePolitics.com, a blog and news site chronicling the doings of politicians and legislatures, with a focus on items of interest to the gaming crowd. Dennis McCauley, editor of GamePolitics.com, is one of the few gaming journalists on this particular beat, and I was fortunate enough to corral him for a chat about legislation, politics and their effects on the industry.
"Prior to launching GamePolitics in March 2005," he says, "I wrote about games, mostly from a product review standpoint for a number of publications. I did the sports column for Computer Gaming World in 1996 and 1997 and I've written a weekly game column for the Philadelphia Inquirer since 1998." GamePolitics stems from an interest "in ways in which games exist within the larger culture. There is a huge disconnect between gamers and non-gamers, and this is nowhere more evident than in the political arena, where the debate is largely driven by non-gamers among the ranks of parents, activists, politicians and the media."
Naturally, I ask about his political background. "I'm a registered Democrat and consider myself somewhere between moderate and liberal," he responds, adding, "I think George W. Bush and his crew are an unmitigated disaster. But I wasn't too impressed with John Kerry, either. If the Democrats had their act together and presented a solid candidate, they could have spared the country four more years of the worst presidency in modern history."
With the political cards on the table, I turn the conversation to the industry itself. "How are things going for Our Side?" I ask, looking for a brief rundown. Anyone checking the Legislation Tracker on GamePolitics would be concerned. The number of red pins (legislation going through the process or passed) and green pins (legislation in effect) are quite alarming. "Things are not going well for the gaming business," he says. I ask if there's any legislation we should be particularly concerned about and he responds, "It's not that any one piece of legislation needs [to] be more feared than any other. The problem is that the sheer volume of legislation shows just how much concern and mistrust mainstream America has for videogames. That's largely a result of the industry's failure to be proactive in managing its image and failing to do enough to assure parents that it has children's best interests at heart."
"Certain segments of the industry have worked very hard at demonstrating they don't care what the mainstream thinks," he says. Indeed, 2005 was the year the mainstream turned on the gaming industry, with an army of bills marching through legislatures, flanked by politicians and talking heads decrying this new threat to America. He continues, "However, the business must now pull together to prove that it does care. Violent and/or sexist marketing hurts gaming's image, sure, but the business has really shot itself in the foot over content issues. Hot Coffee and the corporate lying that accompanied it was the obvious cause of 2005's unprecedented string of successful state-level legislation - three laws passed in one year. Games like Manhunt resonate with the public for years after the fact. Bully may not be as naughty as some critics expect it to be, but releasing a game with a bullying theme is incredibly tone-deaf marketing. Who's the genius at Rockstar that decided, 'Let's take an issue that child psychologists, guidance counselors, teachers and parents are all going to hate and try to market that'?"