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Government policy and Video Games

In these trying times, video games have increased in importance and popularity as people try to find a way to escape from their disappointing reality into a world where they are a valiant hero or a covert spy. This increased popularity is clearly evident in the 45% increase in the time spent playing video games every day by the average American gamer. With millions playing hours of video games every day, the question must be asked, how are governments dealing with the gaming community?


The first mention of video games in any governmental body was in the United Kingdom’s House of Commons where MP George Foulkes first raised the issue of the effects the arcade game “Space Invaders” was having in his constituency. He said that children “become crazed, with eyes glazed, oblivious to everything around them” when playing the game. However, thankfully no real action was taken with regards to his fears about video games or video game development as we know it today might not have been a thing in the United Kingdom.


Nowadays, most governments’ fears about video games lie in three main categories: social, financial, and data privacy harms. When it comes to social harms, the main concerns are that video games are a notorious time waster and that online games could open up young children to online abuse which could scar them for life. The financial harms on the other hand mostly revolve around in-game purchases-wherein gamers can buy game items and virtual skins using an online store-and reckless spending with respect to these purchases. The fear is that a child will use their parents’ credit cards and recklessly use the money-the value of which they still do not understand yet. Finally, governments are afraid that online gaming opens the data of children to the collection at such a young age and are also concerned about the misuse and sharing of this data with other developers without the knowledge of the child’s parents.


Most notably, the United Kingdom’s proposed solutions to these problems have generated widespread outrage. On the 12th of September 2019, a House of Commons select committee published a report on “Immersive and addictive technologies” which addressed a few of these problems in an extremely controversial manner, to say the least. The report called for loot boxes not to be sold to children and also called for the classification of loot crates under the Gambling Act of 2005. This would most likely result in most games removing loot box features, which occurred in Belgium where loot crates were classified as a form of gambling. This is bad news simply because removing such a critical feature from games such as FIFA would make them less enjoyable for the average gamer, furthermore, it would eventually reduce the number of players on the game negatively affecting the developer. More importantly, the head of the committee which produced the report also stated that “It’s time for games companies to use the huge quantities of data they gather about their players, to do more to proactively identify vulnerable gamers.”, this is an extremely scary thought as the UK government essentially is looking to recommend developers to create psychological profiles on every player. Now, these profiles could be easily distributed between developers without the player even being notified about it, essentially giving out your personal character to others. Although this report was never explicitly addressed in the House of Commons or put into force it does clearly indicate the intentions and aspirations of the UK government.


However, by far the biggest concern of most governments is the violence of video games and the impact this has on gamers. On this note, President Trump’s statement "We must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace. It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence. We must stop or substantially reduce this and it has to begin immediately," is a clear depiction of how the United States has always been wary of the violence in video games. In fact, the United States has always been on the forefront of taking action on the content of video games, it was the actions of the United States congress which pushed for the establishment of the Entertainment software rating board (ESRB) the ratings of which can be seen on any video game today after the release of the violent, sexist and wildly popular Mortal Kombat. Additionally, there has been a lot of proposed legislation in the US in order to regulate the content of video games such as The Video game health labelling act which called for more clear identification of violent video games. Wherein, any video game title that was given a high enough ESRB rating was required to display "WARNING: Excessive exposure to violent video games and other violent media has been linked to aggressive behaviour.", on its packaging. However, this act was never passed by the US Congress and put into force.


Nevertheless, these actions are not without opposition. Apart from the entire gaming community opposing the claims of politicians and their actions, there exists an enormous lobbying group on behalf of the video games industry- the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). The ESA has spent millions lobbying against legislation such as The Video game health labelling act and has also created a network of gamers, under the name Video game voters network, who use social media to create awareness about the causes of the ESA.


As a whole, the main message propagated by the ESA is that simply put, there is no clear cut evidence that playing video games has any ties to violent and rash behaviour. Now, you might be wondering is this really true? Well yes, studies from Oxford university’s Psychology and Neuroscience departments revealed that “Violent video game engagement is not associated with adolescents’ aggressive behaviour”, hence the widespread outrage in the gaming community.


In light of all this, Governmental policy on video games is not all doom and gloom. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) actually has quite positive precautions for the data of Gamers. The GDPR makes it compulsory for developers to provide gamers with all the information concerning the processing and storage of their data which can be accessed at any time gamers see fit. Additionally, GDPR makes it such that any and all data of minors must only be used for the necessary functions of the game and not for any advertisement use cases. Finally, the GDPR also requires developers to severely minimise the amount of user data collected by developers and when it is collected the anonymization of certain details is compulsory.


As a whole, while government policy on the video gaming industry’s vulnerabilities is a mixed bag, it is still a necessity. Not having any sort of regulation on the data privacy and social ills such as online bullying exposes gamers to experiences that are simply not what they signed up for. On the other hand, governments attempting to control the actual content of video games is just not right, especially considering that there is no actual scientific evidence that removing violent content from video games has any effect whatsoever on the violence of youth. Furthermore, the US Supreme Court actually ruled that video games were a form of free expression and protected speech under the first amendment to the United States constitution- clearly showing how the contents of video games cannot and should not be modified by government policy. With this in mind, the discussion between governments and developers is pivotal, as it gives the gaming industry a chance to show how they are taking care of players’ wellbeing, allowing for governments to understand the perspectives of creators and come to a suitable middle ground wherein players, developers and government alike are all satisfied.


By: Aayush Manapat


Bangalore, India | epicenter.newsmedia@gmail.com

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