2005 was a good year for gamers. Not because of the games, but because this year we finally got some real villains. We no longer have to settle for squaring off against Darth Vader and Bowser anymore—not when top-shelf thugs like Jack Thompson, Hilary Clinton, Joe Lieberman, and Arnold Schwarzenegger are hungry for our blood. In a year when Grand Theft Auto included interactive porn and Doom became a movie starring tb he Rock, the really amazing thing about 2005 was the drumbeat of politicians telling America that videogames are so dangerous they require regulation.
Washington State gamers saw it coming. In 2003 governor-lite Gary Locke enacted the first state law regulating the sale of videogames to minors. It was set in motion by state Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson (D-Seattle), who memorably prophesized, “I strongly believe the courts will decide that the sickening levels of violence, brutality, and racism being peddled to children for profit cannot be wrapped in our precious First Amendment.” Her law was blocked by a judge before it could even take effect, and a year later the federal court here in Seattle ruled that, in fact, she was an idiot.
In 2005 the moral minority found a few more quarters in its pockets and decided to play again. Attorney and professional loudmouth Jack Thompson brought his media campaign against violent video games to a new high score, and his mania found friends as new state laws passed in Michigan, Illinois, and California regulating the purchase of videogames by children. Governor Schwarzenegger, who starred in his very own violent videogame just a year ago, noted, “I believe, as an actor, in the ratings system. It is very important to protect children.” Of course, the movie ratings system isn’t enforced by law—and Arnold’s videogame, rated T for teenagers, was cynically adapted from his R-rated, allegedly-made-for-grownups movie Terminator 3.
Past and future presidential contenders Joe Lieberman and Hilary Clinton teamed up to introduce the Family Entertainment Protection Act in late November, which makes it a federal crime to sell some videogames to children. While Lieberman is an embittered schoolmarm of long standing, Hilary ripped off her mask of humanity this year when she saw a chance to beat up on an industry whose real crime is insufficient campaign contributions. But Hilary and Joe’s crusade may get quietly shuffled to the bottom of their deck as 2006 gets underway. The Michigan game law was blocked by a judge in November, the Illinois one was overturned entirely by federal court in early December, and just last week Schwarzenegger’s law was blocked in California. If Washington and Illinois are any precedents, Michigan and California will see their injunctions turned into outright defeats in 2006, leaving Hilary and Joe with four consecutive federal First Amendment rulings rejecting a variety of attempts to criminalize purchases of entertainment media.
So yeah, 2005 was a good year for gamers. We got great villains—and then we got to shove mud in their faces.