While he's critical of the industry, he's no fan of censorship. "I'm not saying that game design needs to hew to some type of mainstream or censorious agenda, but if you want to make the Manhunts and Bullys, be prepared to take the fallout. And the fallout hurts the entire industry, not just the individual publisher." For solutions to these problems, he looks to the industry as a whole, saying, "The ESA has to think about innovative solutions. Allowing some parental representation on the ESRB would be a good place to begin. As it stands now, the ratings board is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the videogame business. Opening it up a little would make parents feel like they had a voice." Interestingly, this is the system the MPAA uses - movies are rated by a board of parents - and though there are certainly quibbles and controversy, the film industry is under much less legislative fire than the gaming industry.
Mr. McCauley has some suggestions of his own, saying, "Some - myself included - have suggested changing how we refer to M- and AO-rated titles from 'games' to 'adult interactive' or some other term that clearly indicates those titles are not meant for younger players. These are just ideas, but the industry needs to clean up its image."
Talking about the industry's image brings us to our political opponents. Although "they're politicians" is the default answer, I ask him what motivates them, looking for insight beyond the standard answer. "There are many motivations," he responds and, though the cynical among us may smirk, McCauley feels "some politicians really approach this from an altruistic viewpoint. Love them or hate them, Joe Lieberman, Leland Yee and Hillary Clinton all believe very strongly that violent game content can negatively affect children. Naturally, there are also some elected officials who are using the issue to score points with voters. Police are very influential with politicians, and the law enforcement lobby has contributed in large part to the 25 to Life public relations disaster."
A list of gaming's opponents wouldn't be complete without mentioning Miami attorney Jack Thompson, who's sparred with industry figureheads, detractors including webcomic Penny Arcade, and anybody else who has gotten in his way. Gamers may demonize him, but McCauley believes Thompson is a genuine problem for an industry already under siege.
"He is a threat to the gaming industry, in the sense that some elected officials who don't take the time to know any better allow him into the legislative process," Mr. McCauley says when I mention Thompson's activities, "[and] Jack certainly understands the value of staying on message. He spouts the same propaganda over and over; for example, calling Bully a 'Columbine simulator' or saying young killers 'trained obsessively' on Grand Theft Auto. What's scary is that you hear some politicians, like Rep. David Hogue, author of Utah's ludicrous 'games as porn' bill, parroting Jack, word for word.
"In all honesty, it's not hard to see how a politician might get hooked up with Jack." The scenario he sketches out is an entirely plausible one. "Imagine you are a legislator trying to push a videogame content bill. You don't really follow the game industry. Out of the blue, a lawyer with a national profile on the topic calls you up and offers his services, gratis. Even offers to help write your bill for you. A lot of politicians would jump on that." If I may make a minor comment here, a lot of people would jump on the opportunity to let someone do their job for them for free.
Coming back around to my original question, he says, "As far as motivation, Jack seems driven by an ultra-conservative cultural and religious agenda. Countering his message should be a simple matter of addressing it on a factual basis, where he's quite weak. But the industry chooses to ignore him - big mistake. He's not going to go away. Also, the industry really should address some of the outrageous things Jack has said, like comparing Doug Lowenstein to Saddam Hussein, or declaring Sony's videogame marketing strategy a second Pearl Harbor attack. If Jack wants to say these things, he should have to take responsibility for such comments. Why doesn't the ESA address this? It was encouraging to see the National Institute on Media and the Family publicly distance itself from Jack last year, based primarily on such comments."