Salvation vs. Condemnation: The Two Faces of Government

Jason Della Rocca | 20 Sep 2005 08:00
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Upstanding gentleman by day. Marauding villain by night.

The private lives of politicians aside, it is no wonder that, much like the mysterious case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the greatest conflict over the good and evil of games rages within government's own walls. No question, government is a complex animal.

Sure, we all know about the crusade against the supposed corrupting power of games - the mass media have been fumbling over the "evils" of GTA for years (heck, you'd think they'd at least have their facts straight by now, i.e., you don't get "points" for killing cops, and there is no rape). But, I digress. In fact, the real hypocrisy is delivered by the government itself.

For example, the Australian state of Victoria has extremely robust support for the economic well being of the indigenous game development sector. Among other perks, the state provides local developers with Sony and Microsoft sanctioned developer kits, they fly developers over to Los Angeles for E3 to show off their latest games at a dedicated booth, they sponsor a large-scale developers conference in Melbourne annually and so forth.

And yet, the Australian market is crippled by the fact that the Office of Film and Literature Classification (the government controlled content ratings board) will not allow any rating categories above "MA15+" to be assigned to a game. That is to say, any game not suitable for a 15 year old is outright banned from the country and cannot be legally purchased by anyone in Australia! This, despite the existence of "R18+" and "X18+" rating categories for films. From a cultural standpoint, it might seem Australian officials are unable to let go of the antiquated notion that games are toys for children and nothing more.

Further, censorship is not always about violence and sex. An Australian minister was pushing to have Project Gotham Racing 2 banned because he was afraid it would promote reckless driving on the streets of Sydney. Similarly, there is hard lobbying over Mark Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure for fear of a graffiti outburst on the streets of America.

China is another country heavily influenced by the Jekyll/Hyde potion. In fact, there is a known rivalry between the Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Science and Technology, with each arm trying to exert control over the burgeoning national industry.

On the one hand, they are committing in excess of $100 million to the creation of games based on Chinese culture, mythology and folklore. On the other hand, they have declared that games are bad for children and installed strict regulations to limit playing time of MMOGs and restrict minors' access to games that include violence. As stated by a Chinese culture minister, apparently player versus player or "player killing" (PK) is harmful to kids:

"Minors should not be allowed to play online games that have PK content, that allow players to increase the power of their own online game characters by killing other players ... They are harmful to young people."

Add that on top of the Chinese government's draconian censorship policies (which banned a soccer videogame because Tibet had its own team) and overall inability to curb piracy (there are several "official" Xbox magazines published monthly, even though the console doesn't legally ship into the country). China is one of the top destinations for pirated software, on a scale so vast that the distribution often involves organized crime rather than mere street hustlers with a CD-R. It is easy to see which side is winning this internal struggle.

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