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On Running Feuds
Columbine Parents vs. the Game Industry!
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on August 20, 2001   |   Episode 8 (Show Archive)  


It's been a pretty bad year for the Entertainment Industry.

Movies and music have come under fire for "allegedly" marketing their products towards children, so it only seems fair for the video game Industry to feel a bit skittish. You see, ever since the Columbine Shooting, way back in April of 1999, the media has been under attack. And it's for this reason that Sega, Eidos, and Activision (among others) need to fear.

It would seem as though after the tragic school shooting several years ago, parents of the outraged children are ready to get some justice. These parents have sued several game manufacturers (they are: Acclaim Entertaiment, Inc., Activision Inc., Capcom Entertainment Inc., Eidos Interactive Inc., Infogrames Inc., Interplay Entertainment Corp., Nintendo of America Inc. and Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc) for damages against their families, resulting in deaths.

The funny thing is that Square was named when the suit was originally brought to the public, and while the parents give no reason for dropping the suit against them, it does seem a bit odd when you look at the others named in this case.

So what did these companies do wrong? As far as the companies can tell, nothing, which is why they have filed a motion to dismiss the case entirely. Each of these companies have produced (or published) "violent" games in the past, but it's going to come down to who decides what's decent, and what's freedom of speech.

Video games, like movies, music, books, and other art, is considered freedom of speech. It is by that regard that companies have to police themselves. That is, if Nintendo doesn't want ultra violent games they have the right to make the licensed company change their product to fit into their guidelines. But then it becomes a marketing issue. Can Nintendo and Acclaim make money on a bloodless Mortal Kombat . well, obviously not, since Mortal Kombat II for the Super NES featured blood.

So why should a court rule against these companies? The Columbine case is an extremely large media event, and like any other news, we won't be happy until there is closer (and even then we are rarely happy). The jurors in the past have ruled against large businesses in favor of people who have lost a family member, been injured, or whatnot. The parents of Columbine do not come without sorrow, and any judge or juror who wants to make a point to the industry certainly has center stage to do that here.

Though the chances are rare at best that these companies will be found at fault, strange freedom of speech rulings have been made in the past. It was only 15 years ago members of Two Live Crew were thrown in jail for performing songs their fans had paid to see.

Something else to pay attention to, most of these companies only published Japanese or European games, and some of these companies didn't even program these games. And the games accused of sending these children over the edge have not been named, so who's to know whether they were made OR distributed by anybody named in the lawsuit. So it will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

In recent years such violent games were even the subject of laws. In Indiana the government passed an ordinance where it is unlawful for a minor to play a violent arcade game without a parent or guardian. The law meant the possibilities of fines, up to license revocation.

While the law did not discuss the violence in home video games, such a law is the stepping stone for much more stringent ordinances. The AAMA (American Amusement Machine Association) filed suit with the distributor and operators of these machines, and on October 19, 2000 received the words they wanted to hear. At least for the mean time the Courts were in the video game makers favor.

Supporters of that bill still fight the ruling in appeal, but it's far from the worse onslaught the industry has ever had to face. In fact, it's hard to believe, but this debate really isn't anything new, and frankly, most of the people arguing against it don't even know what games are being played these days. Just a few weeks ago a Senator Joseph Leiberman was on TV explaining that games like "Doom" and "Mortal Kombat" are tainting our society.

Well, perhaps Mr. Leiberman would be happy to know that Doom hasn't sold a unit in five years, and nobody seems to care about Mortal Kombat.

Truth is, the video games may look more realistic, but the violence isn't getting worse. The top selling games this year have been Pokemon, Gran Turismo 3, and Sonic Adventures 2, none of which are about to start a riot in L.A. The violent games of yesteryear, or at least the ones that people complained about, aren't being made in droves anymore. Mortal Kombat has given way to better 3D fighting games, most of which are pretty dry on the blood and gore.

Even Doom has taken a step back. No longer are you fighting out of Hell, now it's all multiplayer death matches. But the dark violent side to first person shooters has been lost somewhere along the way. And even the military was using these "simulators" as training, so any complaints against the genre would be unfounded.

But even though video game violence seems to be on an all time low, you can't help but notice the amount of States, lawyers, and politicians discussing this issue. You'd think that the world was being over taken by such violence. And it's not going away any time soon, either. Just remember, 2002 is an election year, and with three next generation systems competing the government should have a lot to work with.


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