Gamers Of The U.S., Unite!

Kids play video games
AP's Scott Conroy writes for GameCore, the Web site's gaming section.

GameCore has fielded a lot of indignant responses to the recent "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" firestorm. A typical approach has been to fire off a flurry of four-letter words, to question our nation's priorities and to take solace in the conviction that politicians "just don't understand." This reaction may be cathartic, but it is counterproductive.

Most gamers are familiar with the story. It was discovered that hidden sexual material in GTA could be unlocked and viewed with a simple code. Soon after, a handful of politicians became publicly incensed and jockeyed for position to out-family-values one another. At the forefront was Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., who immediately requested the Entertainment Software Rating Board rating change that the board eventually instilled. In a Q & A with CBS News, Senator Clinton said through a spokesman that she's not done yet.

"I am developing legislation that would put some teeth into the ratings system by restricting the sale of M and AO-rated games to minors," she said. "The industry has already decided these games are not appropriate for minors and I want to make sure retailers take the rating system seriously."

Taking steps to keep excessively violent games out of the hands of minors seems like a reasonable step. But adult gamers are concerned that censorship begets more censorship and that their ability to buy and play the games they want might become compromised.

Sen. Clinton and others point to studies that link violent video games to aggressive behaviors. But some experts aren't so sure about the connection. In an interview with GameCore Dr. Jerald Block, a physician involved in the video game-violence debate, said it's too soon to tell whether a direct correlation can be made.

"While I believe it is the government's job to regulate dangerous products, I think we are nowhere near being able to say that about computer games. We need loads and loads of more research."

There is a serious culture clash here. Gamers' heads blew out a collective spout of steam when the American Academy of Pediatrics compared adolescent video game-playing to tobacco-smoking, an analogy that Senator Clinton cited in laying out her argument.

"This isn't about offending our sensibilities -- it is about protecting our children," Clinton said.

Perhaps gamers are justified in thinking that to get politicians to open a real dialogue with them would be akin to a mouse attempting to persuade a python to come to a mutual understanding. But they have to try. If they care about the future of the industry, and if they want to be listened to rather than ignored, gamers are going to have to pull up a chair at the long table known as Capitol Hill.

Last week, Rep. Fred Upton, R-Miss., sponsored a House resolution to request that the Federal Trade Commission investigate whether the publishers of Grand Theft Auto deliberately evaded the ratings board so that it could avoid an Adults Only rating. Gamers' responses varied in language but were consistent in tone:

"That's censorship ...what about the First Amendment? ... how can video games lead to violence when crime rates are declining ... Upton's probably never played a video game in his life!"

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    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.