Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Boston, Politics, and Games

Mayor Thomas Menino is catching heat from some corners of the gaming community for his "encouraging" remarks in light of last month's conference at Northeastern. You can get the full scoop at GamePolitics, but here you will find my two cents:

An important understanding.

Menino is a politician. And politicians notoriously say all sorts of things to get money and votes. Take, for instance, the hot quote from The Boston Globe being cited by angry gamers: "We want to help these young people and entrepreneurs understand that we’re a digital-friendly city. My administration is dedicated to helping creative industries flourish."

You see? He wants to help developers! The MA government is going to offer aid to entrepreneurs who want to start game companies in Boston. That's great news. Why are people upset about this?

Well, because Menino has held some pretty controversial stances on gaming legislation and advertisement in Boston. The three noteworthy issues:
  • Last February, a letter was issued to the MBTA demanding the removal of M-rated videogame ads from MBTA trains and buses. Menino eventually signed that letter.
  • Last November, Menino announced plans to sue Sony for PS3 launch-related disturbances at the Sony store in Copley.
  • In January, legislation was proposed preventing the sale of M-rated games to minors in MA. Menino supported (if not motivated) the drafting of this legislation.

The devil's advocate.

What I would like to point out is that these are three relatively benign stances to have held.

(1) This advertising controversy is old news. Remember when cigarette companies were catching so much heat for using cartoons like Joe Cool to promote their products? But since a small non-profit in Boston will never successfully stop Rockstar's GTA campaign (after all, playing M-rated games, unlike smoking, is still legal for minors), they target the people purchasing the ads. Should game companies be marketing violent games to children? Probably not. Are we able to stop this without infringing on developer's freedom to market their products? I don't know. Furthermore, it wasn't Menino who decided M-rated games were the equivalent of X-rated movies. That was silly Daniel Grabauskas at the MBTA.

(2) And, yes, Menino is sueing Sony for the "disturbances" at their store in Copley. And, yes, it was the fault of the Sony Store. For not releasing numbers, for encouraging customers to wait in a mob on the other side of the street, for doing all of this without giving a heads up to local law enforcement. At every Best Buy in the Boston area that night, the store manager visited at least once, an orderly line was formed, and police were warned about the possible chaos. I don't blame Menino for sueing Sony. (I might point out that Menino didn't even sign that MBTA letter until the absurdity of the PS3 launch. Maybe our fine mayor was thinking how stupid and violent gamers can be.)

(3) The legislation. I've made it clear in the past how I feel about this. The gaming industry absolutely should be allowed to make a game with any content they choose. And children of any age, with their parents' support, should be allowed to play those games. But the fact remains that 13-year-old children should not be buying M-rated games. Or R-rated movies, for that matter. As a sales associate at a game store, I will not sell M-rated games to minors. And I will not sell them to parents without making sure they're aware of the content. The proposed MA legislation is a little insane (preventing minors from purchasing any game that "lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors"?), but its intention is the same.

End rant.

So that's what I think about all that. Of course Menino is pandering a bit in order to win political and financial confidence. But he isn't all that much of a hypocrite. I'm not sure I would have made any of his decisions differently. And I'm as devoted a gamer as you can get.


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