Last week, the Swiss government passed a motion requiring it to work on a law to, at least, ban the sales of video games rated 18+ to minors. A second motion is in place that would forbid the sales, production or advertisement of games deemed “violent” (by whom?) in Switzerland.
I remember the 80s, when people were outraged about Rambo and films like it. They said it’ll turn children into killing machines. Did that happen? Naw. The government then had the foresight not to do anything drastic, and thus the exiting age rating system for films was all that it took. It’s a voluntary system, where a board of assessors gives each film an age rating, but there is no law forcing stores not to sell 18+ films to minors, except in the case of hardcore pornography. This works fine! Why would we need a law for video games when the same law doesn’t exist for films or books?
Even centuries ago, there was violence (rape, suicide, murder…) in the media — Shakespeare’s novels, for example. And is Shakespeare 18+ now? No, they teach the stuff to 15 year olds at school.
This law represents one step into the direction of state censorship. The more drastic version of the law that is being suggested would forbid the production and sales of very vaguely defined “violent games” in Switzerland. Is it violent to be a fat Italian plumber that jumps onto mushrooms? Is it violent to play as Jade, a reporter battling human trafficking and other horrors and quite definitely smacking aliens in the skull with various weapons because they would kill her otherwise? One of the few games with a believable female lead character, a true miracle in gaming, which is rated 7+ now would be illegal under this new law? Or for a more popular example, Half-Life 2, one of the greatest advances in game storytelling and depth in a first-person game ever to grace the screens of the world, would be illegal just because you need to sometimes crack a mutant’s skull with a crowbar to save your character’s life and the lives of those your character loves?
I think we’re talking generation gap here. These politicians have never played any of the games I’ve mentioned. They have no clue how the medium works. None of these politicians ever stood on top of the Citadel and saw their own character’s fate roll out before them. None of them ever felt a chill run down their spine when they glimpsed the G-Man silently observing them from afar. None of them ever had that odd feeling in the pit of their stomach approaching a an eerile Combine police officer in the introduction scene to Half-Life 2. They don’t even know these scenes exist, or that there is more to game storytelling than simply shooting the limbs off your enemy. James Bond also kills people, but the audience applauds. It’s because he doesn’t kill in cold blood. What a boring Bond film that would make.
I’d wager that 99.5% of the games released today, and a significant portion of the games that would be affected by the ban, are not the kind of games the politicians are thinking of when they talk about these issues. If they would actually play some of them, they’d know that. If they prefer to simply ban what they don’t know and don’t understand, I’d be losing some confidence in our government.