February 18, 2006

The Week at SpeakSpeak

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 24, 2005 @ 4:56 pm
Filed under: SpeakSpeak, Right Watch, Free Speech, Cable/Satellite, Government, Media Watch, TV, Video Games, Religion, AdWatch

• In Sacramento, California last week, about 50 protesters demanded that Wal-Mart commercialize Christmas. LINK

• Corrupt GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff has been casting a shadow on Congressmen Tom Delay (R-TX) and Bob Ney (R-OH) for months. But now he’s also casting a shadow over conservative writers Doug Bandow and Peter Ferrara. It was recently revealed that Abramoff paid them to write op-eds. LINK

• Conservative columnist George Will claims there is a lot of oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But he wants oil companies to drill there even if there is only “three thimbles of oil,” to strike a blow against “collectivism.” However, blogger Amanda Marcotte responds that collectivism is a good thing. She refers to the US Constitution’s purpose of promoting the “general welfare.” LINK

• US citizens are under surveillance by our government. The Washington Post describes FBI “national security letters” a new military department spying on Americans called the “Counterintelligence Field Activity,” and more. LINK

• Conservative commentator Robert Novak is leaving CNN for Fox News. Novak notes that over the years at CNN he “said some fairly outrageous things.” LINK

• Fox News legal analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano said on the channel that “the president has violated the law” by ordering warrant-less wiretaps. LINK

• Bill O’Reilly is a “bully” like “Joe McCarthy,” writes New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. LINK

• New York police are disguising themselves as protesters to spy on Iraq War protesters and other activists. LINK

• Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) tried to ban the sale of certain video games to minors. A federal judge has put the ban on hold. LINK

• Conservative columnist Ann Coulter has written another racist statement against Arabs. LINK

• Actor Wil Wheaton thinks that right-wing talk radio has made his parents more right-wing. LINK

• Time Warner will offer a group of cable channels called the family tier which are all supposed to be G-rated. However, one of the channels doesn’t meet that criteria: CNN Headline News includes a show about violent crime hosted by Nancy Grace. LINK




California Video Game Ban Stalled by Judge

Posted by Amanda Toering
December 22, 2005 @ 5:23 pm
Filed under: Video Games

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

A federal judge on Thursday blocked a law banning the sale of violent video games to minors from going into effect on Jan. 1.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law earlier this year a bill by Assemblyman Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, that bans the sale or rental of especially violent video games to children under 18 years old unless there is parental approval.

U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte said the video game industry showed that they had a reasonable chance of winning their case based on the fact that the law violates the First Amendment rights of minors.

He also questioned whether there is evidence that violent video games cause violent behavior and therefore deserve to be regulated by the state.

“The plaintiffs have shown at least that serious questions are raised concerning the states’ ability to restrict minors’ First Amendment rights in connection with exposure to violent video games, including the question of whether there is a causal connection between access to such games and psychological or other harm to children,” Whyte wrote in his decision.

A similar bill has been proposed at the federal level by Senators Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman.




Illinois Video Game Ban Unconstitutional

Posted by Amanda Toering
December 6, 2005 @ 12:10 pm
Filed under: Video Games

Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich’s bill banning the sale of graphic video games to minors has been ruled unconstitutional.

From DesignTechnica:

U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kennelly ruled that Illinois’ newly passed restrictions barring the sales and rental of violent and sexually explicit video gamed to minor were unconstitutional, and barred the state from enforcing the laws. Judge Kennelly commented in his ruling that the laws were an undue restriction on free speech—”the public itself as an interest in ensuring that the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights are protected to ensure the availability of various forms of expression, including video games, to the broader society”—and that state officials were “nowhere near” demonstrating the laws’ constitutionality. The judge also noted the state had presented no evidence playing violent games caused aggressive thoughts or behavior, and that the laws’ definition of “sexually explicit” was unconstitutionally vague.

Illinois’s Democratic governor Rod Blagojevich vowed to appeal the ruling, arguing children should not be able to access “excessively” violent and sexually explicit video games without their parents’ permission.

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a similar bill in October. Industry representatives are challenging that bill as well. A court has not yet ruled on the matter.

Game ban bills in several other states have been ruled unconstitutional as well.

Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Joseph Lieberman recently announced plans to make the game ban federal.




Game Ban Bill Goes Federal

Posted by Amanda Toering
December 2, 2005 @ 11:43 am
Filed under: Government, Video Games

It was only a matter of time. Jumping on the video-games-are-evil bandwagon, Senators Hillary Clinton and Joseph Lieberman say they plan to introduce legislation that would ban the sale of graphic video games to minors.

From Video Business Online:

The Family Entertainment Protection Act also would require the Federal Trade Commission to conduct annual retail stings to monitor retailers’ compliance with the industry-backed ratings system for games and empower the agency to investigate “misleading” ratings.

The law would impose fines on retailers found to be not enforcing ratings.

Another provision would require an annual “analysis” of the ratings system, currently overseen by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, to ensure the system “accurately reflects the content in each game.”

The provision does not specify who or what agency would conduct the analysis.

“I have developed this legislation to empower parents by making sure their kids can’t walk into a store and buy a videogame that has graphic, violent and pornographic content,” Sen. Clinton said.

She said she was motivated to act in part by the discovery earlier this year that Rockstar Games had left sexually explicit material on the release version of GTA: San Andreas. Game companies often leave material from early versions of a game in the final product but code it in a way to make it inaccessible to users under normal circumstances.

But in Rockstar’s case, third-party hackers came up with a modification program, or mod, that unlocked the material on GTA: San Andreas and released the program on the Internet.

Retailer and game industry groups strongly condemned the proposed legislation.

“It is ironic that Senator Clinton’s response to the ‘Hot Coffee’ incident is to punish retailers,” the Video Software Dealers Assn. said. “Nothing about that incident suggests any deficiencies in retailers’ programs to assist parents in choosing games wisely for their children or to enforce voluntarily the game industry’s ratings. Retailers did not author the material embedded in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and they could not reasonably have discovered it.”

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (you know, star of all those shoot-em-ups) signed a similar bill in October, after vetoing it twice before. Video game makers in California have filed a lawsuit over the bill.

Laws implementing restrictions on the sale of video games have been struck down in several other states.

An Illinois ban on the sale of video games to minors was signed by Governor Rod Blagojevich earlier this year. Industry reps have filed a suit against that bill, too, saying that it’s unconstitutional. A ruling is expected soon, possible even as early as today. If not struck down, the bill would take effect on January 1st.




Germany Seeks to Further Limit Access to Video Games

Posted by Amanda Toering
November 18, 2005 @ 11:05 am
Filed under: CensorWorld, Video Games

From the GamesIndustry website:

A coalition comprised of members of Germany’s main political parties has proposed an extension to the country’s already strict rules on videogame violence which would mean that all games which depict lethal violence would be banned outright.

The coalition argues that the country’s child protection laws should be revised to include violent games as part of plans to reduce the amount of violent media which children are exposed to.

Speaking to Der Spiegel magazine, Andreas Scheuer of the Christian Social Union said that “killing games” have “no place in Germany’s bedrooms.”

Scheuer added that while parents must take responsibility for the games their children play, the government should help less media-competent adults by bringing in a complete ban.

“Help less media-competent adults”??

I can think of a few other helper laws, and I hereby submit them. First, how about a law that bans cell phones outright? Such a law would “help” those with a tendency towards assholery.

It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to institute a national dress code. This would “help” folks (and I must admit I’m one of them) with a fashion sense that may be offensive to others.

While we’re at it, how about a law that restricts television broadcasts to all Davy & Goliath, all the time. I mean, what better parent’s helper is there than Davy & Goliath?

Yeah, that oughta take care of it.




Florida Jumps on Video Game Ban-Wagon

Posted by Amanda Toering
October 28, 2005 @ 1:59 pm
Filed under: Video Games

Perhaps jealous of the splash Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made when he signed a bill that bans the sale or rental of violent video games to minors, Florida is looking to enact its own ban.

From Reuters:

A Florida state senator has introduced a bill that would ban the sale or rental of violent video games to minors, an aide to the lawmaker said on Thursday.

Introduced on October 25 by state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, a Republican from Miami, the bill is a near clone of legislation recently signed into law by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — Hollywood’s “Terminator” — who is portrayed in several video games based on his action film roles.

Bills aimed at restricting sales of violent games to minors are the latest salvo in a long campaign by detractors and some parent groups to limit access to games with adult content. Critics of violent games often cite research suggesting that such games can increase aggressive behavior in young boys.

The battle over controversial video game content flared anew this summer when game publisher Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. pulled its blockbuster title “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” from store shelves following the discovery of hidden sex scenes in its code.

Trade groups representing the $10 billion U.S. video game industry have sued to strike down the new California law and are fighting similar battles in Michigan and Illinois.

Courts already have blocked such legislation in Washington State, the city of Indianapolis and St. Louis County in Missouri, finding that the laws violated free speech guarantees in the U.S. Constitution.




New Sony Playstation to Feature Built-In Parental Controls

Posted by Amanda Toering
October 25, 2005 @ 1:15 pm
Filed under: Video Games

Gaming blog Joystiq reports that Sony and Japanese regulators have struck a deal that will lead to built-in parental controls in the next generation of Sony’s Playstation.

In a discussion with the Tokyo government, Sony confirmed that the PS3 would feature a comprehensive system for controlling accessible content. Sony has made a firm commitment to put the power in the hands of parents, taking some heat off of the developers, publishers, and retailers that have been under attack in recent months. A built-in parental control system is hardly a new concept, but perhaps by spreading awareness about this feature to parents, we can prevent governments from censoring what can and can’t be featured in a video game; and prevent them from taking severe action against publishers and retailers that distribute this content.

During the same discussion, several publishers (including Square-Enix and Namco) reiterated that before any government takes action, we must be certain that there is a correlation between violence in video games and youth crime. But before this is decided, do you think a user-friendly (but hard to crack) parental control system will keep concerned parties satisfied?

As a refresher, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed a bill that bans the sale or rental of violent video games to minors. Trade associations for video game makers are suing.

The built-in controls — they’re a great idea. So is conscious parenting.




Video Makers Sue California Over Game Ban

Posted by Amanda Toering
October 19, 2005 @ 11:21 am
Filed under: Video Games

Trade groups representing video game publishers have sued to stop a law that would make it a crime to sell or rent violent video games to minors in California. The bill was signed into law by former cyborg and current Governor Arnold “Terminator” Schwarzenegger (after he’d previously vetoed it — twice).

Similar bans have been overturned in other states.

From MSNBC:

Schwarzenegger defended the law, saying it helped parents determine which video games were appropriate for their children.

“I believe strongly that we must give parents the tools to help them protect their children,” the governor said in a statement. “I will do everything in my power to preserve this new law and I urge the attorney general to mount a vigorous defense of California’s ability to prevent the sale of these games to children.”

The industry groups, which have similar court cases pending in Illinois and Michigan, equated the California law to “content-based censorship” in its latest lawsuit. “Video games are a form of artistic expression much like other forms of protected expression, such as movies, books and music,” the lawsuit said.

Industry representatives say they are confident the California law will fail to survive the legal challenge as federal courts have struck down similar statutes in recent years.

“It is not up to any industry or the government to set standards for what kids can see or do; that is the role of parents,” said Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association.




Schwarzenegger Signs Game-Ban Bill

Posted by Amanda Toering
October 10, 2005 @ 9:50 am
Filed under: Video Games

California Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed into law a bill banning the sale or rental of violent video games to minors.

Schwarzenegger, who made his fortune by selling beefy, violent characters to filmgoers, had previously vetoed similar bills.

Facing intense criticism about his special interests (and facing a plummeting approval rating), he thought better of the veto this time.

Similar bans have been overturned by courts around the country.

More in the San Francisco Chronicle.




Do Video Game Bans Even Work?

Posted by Amanda Toering
September 20, 2005 @ 11:38 am
Filed under: Government, Video Games

The California Assembly recently passed one, Illinois just instituted one, the US Congress is considering the possibility. But do laws prohibiting the sale or rental of violent video games to minors really work?

One study from New Zealand suggests that such legislation is largely ineffective.

Almost two-thirds of teenagers in an Internal Affairs Department survey have played computer games that are banned or restricted to adults only.

In many cases parents had supplied the illegal games.

More than 330 secondary school pupils were surveyed by the department and the Film and Literature Classification Office. About 62 per cent admitted they had played at least one of 26 games, which included two banned games and 24 restricted games.

Grand Theft Auto was the most popular illegal series among the under-age teens.

Seven per cent had played Manhunt – banned because it was too gory and required players to become accustomed to the violence to continue playing.

About half the teenagers said they had bought the game themselves, and about a third said their parents had bought the game for them.

Chief censor Bill Hastings said games were banned to “protect the greater public good”.

Bills like these — and their cousins, like the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act — exist to give lawmakers a sense of accomplishment. And that, in and of itself, is no accomplishment at all.




CA Passes Bill On Violent Video Games

Posted by Amanda Toering
September 12, 2005 @ 10:54 am
Filed under: Video Games

The California Assembly has passed a bill that would ban the sale of violent video games to minors. Governor Terminator, role model for shoot-em-up makers and cyborg wannabes everywhere, has yet to weigh in.

From the Washington Post:

Assembly Democrat Leland Yee, who sponsored the legislation, noted U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has introduced nearly identical legislation at the federal level.

He also accused the Entertainment Software Ratings Board of having a conflict of interest in rating video games, saying the group received its funding from video game makers.

“Unlike movies where you passively watch violence, in video game, you are the active participant and making decision on who to stab, maim, burn or kill,” Yee said in a statement. “As a result, these games serve as learning tools that have a dramatic impact on our children.”

The $10-billion video game industry has bitterly contested the bill. Game developers and console makers say laws restricting game sales are unnecessary because their industry already has safeguards to prevent minors from buying “Mature”-rated games.

The debate over video game content grew more heated in July when game publisher Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. was forced to pull a blockbuster game from retailers because of hidden sex scenes.

The controversy over the best-selling game “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” prompted calls in the U.S. Congress for a crackdown on the sales of violent and sex-laden games to minors.

Illinois enacted a similar law earlier this summer. Courts in Washington, Missouri, and Indiana have overturned video game restrictions in the past.




G4 To Boldly Go…

Posted by Amanda Toering
August 17, 2005 @ 9:36 am
Filed under: Video Games

The cable network for diehard gamers, G4, will air a special program about sex in video games. (You remember the Grand Theft Auto hoo-ha, right?)

From Punchjump:

The special will provide insight on how sexuality is used in games and how it continues to evolve. Discussions wil include XXX efforts on the first Atari console to today’s ‘Hot Coffee’ controversy. Itwill include commentary from retailers, developers, press, and parents to discuss sexual content in today’s video games.

“The recent controversy and increasing concerns over sex in gaming has fueled debates among a wide range of opinion-makers — from developers to the White House,” said Peter M. Green, SVP of Programming & Production, G4. “As an authority on the videogame industry, we are in a unique position to provide an extensive and objective inside look at all sides of the topic with this new G4 investigative report.”

Guests will include Ed Fries, co-creator of the Xbox; Seth Schiesel, Technology Culture writer, New York Times; Melissa Caldwell, Parents Television Council; Leland Yee, California Assemblyman; and members of the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association and the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.

“Sex in Games” will air on Tuesday, August 23, at 11 p.m. Eastern.




Parent, Heal Thyself

Posted by Amanda Toering
August 2, 2005 @ 11:09 am
Filed under: Video Games

Adam Prestridge, publisher of the Atmore (AL) Advance, says it’s time to hold parents accountable — not video game makers — for the side effects of too much gaming.

Here’s a breath of fresh air:

Experts first criticized video games because they kept children inside their homes, in front of the television and away from outside activities.

Those same experts came to the conclusion later that the same video games, which were now more advanced, were one of the main causes of obesity in children and teenagers.

Now experts are blaming the graphic violence and gratuitous sexual acts portrayed in some games for the actions of children and teenagers today.

In a way this is true, but as with anything a child does, some of the blame needs to be placed on the parents. The software companies that develop these video games don’t purchase them for these children or give them away. The children’s parents buy them with utter disregard to the parental advisory printed on the package or allow their children to play them with no care.

There’s nothing wrong with a company trying to make money, even if it is on smut; it’s a free country. The company has that right and we as citizens have the right not to purchase their products.

There’s more in the Atmore Advance.




Crying Over Spilled “Hot Coffee”

Posted by Amanda Toering
August 1, 2005 @ 10:34 am
Filed under: Video Games

It was only a matter of time, and the time has come.

The developer of Grand Theft Auto, Take Two Interactive Software, has been named in at least two class action lawsuits by angry parents and guardians. A refresher: It was recently revealed that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas contains a secret interactive sex scene, accessible only to those who hunt down and apply the “Hot Coffee” hack.

Take Two disclosed the lawsuits in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

One of the suits was filed by 85-year-old grandmother “on behalf of consumers nationwide.” (Thanks, granny!) The grandmother claims she bought the game for her 14-year-old grandson not knowing that it contained (hidden) sex scenes. Apparently, she had no problem with the (not hidden) graphic violence that is the very point of the game.

From MSNBC:

[Florence Cohen] sought unspecified damages on behalf of herself and all consumers nationwide, saying the company should give up its profits from the game for what amounted to false advertising, consumer deception and unfair business practices.

Cohen said in the suit that she bought the game in late 2004 for her grandson when it was rated “M” for mature, for players 17 and older. According to the suit, she directed that it be taken away from her grandson, which was done.

The game was released in October with an “M” rating. After a storm of negative publicity about the hidden scenes, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, an industry group responsible for rating games, changed the rating to “AO” for adults only.

Laurence D. Paskowitz, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Cohen, said no parent would knowingly buy an adult-only video game for their children.

Meanwhile, most major retailers no longer carry the game, either because of the bad PR it’s received or because of its new AO rating.

Paul McMasters of the First Amendment Center rightly alludes to the deep, hypocritical, and ugly double-standard at play in this story.

Never does the ponderous machinery of government and commerce rev up so quickly as when the republic is threatened by, uh, sex.

The sex this time is in a video game, the San Andreas version of Grand Theft Auto, the world’s most popular game series and long criticized for its violent content. Earlier this month, discovery of a minute or so of animated sex secretly tucked away under layer upon layer of coded violence created shudders of alarm along Pennsylvania Avenue, Wall Street and Main Street, America.

Congress, preoccupied by a Supreme Court nomination, debate over energy and trade bills, re-authorization of the Patriot Act and in a rush to complete other pressing business before the August recess, nevertheless found time to fret about this development.

“When the republic is threatened by, uh, sex.” That’s when we get upset. That’s when we act.

The 85-year-old grandmother who now feels entitled to sue for being duped — where was her outrage back when Grand Theft Auto was just about blowing people’s heads off? If she wouldn’t have bought the game for her grandson knowing that it contained super-secret sex, why did she buy it knowing that ultra-violent gore was the game’s selling point?

What the hell every happened to parental responsibility?

Grand Theft Auto has always been rated MA for mature audiences — audiences over 17, that is.

Florence Cohen purchased game rated for 17-year-olds for her 14-year-old grandson. Her real complaint isn’t the irresponsibility of Take Two; it’s about a flaw in her own parenting skills.

She has no right to be upset. She has even less of a right to sue.