Politics and Law Feed

Of Course It was Mortal Kombat That Sparked The Creation Of The Video Games Rating System

Mortal KombatWhile it's fun to talk about video games that have major anniversaries this month (both Donkey Kong Country and the Sega 32X turn twenty-five years old), it's seemingly less fun to reminisce about the anniversary of the creation of a regulatory body, but thanks to author of Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation and friend of the Power Button podcast Blake J. Harris, we're going to have a good time exploring the genesis of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) on the occasion of its twenty-fifth anniversary.  Harris has written a seven-part oral history article that chronicles the ESRB's rise to ratings prominence, and each week the ESRB blog will publish an installment.  Everything kicks off this week with the first part in which the United States Congress learns about a horrifying new video game called Mortal Kombat and then uses it to score political points with family-friendly constituents.

On October 20, 1993—mere weeks after the release of Mortal Kombat—California’s Attorney General, Dan Lungren, spoke to a group of police investigators at an event in Los Angeles:

“We’ve got impressionable young people dealing with interactive games that are very realistic and I wonder if that is what we should be teaching our kids. The message is: destroy your opponent. I would ask you if that is very different from some of the messages in gang culture.”

The following month, Lungren upped the ante asking game manufacturers to stop selling games that teach youngsters to “demean and destroy.”

It's easy to point the finger at Mortal Kombat with the benefit of hindsight, but if it hadn't been Scorpion and Sub-Zero raising government hackles, it would have been another game (most likely Night Trap which was also in the hot seat around the same time).  Video games were becoming a major business, and whenever something becomes popular and successful, people take notice and put it under the microscope.  The same kind of exaggerated political rhetoric we hear today in government over pet causes was used in 1994 to demonize video games.  Was it all worth it?  Well, Congress eventually left the gaming industry alone to regulate its own content, and while there was a renewed burst of censorship and "are games art?" discussions in the 2000s as Grand Theft Auto sparked the same reactions as Mortal Kombat did a decade earlier, we've largely come out on the other side with fantastic gaming experiences presented as their creators generally intend them.  Just nobody show Congress the new Fatalities in Mortal Kombat 11.  I don't think they could handle that.


Who Needs Copyright?

The Revenge of ShinobiMany video game developers work their entire careers to have the opportunity to make a game involving popular icons such as Batman, Spider-Man, or Godzilla, but if those opportunities can't be earned, why not just take Batman and make him your own?  Hardcore Gaming 101 has put together a fun list of games that, ahem, "borrow" famous characters that, legally speaking, really should not be there.  The king of this kind of thing has to be Sega's The Revenge of Shinobi which runs wild with unauthorized cameos and, as a result, has been revised many times over the years.

The Revenge of Shinobi is probably the most famous game for these type of changes, with numerous revisions. REV00 was only released in Japan and has enemies that resemble Rambo, Spider-Man, Batman and Godzilla. REV01 changes the Rambo enemy (by removing his bandana and making him bald), and Batman (by making him resemble the manga character Devilman). However, the Spider-Man enemy originally only looked kind of like the comic book character, but here he was redrawn to look exactly like him. The REV02 version included a copyright notice for Marvel, indicating that his appearance was official. This was done because Sega had the license for Spider-Man arcade and console games, so they decided to go for a bit of cross promotion. REV03, which appeared on compilations, changed the Godzilla boss by turning it into a dinosaur skeleton. The final revision, released on the Wii Virtual Console, changed the Spider-Man enemy’s color to pink, and changed the ninja on the title screen to less resemble Sonny Chiba.

There's a major difference between an indie hobbyist thinking he's going to make the next Metroid game without Nintendo noticing and a professional outfit like Sega deciding to just co-opt Batman and Godzilla for the hell of it.  In a strange way you have to admire the chutzpah of it all. 


Astrophotography The Game Boy Camera Way

Game Boy CameraThe limited photographic capabilities offered by Nintendo's 1998 Game Boy Camera accessory have long since been surpassed by even the most basic digital camera, but there is still a hobbyist community out there exploring new ways to use the monochromatic camera for interesting things.  Consider this astrophotography project from Alexander Pietrow, an astronomy and instrumentation student of Leiden University in the Netherlands.  He recently used a Game Boy Camera combined with a telescope to capture images of the Moon and infinities beyond.

I wondered if it would be possible to do astrophotography with this camera. Searching the internet I was surprised that nobody had tried this before and decided to give it a go. Using the 1838 6'' Fraunhofer telescope in the Old Observatory of Leiden in combination with a 'Gosky Universal Cell Phone Adapter', it was relatively easy to properly align the camera with the telescope eyepiece. The biggest issue was a typical Dutch one: waiting for a cloudless night.

A few weeks later the clouds finally broke up and the Moon was high in the sky together with Jupiter. Not wanting to pass up on this opportunity, I rushed to the observatory and clicked away. The Moon was observed trough the viewfinder for a more zoomed out image and the main telescope for detailed shots. The viewfinder images are not very impressive, although the phase of the moon is clearly visible, especially when compared with a Stellarium image of that night. (Note that telscopes flip the image.) The second moon series was much better, especially when looking at the border between the light and dark sides. We can clearly see craters on the Moon.

He has actual photos of celestial objects that you absolutely must see.  I love a good "because I could" vintage technology project and this has to be one of the most "because I could" projects I've ever seen.  I don't know what possible use this telescope application has beyond being an interesting lark, but my compliments to Pietrow for his ingenuity.  I hope that word of this reaches the Game Boy Camera's original development staff.  I bet they would be pleased to learn that their own "because I could" project has been used to photograph other planets.

(Link via Reddit, photo via Alexander Pietrow)


And Now, A Very Special Interview Reenactment Theater

There's a neat recurring feature over at Defunct Games in which classic interviews from old video game magazines are produced as little audio plays.  I'm featured in the most recent installment which reenacts a 1995 interview from Next Generation magazine discussing horror elements in video games and how far is too far when it comes to digital scares and gore.  I read the part of Jay Wilbur, former business manager at iD Software who is there defending Doom.  It was a fun lark to do and I hope you all enjoy listening to it.


Thrill At Negotiation Simulation In World Of Peacecraft

Late night talk shows have been mining video games for humor for a while now, but I believe this is the first instance of HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver tweaking the medium for a laugh.  Here's a clip from this past weekend's episode which advertises the new alternative to war-based video games.  Why fight on the battlefield when you can fight in the conference room?  Prepare for World of Peacecraft. It's a parody now, but give it time. Someone will create this game and put it up on Steam Greenlight before too long.


Stephen Colbert Is Right About SimCity

Perhaps you've seen this clip of Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert discussing potential gun control legislation and how/if video games can influence human behavior on The Colbert Report.  It's been making the rounds online through the gaming community in the past day (the gaming material is near the end of the clip).  At one point, Colbert points out that games do influence children by pointing out how many children played SimCity years ago and have since gone on to become urban planners.  I had a good laugh at that notion until I realized that I'm a perfect example of Colbert's theory.  I played a lot of SimCity as a kid.  I had the Super NES version of the game and spent many, many days off from school laying out the familiar residential, commercial, and industrial zones.  I placed power plants around the landform like there was no tomorrow.  Airports?  Seaports?  No problem.  Over the years I shifted my SimCity habits to PC and picked up SimCity 2000, SimCity 3000, and SimCity 4 along with all of the expansion packs (and I still play them; over the holiday break last month I created another thriving city in SimCity 4).  Do you know what I do for work when I'm not writing about video games?  I work in urban planning.  For nearly fourteen years now I've designed construction concepts in a large community of over 50,000 people to maximize building relationships and encourage efficient design.  I am the culmination of Stephen Colbert's gaming nightmare.  Somehow, I think I can cope with that.


Election Day In The Mushroom Kingdom

Mario for presidentIt's Election Day in the United States of America once again, so if you're eligible to vote, be sure to grab your ID, charge your portable gaming gadget's batteries, and get out there to the line at your local precinct. Tonight we can all come together as a nation and celebrate the great news (by which, of course, I mean that we've finally come to the end of the glut of political advertisements and automated telephone calls stumping for candidates and policies for another few years). Whether you support Barack Obama or Mitt Romney for the presidency, I think there is one thing on which we can all agree: it would be more fun to vote for fictional characters for the office of Commander-in-Chief. Here's a conversation that the Evilcast's Chris Nitz and I had yesterday morning on Twitter in which we debate the policy issues and scandals surrounding two third-party candidates from distant lands.


Here Comes Another Attempt To Legislate Video Games

Phoenix WrightYou'd think that after all of the court cases that have found in favor of the video game industry when it comes to restricting the sale of games with a poorly written, slippery slope of a law that government officials looking to pander to voters would have moved on to a new target.  Nevertheless, today brings word that Congressmen Joe Baca and Frank Wolf have proposed the Violence in Video Games Labeling Act that would require all video games rated E-for-Everyone and up to carry a warning label.  Game Informer explains:

"The video game industry has a responsibility to parents, families and to consumers — to inform them of the potentially damaging content that is often found in their products," Baca said, as reported by The Hill. "They have repeatedly failed to live up to this responsibility."

"Just as we warn smokers of the health consequences of tobacco, we should warn parents — and children — about the growing scientific evidence demonstrating a relationship between violent video games and violent behavior," Wolf said. "As a parent and grandparent, I think it is important people know everything they can about the extremely violent nature of some of these games."

If the bill passes, it would require any game with an ESRB rating of E (Everybody) and above to carry a warning label regardless of whether or not it was actually considered "violent." The only games that would not have to carry a label are ones rated EC (Early Childhood). Previous attempts to pass the bill occurred in 2009 and 2011.

All of the usual poor logic and slimy weasel words are in Baca's and Wolf's statements.  There's blessed mentions of families, responsibilities, the comparison of video games to tobacco, identifying oneself as a parent and a grandparent, and the usual rhetoric about people having a right to know information.  I've grown very tired of legislators dragging games down into the mud just for the sake of attracting the votes of an ill-informed public.  Video games are protected free speech.  Leave 'em alone.


Demonic 3DS Brain Age Could Be A Localization Nightmare

Demon TrainingNintendo struck gold with its Brain Age titles for the Nintendo DS, so it only makes sense that a new installment of the brain trainer series is in development for the Nintendo 3DS.  This one, however, might pose a challenge when it comes to North America.  See, the hook this time around is that the new puzzles are devilishly difficult, so friendly floating head Professor Kawashima has become a red-skinned horned demon.  I'm sure that'll go over well in the Bible Belt.  This seems like a localization nightmare when it comes to bringing the tentatively titled Demon Training abroad.  Nintendo will never be able to sell this game in highly religious communities.  I can already envision the local television news running a story about how Nintendo wants to corrupt your children with its devil game.  Stances on religious instances in video games are laxer in Japan than in the states, and while Nintendo of America has censored little aspects of games in the past as part of the translation process, it's also outright passed on games in which the religious iconography is too central to a game's main theme to remove.  Remember Devil World, for example?  Brain Age was too profitable for the next installment not to come to America, but I wouldn't be surprised if Demon Training were given an exorcism and entirely rethemed by the time it inevitably lands stateside.


The Daily Show Invokes Floridal Kombat

Mortal KombatThe Republican presidential primary is happening in Florida today, and as the election carnival rolls through the sunshine state in advance of today's voting, The Daily Show is covering the back-and-forth snipping and tripping between GOP frontrunners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.  The fun part comes from the use of gameplay clips from last year's Mortal Kombat for the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360 to illuminate the conflict between the two potential nominees.  Watch Jon Stewart annotate the debate in advance of a political finishing move.

What I find most interesting about The Daily Show using Mortal Kombat clips as a punchline is that last July when the show reported on the Supreme Court decision that extended free speech protection to video games, the show used clips of this same Mortal Kombat game to argue that based on its gory and unsettling content, games should not enjoy such protection.  The show purposefully called out that the Mortal Kombat footage was disturbing and not easy to watch.  Now the program is using clips of the same game in a humorous way to punctuate the political report.  I'm not against the use of Mortal Kombat footage for hilarity purposes (and I thought that this "Floridal Kombat" segment was very funny), but I do think it's odd for The Daily Show to cite Mortal Kombat as an example of a game that is so distasteful that it should invalidate the medium's free speech protection while also using the same game for its comedy needs.