The video game industry has taken the lead in terms of self-regulation and doesn’t deserve to be scapegoated

The Exchange is part of an ongoing series on The Hive tackling the questions facing Boston’s entrepreneurs, investors, and innovators. This week, we ask participants if the video game industry should be regulated.

Below Alexander Sliwinski, news editor of argues that the video game industry is frequently scapegoated in the debate over violence, even though the industry has taken the lead in terms of regulating itself, outpacing other forms of media.

For more opinions, read the rest of The Exchange. Have your own opinion, or an idea for another topic? E-mail Hive@Boston.

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in 2011 video games are protected under the First Amendment in Brown v. The Entertainment Merchants Association. The majority decision rebuffed the idea of video games being more harmful due to their interactive nature, citing the existence of choose-your-own adventure books for over 50 years. Simply stated: Any conversation about violence in video games must take into account violence in all media and video games can‘t be singled out.


But, let’s be honest, video games are singled out.

Why? Well, for the better part of the past three decades the video game industry has been the little brother who could play the scapegoat in the modern media spectrum. The industry was still young and the demographics of its core constituency had little political power.

Every mass media goes through its governmental scapegoating and regulatory threat phase. It’s the bar mitzvah of media legitimacy. Hollywood dealt with it in the 1930s, comic books in the 1950s, and the music industry’s parental advisory stickers came along in the 1990s.

The video game industry strategically got ahead of the government regulation hammer by forming the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) in 1994, following controversy over games such as DOOM, Night Trap, and Mortal Kombat.

A 2009 report by the Federal Trade Commission noted the ESRB “outpaces’’ other entertainment industries in terms of self-regulation. The group has been overly zealous in some respects, requiring age-gates on any website or video that promotes a Mature 17+ game (equivalent to the movie industry’s R).

Last month, the ESRB announced it would revise its rules to allow M-rated game to be shown without age gates, as long as they were designed for general audiences and approved by the ESRB. Taking a page straight out of the movie industry’s playbook, these trailers will feature green headers. This is the first de-escalation of self-regulation I think I’ve seen from the ESRB in 20 years.


“Violent video games’’ is a buzzword. It’s designed to distract, used with precision on anybody who didn’t grow up on video games and doesn’t have regular exposure. It’s the Jabberwocky term in a Wonderland of vast experiences. Video games can be violent, but they are also Bejeweled, Angry Birds, Minecraft, Tetris, and The Sims.

The great issue currently preventing developers and innovators in the video game industry from setting up shop in the Bay State is the lack of incentives. Those were on track for Massachusetts legislators to discuss last year until the very public collapse of former Red Sox player Curt Schilling’s video game company 38 Studios down in Rhode Island. The collapse left state taxpayers holding the bag on repaying a $75 million loan (plus interest) that was co-signed by the state.

The debate over violent video games isn’t the threat to more studios opening up in Massachusetts, it’s the lack of incentives, which politicians are skittish to support following the Schilling debacle.

The video game industry has been under attack from politicians and the mainstream press for over 20 years. When it comes to movies and music the conversation can be about the art form, the celebrities or any number of topics. With video games? It’s always about the violence. It’s tiring and the audience deserves better media coverage from an art form that’s over thirty years old.

Alexander Sliwinski is the news editor of Weigh in on The Exchange: Let us know what you think of violent video game regulation at or on Twitter at@HiveBoston.

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