In yet another political stage show, polticians have turned their political guns on the newest entertainment medium, video games. First, a brief history of how we got here. In the beginning, the was Pong, and it was good, but it wasn't enough, and people made more games. There was little content problem, as violence could only get so graphic on the old 4-bit Atari and Intellivision graphics. About the only thing parents were told to steer clear from was Custer's Revenge, which depicted the raping of native women. As games progressed, though, they got more graphic. Eventually, worrisome depictions of violence came about, climaxing at DOOM, which finally caught the eye of parents who didn't want their kids playing it. Eventually, private enterprise took over and formed a ratings board called the ESRB. For a price, games could be sent to the ESRB, which hired people to play these games enough to assign a rating to them, similar to television and movie ratings. These ranged from 'E' for 'everyone' to 'AO', meaning 'adult only,' a rating typically reserved for games depicting graphic sexual acts or ultra-realistic violence. This seemed to placate people, for the most part. Even in absence of any law about video game content, most stores adopted a minor purchase law similar to that for rated 'R' movies, requiring ID for anyone purchasing an 'M' or above rated game and denying 'T' rated games to those obviously under 13. Also, with the incentive of increased sales from parents, most games were sent to the ESRB. Knowing the kind of flack video games had gotten in the past, the ESRB even went stricter than the MPAA or the tv ratings board, giving out 'M' ratings for games that featured violence and sexuality on par with a PG-13 or TV14 rated program. There were still lawsuits in which lawyers, typically Jack Thompson, claimed that video games were causing kids to become violent, but with the ratings system in place and evidence contradicting that ridiculous claim, these lawsuits weren't given much attention. Now that that's done, two recent incidents have once again drawn the attention of power-hungry politicians and lent some much-lacking credibility to well-known nutjob Jack Thompson (who is barred from practicing law in Florida, as he used his law firm there to harrass and frivilously litigate the creators of the Penny Arcade. I'll tell you why at the bottom). First off, there was the Hot Coffee incident in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. For those of you who don't know, Hot Coffee was a piece of content that was originally cut from the game as it was determined to be just a little over the top in respect to questionable content. Rather than completely removing the source code and going through the time consuming process of ensuring that doing so didn't result in extra bugs, they simply removed all references to it, effectively reducing it to a few extra megs of content that was lurking there, but couldn't be accessed. It's quick and dirty, but it's what you do when your time is budgeted (Sierra also did it with "Hellfire," an expansion pack for "Diablo" in order to conceal the poorly designed bard class). Well, some modders found this content and hacked the game, altering its source code, to unlock this scene, which was a fairly tame (compared to what you see on TV) "clothes on" sex scene with the main character and his girlfriend. Well, apparantly, the drug use, graphic violence, gratuitous felonious actions, including the murder of police officers, and incredibly course language were OK to have in a rated "M" (17+, same as a rated 'R' movie) game, but not a mild, clothes on sex scene that could only been seen if you went WAY out of your way to unlock it. Under immense political pressure, the ESRB changed the rating to "AO" and many stores yanked it from their shelves. Some people like to talk about how the Janet Jackson boob slip was an overreaction, but the Super Bowl has a rating of "G," meaning kids were watching. No children should have been playing San Andreas. The next incident involved the Oblivion 'nude' mod. This was a third party modification that added textures that were in no way present in the game as it was sold that made certain characters appear nude. This wasn't even designed content, it was content designed by an independant third party that overwrote the original content and replaced it with other content. Bethesda Softworks (which made the game) had no control or recourse except to attempt to make their game unmoddable, which is suicide in many gaming circles, so, once again under immense polticial pressure, the ESRB upped their rating from "T" to "M" over what was the equivalent of some sicko using a video editor to alter his tape of "The Little Mermaid" to take off Ariel's bra. So now, there's a(n Unconstitutional) bill being brought before Congress that would require the ESRB, an independant ratings firm, to play through all the content of a game before assigning a rating. The problem is that many games often have hidden content or extensive 'side' content. For example, seeing every square inch of Oblivion's enourmous world would take even the most dedicated gamer months, if not years. The second problem is that neither of these incidents was caused by content that would be uncovered by a thorough playing of an unmodified game. What's happening here is a political hostile takeover. First, they strongarm the ESRB into doing ludicrous things with the ratings. For yet one more example, anybody remember in "Fight Club" where Tyler edits in a few seconds of porno between the reels of a kiddie flick? According to the way Congress is strongarming the ESRB, that would be sufficient cause to require an 'R' if not an 'X' rating of said kiddie flick. Anyway, now they're bringing in government regulation. The next time something like this happens, they'll point at it and say, "See, the ESRB didn't do anything we asked them and now our children are once again under assault from game companies who refuse to squelch third party content that may make it to a child's eyes," and they'll use it as an excuse to take over the company and call in the lobbyists. More at www.penny-arcade.com Footnote: I said I'd explain the story behind Jack Thompson and his FL law license. Jack Thompson called the game industry hypocritical in their application of violence and dared them to prove him wrong, offering as a carrot a $10,000 donation to their charity of choice if anyone came up with a game in which the father of a child whose son had been allegedly killed because his killer played too many video games took a rather violent revenge on the gaming executives. Thus, a modding group made a San Andreas mod that did just that. Jack Thompson fell back on the old "I was only kidding" cop out. Penny Arcade instead paid his $10,000 donation and hammerred Thompson for going back on his word. Thompson then filed several libel lawsuits through his Florida firm and tried to have them arrested. He was then disbarred in Florida for misconduct.