The American government recently made an attempt to enact rules to regulate protection of intellectual properties and to take down piracy. Thanks to the millions of people who shared their anger for overbearing protection and angry high school kids cheating on their homework, both the SOPA and PIPA bills have been suspended for reconsideration. What great timing for this, and the re-release of Sonic CD for PC platforms via Steam, as it lets us recall an incident as early as 1993 during the US Senate hearings for violent video games.
If you recall the lengthy retrospective on the Sega Mega CD, as well as another one of its landmark titles, Night Trap, the developers put out a short documentary named “Dangerous Games” regarding their perspective during and after the hearings from producers, actors as well as avid ‘gamers.’
Granted, there is probably a certain level of bias coming from a few of these people. After all, they all got a kick out of the ’80s-esque campy presentation of the game where the most violent scene in the game revolved around draining helpless victims for blood through one of the most ridiculous pieces of machinery this side of science fiction. Concerned parents who probably didn’t grow up watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 were warded off as word of mouth slowly formed for Night Trap into this off-putting description of a snuff film. Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan expressed his opinion, among the dozens of other soundbite generators labeling Night Trap as “trash, child abuse, sick, disgusting,” and bluntly stating that the Night Trap developers, along with the other developers under fire have gone too far.
The game was pulled from select store shelves despite high demand, selling over a million copies. Consumers were confused by its sudden disappearance. However it would eventually see a reprint with a new cover as part of the result that was met after the hearings concluded. Even the actors, including the game’s star Dana Plato were surprised when the game was pulled. They would defend the game to the point of asking critics if they have “ever played it.” Digital Pictures’ producer Tom Zito, who wanted to speak out for his game, claims he was told that there probably wouldn’t be enough time for him to speak during the hearing. He faced trouble when senators shunned him for not making it to the hearing. When Zito attempted to take the floor, he was silenced as he appeared to be disrupting the floor.
While they weren’t going to win any favors from those lobbying against the industry as a whole, it did help create the modern day video game ratings system. Despite Sega’s efforts to introduce their own ratings system at the same time to notify potential buyers of what to expect inside their purchased software, it would be discontinued in favor of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board. The ESRB would become the industry’s answer to avoid government regulation and to inform consumers.
Video games have continued to be the whipping boy of watchdog groups, lobbyists and politicians to ensure the safety and protection of children from these creations. But it is still an interesting viewpoint to witness, at least in America, of an era that will still favor the voice of the consumer, the developer who only produce content to entertain, and keep these occupations strong.