By David Radd
Those who follow the video game industry are no doubt familiar with the Entertainment Software Association or ESA. Responsible for maintaining the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) and running the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the ESA is also at the forefront of efforts to combat piracy. To many in the general public, they are the face of the gaming industry's fight against censorship and direct regulation by the government, but they are not the only trade association to do so.
ESA is specifically designed to support the top publishers of the video game world, similar to how the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA) is designed to support retailers that legally sell and rent video games, movies, and music. Hal Halpin, former president of the organization preceding the EMA, recognized that there was an important part of the loop for the gaming industry that was not being represented: the consumer. Thus, he led the efforts to found the Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA) designed to protect the rights of consumers against anti-games legislation.
Given Halpin's background, he's familiar with the concerns of other entertainment industries, like movies and television. It is important for that the fight for gaming's rights be put in the context of other creative media which have been persecuted to a greater or lesser degree in their own time. Halpin noted that using examples of the past is important as part of the ongoing discussion with legislators.
“All media - books, comic books, movies, music and video games - have had periods when they have been the prime target for censorship,” said Halpin. “We discuss all media, as we set video games in context.”
Congress is, on the whole, more likely to be over 65 than the general population, and as a byproduct of that advanced age average, they are more than likely unfamiliar with games as a whole. There's a common misconception that video games are specifically for kids, while studies show that the average game consumer is over the age of 30. It's small statistical tidbits like this that are part of a campaign of information the ECA runs with legislators to fight back against unfair or untrue stereotypes about games and gamers as a whole.
“We have worked with legislators on all levels of government. Today we are on Capitol Hill in DC, talking to people and discussing the issues,” said Halpin before noting, “The ESA has been wonderful in supplying statistics for community use.”
The discussion about video games is one that time seems to favor. In past instances where an entertainment media comes under scrutiny, it eventually becomes accepted as the generation that grew up with said medium (comics, movies, television) knows that it won't irreparably harm the psyches of young people the way some sensationalists said during their childhood. Even after the victory of gaming industry in the recent Supreme Court case, Halpin indicates it is no less important to continue dialog with legislators. Indeed, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
“Like in the general population, some are supportive, some are uncertain, and some are opposed,” said Halpin. “It’s our job in part to support the supporters’ stances, and work with those that are uncertain or opposed to show them the facts in these issues.”
“Times definitely change, and we are able to change the views of some legislators,” he added. “However, even after the seminal Brown v EMA Supreme Court case, our work continues in discussing the issues with legislators and their staffs, and showing them the fallacy of certain incorrect perceptions.”
The best demonstration of the vigilance gamers and the gaming industry must have is the response some had to the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. There were calls for more studies into the effects of violent games on youth, the head of the NRA outright blamed video games for the shooting and Leland Yee, the California politician who authored the anti-game legislation in California that was ultimately struck down by the Supreme Court said, "Gamers have just got to quiet down. Gamers have no credibility in this argument."
Hal Halpin has no plans to “quiet down.”
“We will run campaigns, have our members and the general public speak out on their own behalf, do trainings so that they will be able to speak face to face with legislators, facilitate those meetings, make our own statements on behalf of our members, and have meetings with legislators and their staffs on behalf of, and with, some of our members,” asserted Halpin.