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Video Games and the Law: Violence and Addiction

Video games have long been the scapegoat of politicians and media campaigns. Whilst the majority of the focus has been upon the depictions of violence within games, the furor over Grand Theft Auto’s infamous “Hot Coffee” scandal and subsequent legal wrangling brought on board the potential controversy of depicting explicit sexual acts in games. (Rockstar had at one stage planned to include a sex-based mini-game in the title. The plans were scrapped, but the code for them remained hidden in the game. When a PC enthusiast learned how to access them, instructions on how to access the content quickly spread across the internet, with an outcry following closely behind.)

A recent survey in the US in November of last year (see Rasmussen Reports: 54% Think Violent Video Games Lead to More Violence in Society) indicated that the majority of Americans (54% in the sample) believe that violent video games result in a more violent society.

Following Panorama’s recent expose of how engrossing games apparently are, we can now throw addiction into the pot. Please read on for further information.Satta Matka

The US

The US remains governed entirely under a system of self regulation – as yet there is no federal law against the sale of violent or sexually explicit video games to children (although certain states have tried to introduce legislation). The US system relies on the voluntary ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board, an independent body) rating system which rates titles and polices the marketing of games. The system relies on goodwill- that of retailers and the ESRB – so there is nothing, as a matter of law, to stop kids buying violent games. Attempts have been made by at least two states to ban the sale of violent games to children, but free speech legislation has to date blocked such attempts. The Californian Supreme Court is to rule later this year on whether such a ban would be legitimate.

The UK

The UK has a mandatory system for certain types of video games depending upon the content. Games featuring sex or violence must be submitted for classification by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) in accordance with the Video Recordings Act 1984. The role of digital and interactive media was elaborated in the Criminal Justice & Public Order Act 1994, which introduced a number of new tests to the classification process, including a specific requirement to consider the ‘harm’ that the work may cause a potential viewer.

Video games remain generally exempt under the Video Recordings Act 1984 (VRA). However, the exemption will not apply if that game depicts:

  • sex
  • violence;
  • may encourage criminal activity (or other “matters of concern”); and/or
  • where the depiction of such material is particularly realistic.

The VRA was introduced at a time when games could not hope to rival the

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