Where is Our Frank Zappa?

Back in the early 80s, a conservative watchdog group lobbied for the ban or heavy regulation of music with explicit lyrics involving sex, drugs, or violence. There was a vocal outcry against this movement within the music industry, spearheaded by several prominent musicians, notably Frank Zappa and John Denver. It may seem like an odd pairing, but that served to help drive home just how unacceptable these restrictions were.

The Gaming Industry is now faced with a similar situation. Games, game developers, and even retailers are being targeted unfairly by lawyers and the media as the culprits for individual irresponsibility. Lawmakers are taking notice, but not in a positive manner: several states, Washington and California included, currently have bills in committee to ban the sale of violent games. Rather than finding other solutions, or viewing the larger problem that this is only a symptom of, legislators would prefer to restrict the rights of game makers.

There are several significant issues with the video game ban ideology, but from the reading I’ve done on the subject, most of their reasoning hinges around one fundamental flaw in their logic: games aren’t just for kids. The largest and fastest growing gaming demographic is the 18 to 34 year old age range; it is unreasonable to deny the ability to develop for that group. The game industry has voluntarily self-regulated by placing ratings on every game produced, indicating the content and suggested age range for view or play. This takes no more effort on the part of the parents (and retailers) than the movie rating system, and yet the industry as a whole is being blamed for violent games falling into the hands of children. Demanding that the game developers not make games with mature content is unreasonable on several levels, not the least of which is the violation of first amendment rights. What needs to happen is education. We need to educate parents about the systems that are in place to help them, as well as the need to pay attention to what their kids are doing. We need to educate retailers about sales ethics. We need to educate everyone about personal responsibility.

We need someone who can speak for the game industry as cogently as Frank Zappa and John Denver did for the music industry. The question is, who? Where is our Frank Zappa?

2 thoughts on “Where is Our Frank Zappa?

  1. cpelsor

    Some good observations here. Gaming definitely needs some advocacy, but I think it will manifest itself differently from music for several reasons.

    – Music is about an individual creating something under the supervision and economic backing of a company. Therefore, any sort of regulation of musical content directly affects the individual’s ability to make a living. As such, musicians have a much more direct relation to the protection of their craft.
    – Games are made by programmers, who can easily retool their skillset if they decide that regulations are preventing them from making a living.
    – All press is good press… ;) The gaming industry that produces games like GTA thrive on “the man is tryin to keep us down” press.

    It is definitely a problem that needs addressing, but how that will happen remains to be seen.


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