Interview: Doug Lowenstein on the Video Game Voters Network

The Video Game Voters Network was established as an outlet for video gamers to get their message out about the onslaught of anti-game legislation that's growing by the day. The orginization was started by Doug Lowenstien, president of the ESA. In this exclusive interview, Mr. Lowenstein discusses the VGVN and why it's an important tool to any gamer looking to stop government regulation of any kind in the industry.

Why the Video Game Voters Network? What does this group (and of course the ESA) plan to do differently than sites like Startturth.com and Gamepolitics.com?

The Video Game Voters Network was created to allow adult gamers to learn more about the important policy issues that could directly effect their personal choices in the games they play and enable those who join a user-friendly outlet to take action by contacting federal, state, and local officials to express their views.

Are any activities organized by the VGVN planned? Rallies, protests, etc.?

Currently, besides the effort to get the word out about the site and get as many gamers as possible to join, there are no other activities scheduled, but we will explore other opportunities as time goes on.

To respond to someone not informed on the topic, what's the advantage of keeping the government out of the process of regulation?

Simple: it's not the role of government to decide what games kids should or should not play. That's why they have parents. Moreover, efforts to regulate game sales are patently unconstitutional and violate the creative rights of all artists. Parents in fact have the tools to make informed choices about the games their kids play, and, with parental controls becoming more common, they even have the technology to block access to games they feel are not appropriate. The control should be in their hands.

Years later, we're still hearing about Doom, one of the original games that started this entire debate. Why do politicians and media figures continue to use this 10+ year old title in their debates, in addition to more recent titles like Grand Theft Auto?

Many elected officials know little about the game industry or its products. Moreover, since Doom was linked to the Columbine killers, politicians default to it as a symbol of all that's bad with games.

Can the VGVN and ESA fight against the research showing a connection between violent media and children?

VGVN is not a research organization. Nor is ESA, though we keep track of and make available volumes of research on video game issues. But the most persuasive source on research are the courts which have rejected six out of six times the weak, unpersuasive, sloppy science put forth by advocates of video game sales bans as a basis to justify regulation. Moreover, almost every social / cultural indicator of importance, such as juvenile violent crime, has been declining in recent years. These declines have occurred even as media exposure and video game use among youth has increased.

Instead of government regulation, what sort of private regulation would you support, if any? Do you feel it's needed? What could/should the ESRB be doing differently to get the word out about the rating system?

The ESRB is doing everything it can to educate consumers about the rating system including working with national parents groups such as the PTA, issuing Public Service Announcements about the system featuring such celebrities as Tiger Woods and Derek Jeter, and working with retailers to ensure that games are only sold to those with the appropriate age to play them. The more the private sector can do, including retailers, to educate consumers about ratings, and to voluntarily enforce the ratings at the point of sale, the better.

An upcoming house session scheduled for March 29th called the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Property Rights doesn't feature anyone (currently) from the industry. Why not? Shouldn't this be something the VGVN or the ESA should be working to get involved with?

The ESA has been working with the committee to ensure that the hearing is as balanced as possible. Since the hearing is chaired by by a lawmaker seeking to create a basis to ban game sales, it is, by definition, not going to be fair and balanced. But we believe we will be able to have witnesses who rebut some of the ill founded claims likely to be made, and that the record will make clear that there is no basis for regulating game sales.

When a new piece of game legislation is introduced in a gamers state, what can someone do to prevent this from passing? Does letter writing make a difference?

Absolutely. It is one thing for someone representing the industry to speak to policy makers about the issues that effect it, but constituents, the people who actually mark the ballot that got each respective official elected, have a unique power to send a message that they vote, and they will no longer tolerate these attacks on the entertainment that you, the gamer, decide to use for your personal enjoyment.

What can we as gamers do with a game like Rockstar's Bully? It's already being attacked, long before it's even due to come out in stores. What action can we take to get our voice heard in the media?

Write letters to the editor; submit op ed columns; call editors and demand balanced coverage. Organize pro video game rallies. Be assertive and be proud to be a gamer.

Comments (1)

LKM:
Simple: it's not the role of government to decide what games kids should or should not play. That's why they have parents.

That's such a simplistic view, and it's exactly why nobody takes gamers seriously. Gamers can't win if they use this argument!

It is absolutely the government's role to decide what games kids should play if they people want the government to have this role. And it seems they do. Yes, we do have parents for that. That doesn't matter. It's not about your children, it's about the neighbour's children. People can't control how others look after their children. People can't force their neighbours to be good parents. But, justified or not, they want to (and frankly, I think most parents suck at doing their job). That's why they will always call upon the government to do this job.

The real argument is this: Adults play these games. The government should not censor the media adults choose to consume. End of story.

This is the argument we can win, and it's the argument we should make, instead of claiming that the government shouldn't be able to restrict what minors are allowed to do. Guess what, they already do that, and nobody is about to allow kids to buy booze, whether that would be a good idea or not.

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