The chances are that you've already seen "A Challenge to the Press", a blog post made this week by Insomniac Games' Ted Price. In it, he bemoans alleged misquoting in press articles, and goes on to challenge the press to abandon tabloid-style quote-led stories in favour of in-depth reporting of an issue close to his own heart - the US Supreme Court's upcoming decision on a Californian law which would forbid the sale of games with mature content to children.
I don't really want to speak to the first part of Price's argument - others have already done so, more eloquently and passionately than I could. I would, however, like to briefly look at the second part of his argument - not least because, while Price may expect gamers to universally share his concerns, I'm really not sure that's the case on this side of the puddle.
As a European, the first time I encountered the long-running battle over the sale of violent games to minors in the United States, it took a long time to wrap my head around the industry's arguments. As a gamer, I love my pastime; as a liberal-minded person, I have no truck with censorship. Yet I've lived my whole life in countries where those views sit fairly comfortably with the idea of restricting the sales of certain media to minors.
Bluntly, the idea of preventing children from buying 18-rated games (or the US equivalent of same) just doesn't seem like that big a deal to me.
I don't think I'm alone in this view. Every time the issue rears its head - which it has done with clockwork regularity over the past decade or so - the comments from European gamers carry the same air of bewilderment.
Almost every European country has some variation on the system in the UK, where age ratings are enforceable by law at a retail level - in other words, where retailers can be punished for selling adult-rated games to kids - and yet our sky has resolutely failed to collapse onto our heads. Engage in a discussion on this topic with European gamers, and you're more likely to be subjected to frustrated accounts of watching ill-advised parents purchase 18-rated games for their 10-year-olds than you are to hear a heated call for the repeal of our laws.
Of course, California's violent games law isn't quite the same as the laws enacted by European nations - not least in that it's a pretty hasty, ill-considered piece of legislation, by all accounts. The logical thing, from our perspective in Europe, would be to give some legal weight to ESRB ratings - making it illegal for shops to sell M-rated games without seeing some ID first. (In a nation which happily asks white-haired, bearded grandfathers for ID before serving them beer, this is surely less of an imposition than it sounds to us free-wheeling, non-ID-carrying British types.)
That would make sense to me, although I don't think Price or his peers in the games businesses would like it much. The current proposed law is altogether less easy to agree with, as it ignores the ESRB in favour of setting out a rather nebulous set of standards for "unsuitable" content. The law's proponents clearly don't see the ESRB as being harsh enough in its judgements on content, a strong hint towards the ultra-conservative thought which underlies the bill.
Yet there's an argument which says that the bill has only been able to make it this far - all the way to a hearing in the US Supreme Court, where admittedly it seems likely to be defeated on constitutional grounds - because the industry has fought tooth and nail against it, rather than taking the wind out of its sails with a compromise.
Game publishers and retailers claim to be committed to keeping unsuitable products out of the hands of minors, and have launched various initiatives to that end over the past decade - but even if this has achieved some success in preventing retailers from unquestioningly handing M-rated games to children, it has always felt more like a rearguard action to stop US states from legislating against mature games, rather than a movement rooted in any true sense of social responsibility.
The pivotal legal point in the Supreme Court's judgement will probably be whether California's proposed law violates the first amendment of the US constitution, so the industry's rhetoric - Price's included - is now focused on dangling the spectre of government censorship in front of the eyes of the public, and on pointing out that no other forms of media face this kind of control (although it's worth noting that cinemas in particular have tightened up their enforcement of age restrictions in recent years).
These are reasonable arguments, of course, but Price only mentions in passing the real elephant in the room. Sitting right in the middle of the shattered wreckage of the conference table trumpeting loudly is Wal-Mart, the largest retail chain in the United States - and perhaps one of the most conservative. The fear among publishers is that if California's law, or other laws like it, were to pass, Wal-Mart wouldn't institute age checks. Instead, it would just stop stocking M-rated games entirely.
It's not an unjustified fear. There is, after all, another age rating in the United States - the extremely rarely used AO, or Adults Only, rating. Wal-Mart doesn't carry AO games, and the limited number of retailers which do carry such titles keep them squirrelled away in a separate area of the store from the rest of the game titles. As a result, selling an AO game in any numbers is a challenging proposition - which of course means that not very many AO games get made.
As Price suggests in his blog, California's laws could have a similar chilling effect on M-rated games. The end result could be, quite simply, to kill off the market for M-rated boxed games entirely. This is the "censorship" to which Price refers - not strictly speaking government censorship, but rather an economic censorship forced upon the industry by one of the world's biggest retail players.
That's a frightening and unpleasant prospect, and gamers are right to get behind efforts to prevent it from happening. Yet it's not the only facet of this issue. Many parents - many of them gamers themselves - will understand and support the desire to place control of the media their children access back into parental hands.
It's one thing for a parent to make a decision that their child is mature enough to handle an M-rated game, and entirely another for a child to be able to buy an M-rated game without parental involvement. That's a contrast which is recognised in most European nations right now, but which is only subject to a voluntary code in the USA. That may sound like a small difference, but it's a cultural gulf which can make this argument pretty difficult to comprehend for those of us back on the old continent.
One thing is certain - the real bogeyman in the entire debate is not the games business, nor is it concerned parents. It's not Governor Schwarzenegger (whose hypocrisy in signing a bill clamping down on the kind of violent media which made him famous has been noted far and wide). It's not even, though I say it through gritted teeth, the conservative Christian pressure groups who campaign against mature media. The villain of the piece is Wal-Mart and the other retail chains which would follow its lead. Their involvement threatens to turn what could (with a little work) be a sensible, moderate piece of legislation into sweeping, hugely damaging censorship.
That's what this debate is really about. Before the games business can be free from the danger of censorship, it must first be free from the chilling effect of being in economic thrall to retail chains who will always put the desires of conservative America ahead of any high-minded concepts of freedom. Until that happens, Price is right - if perhaps for the wrong reasons.
For the sake of our dearly loved hobby, for the even more fundamental sake of basic freedom of expression, we should all (even those of us in Europe) cross our fingers and hope the Supreme Court crushes this bill.