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Op-Ed: Foundation 9 boss on US game legislation

A dev's view of a sticky US issue.

With violent videogames firmly back on the agenda of US politicians and lawmakers, it's good parenting and not flawed legislation that's needed, says Jon Goldman, CEO of the USA's largest independent developer, Foundation 9 Entertainment.

Imagine this horrific post-holi-daze scenario: presents have been unwrapped and mostly ignored - all except for those addictive videogame systems. Every other minute, the dear wee ones are sneaking off downstairs to spark up another shocking bout of Animal Crossing, where furry creatures interact with one another in a curiosity-filled environment. Or perhaps they sing alarmingly off key to Karaoke Revolution or demonstrate their (lack of?) genetic gifts in Dance Dance Revolution. Maybe the young lady of the house solves a Nancy Drew Mystery, instead of playing with the latest surgically enhanced Barbie. Or, worse, an older sibling explores the sinister mysteries of capitalism in Roller Coaster Tycoon.

Sounds innocent so far, but before the new cappuccino machine cranks out its first cup of automated Christmas coffee, Junior will likely shave the dog, light out for the liquor store, pump some lead into the community elders at the local nursing home, then march into the neighbourhood Al-Queda recruiting centre. Pretty scary, huh?

How could this happen? Well, obviously, in a zombie-like trance, these same parents must have purchased violent, or worse, "ultra-violent" (as Senator Joe Lieberman likes to say) videogames for their children. You see, with misleading titles such as "Grand Theft Auto," any well-meaning parent might easily have confused certain mature games for innovative Baby Einstein substitutes.

Neither Lieberman nor Senator Hillary Clinton, who are sponsoring the Family Entertainment Protection Act, play games, but what they may not realise is that a lot of adults do. Ironically, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has not only starred in "ultra-violent" movies but has also licensed himself out for Terminator videogames, has jumped on the family entertainment bandwagon as well. The California courts, however, seem to agree that is all much ado about nothing.

As teens inevitably turn into twenty- and thirty-somethings, they will bring a familiarity with game genres to steer their own children toward fun and enriching family entertainment, which in many cases will happen to come in the form of a video game. The current unease over video games, like previous incarnations of this same argument over rock and roll, will fade into the generational mist.

Fans of Quentin Tarantino films may enjoy a subversive, guilty (and for many, artistic) pleasure at the theatre, but you rarely see them hauling out the kindergarten class for a Kill Bill birthday bash. The same thing will happen with interactive entertainment as knowledgeable consumers guide their children to the best entertainment that reflects their values.

GTA: Liberty City Stories.

In the meantime, if video games aren't your cup of tea, yet your child wants to participate in the post-cathode ray tube world of entertainment, you need to do some work. Clinton, Lieberman, and Schwarzenegger can't do it for you. You need to read game reviews online or in newspapers, talk with other parents, pay attention to the clearly posted ratings already on each game box, and here's a creative solution: don't give your kids tons of money to blow without your supervision, if you care what they buy.

Here's an even better idea: play games with your child. The best games are creative, immersive and intellectually stimulating in a way that no other entertainment medium is. They not only engage your thumbs, but require you to solve logic puzzles, explore different points of view or involve you as a fellow-creator. This is exciting, not scary. A little more time sharing video games with your child may in fact lead to a little less time watching Super Nanny on TV.

Plenty of folks will roll out a First Amendment argument, so I won't bother. Suffice to say, you can't legislate taste or shape people's fantasies though law. One parent's ultra-violent video game could be another's Chronicles of Narnia.

Every once in a while, I click by C-SPAN [a US broadcast network dedicated to political broadcasting], and the typical scene of empty-chambered grandstanding generally makes for uninspiring viewing. This is the sort of non-interactive "entertainment" I'd actually like protection from. I'd like to encourage Senators Clinton, Lieberman and their colleagues to spend their time instead on critical issues - war, poverty, healthcare, inequality... You name it - we can all make a giant list of important issues for the elves in Washington, or in Sacramento, for that matter, to work on for the holidays next year before they need bother legislating video game purchases.

Jon Goldman is CEO of Foundation 9 Entertainment. His views do not necessarily reflect those of Eurogamer or its staff.

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