Rest easy, gamers in Montana and New Mexico. You're not on Dennis McCauley's map — yet.
Last week McCauley, who operates the Web site GamePolitics.com, launched a new feature: a map of the United States pocked with virtual pushpins, each representing a political bill or threat recently made against violent video games.
Michigan gets a purple marker, representing the September signing of a law banning the sale of violent video games — that law has been blocked by a federal judge but could still take effect. Mississippi gets a black peg, showing that an attempt to make the sale of Mature and Adults Only games a punishable offense failed in late January.
Across McCauley's map, 20 states and the U.S. Congress show recent political activity, most of it still working its way through the system and potentially en route to becoming law. "When you see all those points on the map, it makes you realize how much of this is going on," said McCauley.
McCauley started GamePolitics last March in an effort to track not just game legislation but many of the serious social issues related to gaming. Even though he manages to squeeze 12-24 hours a week in for "World of Warcraft," he says operating the Web site keeps him busy. The "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" sex-scene scandal last summer energized the nation's politicians against explicit games and kept McCauley's site churning with news (see " 'Grand Sex Auto'? Sex Scenes Possibly Hidden In Game Have Critics In A Lather"). "I never realized before I started doing this how prevalent this was among politicians," he said. "I think that's a little bit sobering."
The latter half of 2005 saw bills signed into law in Michigan and California — those laws, as well as one in Illinois, have been blocked. The year ended with a federal attempt, backed by Senator Hillary Clinton, to criminalize the sale of explicit games to kids (see "Senators Propose A Federal Ban On Explicit Video Games").
McCauley says his site receives upwards of 10,000 visitors a day, many of them gamers concerned about how the government might affect their buying habits. A GamePolitics story last week about a proposed game law in Utah generated 285 replies, most of them against the state's move and alarmed by what they see as an attempt to limit free speech.
"The solution to speech that you find offensive is more speech," wrote a user named Shaun Skipper. "Why do these people not realize that? Not that it matters because, I assure you, the courts do and will not allow these types of laws to pass." Other replies were more profane. And some voiced support for keeping explicit games out of the hands of kids, even if they disagreed on the means. (As angry as the site's posters get, the GamePolitics message boards have also hosted some intriguingly civil exchanges between gamers and the hard-charging, controversial "game crusader" Jack Thompson.)
Of all the marks on McCauley's map, Utah was the one McCauley said was most worthy of attention. "That's a very conservative state, and they are equating distributing violent video games with giving a hard-core porn film to a minor," he said. "Pretty scary." The legislation, introduced by Republican state representative David Hogue and approved by the Utah House of Representatives 56-8 (with 11 members abstaining or not present) on February 24, would add explicit video games to a state list of material "harmful to minors," a list that mainly encompasses pornography. Sale of such material to a minor in Utah is punishable by a fine and a minimum two weeks in jail. On Wednesday the bill failed to meet a key state senate deadline and will likely be out of consideration for the rest of the year.
McCauley, who is supported by three volunteer correspondents, hopes to expand his map. He would like to begin covering international legal crackdowns, as the issue is by no means solely an American one. For example, a spate of political and legal maneuvers in Japan last year resulted in the banning of "Grand Theft Auto" in certain areas of the country.
For now he's hoping people find the map a useful tool for figuring out what's going on in their area. He knows that some of his readers have found relief in recent political setbacks for the gaming bills in California, Illinois and Michigan. But that's no reason to stop paying attention. "When one of these bills goes down, you'll see there's a sense of elation," McCauley said. "But they're not going away."