Joe Lieberman retired yesterday, with the swearing in of a new Senate, and does so on a list of political achievements that range from the mild to the controversial.
Yet, for his entire time in office, there is one policy measure he never managed to pass: Government control and censorship of video games.
We’re not here to bury Lieberman: First of all, the man isn’t dead. Secondly, regardless of your politics, the man can be seen to have participated in good and bad in equal measure. However, his departure is a small but important moment in video game history.
Lieberman spent nearly his entire Senatorial career trying to regulate video games. It started in 1993, when he held Senate subcommittee hearings about violence in gaming. Gamers in their late twenties and early thirties might remember articles written about Lieberman’s hearings in magazine like GamePro, often written in a concerned or mocking tone.
And there was good reason. He had little knowledge of or respect for the medium, and seemed unable or unwilling to become more informed despite two decades of campaigning against games. For example, he described Night Trap as a game where you make an “effort to trap and kill women”. The game is the exact opposite of that, but Lieberman’s hearings were enough to get the game yanked off the shelves.
It’s a bit troubling that somebody so ill-informed could have such impact, but nonetheless he did. And he kept trying, for decades, to put games under government control. As late as 2005, he sponsored or supported legislation such as the Family Entertainment Protection Act, and worked behind the scenes to put video games under the control of the government. The FEPA bill was introduced at roughly the same time as Leland Yee’s attempt to make selling a child a violent video game a crime under California law, a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court.
Lieberman was on the losing side: The Brown Vs. ESA decision handed down last year made federal regulation of video games essentially impossible.
Not that this stopped him, at least in terms of laying blame. He actually ended his Senatorial career making the rounds on talk shows, blaming video games for the Sandy Hook tragedy.
Lieberman will no doubt continue to appear on talk shows and the like as an “elder statesman”, but his ability to draft and attempt to pass legislation is by the boards. He’s just another talking head now, much like Jack Thompson’s disbarment meant his ability to make trouble was erased.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that we’re free of anti-video-game types in the Senate. Jay Rockefeller, Senator of West Virginia, recently proposed that the National Academy of Sciences spend taxpayer dollars to try and prove there’s a link between violent video games and actual violence. In Senator Rockefeller’s words:
“Recent court decisions demonstrate that some people still do not get it. They believe that violent video games are no more dangerous to young minds than classic literature or Saturday morning cartoons. Parents, pediatricians, and psychologists know better. These court decisions show we need to do more and explore ways Congress can lay additional groundwork on this issue.”
The soldiers may retire, but no matter how fruitless it is, the war against video games apparently will linger on.