Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Legal and Ethical Issues in the Game Industry

By Jonathan Petts

In the games industry these two key factors are very different to any industry. Games can almost have any content they want in them, games have stealing, murder, war, use of illegal drugs, sex, graphic images, killing of civilians the list goes on, but the games industry has been relatively unhurt by using such things in games the popular game Grand Theft Auto, which has drugs trafficking and you had the ability to hire prostitutes, was one of the most popular games of 2009/2010, it cause outcry amongst parents  but yet people still bought it, why ? Well very simple Age Ratings, in the video games industry much like the film industry games are rated for the ages they are suitable for, so if they are really bad then they are rated 18, but as with the issues of many films younger people always manage to get hold of them, via online shops or their parents allowing them, the age rating is just for purchase not for playing.
I will first talk about the ethical issues game companies are being scrutinized for and take into consideration,  my first area of consideration is the fact customers devoting excessive time to a game, at the expense of family and other real-life elements. Games such as World of Warcraft have been know to be one of the most addicting games in the world, with 15 million players worldwide. One case was noted on Cnet, where a women lost her job because she didn’t turn up due to the fact she has to join her clan on and online raid. A very popular video known as the “world of war craft freak out” see here :
Where a boys account was cancelled by his mother and in a fit of rage the boy screams and tears up his room. But this is only a mild case people have been known to attack other people who abused then online.
So game developers want to make their game engrossing and addictive, but at the moment there are no laws to say how long a game can run on for or what it must take into consideration, Nintendo currently advice users for take regular breaks, a message will appear saying take a break is a user has played for too long, so Nintendo although they are not required to took this ethical issues into account, that users need a break, and should not be in front of a screen all day. 
Another ethical issues is violence, there is a vast array of violent games currently on sale, and one of the most controversial was “Manhunt” where users hunt other people and kill them, these could be innocent people, and you would kill them in the most awful ways.  This was rated 18, but in America around when the first manhunt was released two players loved it so much they got guns and went on a two hour long killing spree, before police shot them on the scene this lead the British Board of Film Classification to ban the second game instalment even though the game developers had edited out the most violent parts of them game, the ban was lifted in 2008.
So this does show games can be too violent, but games such as Call of Duty and Homefront are currently the bestselling games of all time, where you are at war with other countries. In one scene you kill innocent people. So game developers must make sure the games aren’t so bad that they can pervert someone, this ethical issue of not killing children in games or police or civilians is still strong today with not games involving children being attacked or killed, but the game developers have started to push this boundaries, as they know people will still but the game online regardless of if they can be it in store if it is good enough.
The representation of gender and religion is sensitive in films but in games it is not so much but it depends on the developer and the title, no games have currently abused a type of gender or race, as this is illegal, but games have provoked religious outcry  with “Devil May Cry” where they claim Jesus was the devil and was banned in the US for 1 week before a court ruled it was just fiction.  So devleopers do take into account ethical issues with race and gender but still religions I a touchy subject for many people as many people do follow some sort of religion.
Games are not restricted in terms of use of language depending on which age rating the wish to use, if they use a 16 or 18 they are no restrictions but below that no form of abusive language is allowed to be used.

Games do have guidelines to follow be classed a 3+ , 12+ or 16 or even 18 in the UK the BBFC are the regulators of DVD’s Film, games and video recordings.
The BBFC have a very long guidelines list to what is suitable for different ages and what content can be included in these. This can be found:

It outlines each category, to what may be included and the reasons for this such as or U “suitable for all ages” there must be no reference to drugs.  If there is horror the outcome must be reassuring, no sex, only kissing or reference to “making love”,  violence only a mild threat or menace.
But for an 18, it says at the age of 18 users are allowed to choose the content they watch and view and taking into account the human rights act, nothing is really restricted as you are able to make your own decisions at this age.

All together this section has a huge impact on how they game is made much like a film to what they can include depending on what age rating they wish to sell too, and if they wish to be ethically correct and not include things that are usually frowned upon.

Legal issues:

Video game devleopers must also take into account UK law, the first act I will talk about is: 
Broadcasting act:
The aim of the Act was to reform the entire structure of British broadcasting,  this is only relevant to broadcasted material so is not relevant to the video games industry.
Official Secrets Act:
This act prevents people from telling Government secrets from the intelligence agencies or declassifying classified information such as MI5 personnel names. Here are a few of the sections form the act to what cannot be published:
§  Section 2: disclosure of defence information. This section applies only to crown servants and government contractors (defined in section 12).
§  Section 3: disclosure of information concerning international relations. This section applies only to crown servants and government contractors.
§  Section 4: disclosure of law enforcement information which would assist a criminal or the commission of a crime. This section applies only to crown servants and government contractors.
§  Section 5: further disclosure or publication of information obtained in contravention of other sections of the act. It allows, for example, the prosecution of newspapers or journalists who publish secret information leaked to them by a crown servant in contravention of section 3. This section applies to everyone, regardless of whether they are a government employee, or whether they have signed the act.
§  Section 6: secret information belonging to foreign governments or international organisations. This section is intended to protect secrets shared by foreign governments and those of international organisations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Interpol.

So games developers can only use information that is allowed to be used, and that has be authorised for use by the UK government.
Human Rights Act:
Among the rights established under this Act are the right of respect for private and family life, and the right to freedom of expression. When  classifying works, the BBFC will  have regard to the impact of any  decision on the rights of any relevant person. The Act permits such  restrictions on freedom of expression as are prescribed by law and are  necessary in a democratic society,  in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health  or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for  preventing the disclosure of  information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
BBFC Laws regarding regulations:
With this act the Game developers must take into account the people, they must not make it intrude on their personal safety or public safety, they must ensure it does not discriminate anybody, but they have their freedom of speech so if they wish to publish their views in a game that is allowed,  but the game must protect peoples morals and health so it cannot put people in danger.  This leads onto the :
Race relations act where they cannot discriminated anybody because of race with the intent of harm, so they cannot abuse a race and say bad things about them, but this leads onto ethics many people are not racist so if a game is racist no people will buy it due to the good morals of people.
Privacy Law:
They cannot expose people’s private lives in games unless allowed to or given permission, such as the cannot invade some one’s personal life and publish lots of private information such as an address of phone number.  As this is private information which people could find out and go to this persons house which is morally wrong publishing details like that.
Copyright and Intellectual property:
They cannot use any material that somebody else owns and claim it as their own unless they have permission to do so, from the owner, or of the copyright law is royalty free such as music, or characters “ intellectual property” . So they must ensure they do not copy any peoples ideas, from characters design to story line.
Libel law:
They must not accuse or discriminate any individual such as singling out a person for their views and deforming his reputation or embarrassing him by releasing private details about that person.

Overall the game industry follows many of the same laws as the film industry aslong as they do not abuse, steal or misuse information the game can be published.  They must take into account the views of others and ensure they do not offend vast amounts of people, as it seems to be people are always offended by something, so although games are not as widely scrutinized that films and TV as usually 11-21 year old play these games, and the parents do not usually see the contents of these games so they cannot complain, but the governing body in UK must assume the role to protect people from such things, like a 4 year old from sex or violence. But if you are an 18 year old you are old enough to make your own decisions about what you can view, so an age restriction is applied to ensure others are protected, but everyone has freedom of expression under the human acts right of 1998, aslong as it is within the constraints of the law,  they are allowed to produce the game un these grounds.  Laws of the land must be followed in developing games for different countries, but the regulators have the say on what can be included and what cannot to ensure the game is published with the correct rating.

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