Interview: The ECA’s Hal Halpin on Bulletstorm, the ESRB and Parental Responsibilities
I recently got a chance to have a little “chit chat” with the President of the ECA, Hal Halpin. For those not aware, the Entertainment Consumers Association is primarily an advocacy group that represents consumers of interactive entertainment. As you can guess, video games are a big part of interactive entertainment and come under fire from time to time for certain content. Mostly rated M games are the cause of controversy, by being blamed for the violence in society, and lead many legislators’ attempts to ban them.
The latest controversy arose when FOX News criticized Epic Games and People Can Fly’s upcoming shooter, Bulletstorm, nearly 2 weeks ago. To summarize, reporters and so called “experts” commented upon Bulletstorm saying it can cause 9 year olds to commit rape, minors will develop psychological problems, and believing the shooter is the worst game in the world. One can only question why the sole target here is video games (Bulletstorm) and not other forms of entertainment. To help enlighten us to the situation and give his opinion, Hal Halpin looks to “clear the air” so to speak. See the full interview past the break.
Kyle: The most recent rated M game to be blamed for delinquency/violence is Bulletstorm. Why do you think this particular game took “some heat” so to speak?
Hal Halpin: Likely because it is over-the-top, as reported. I believe Kill Bill got a similar reaction when it originally hit the theatres. Whenever there’s an opportunity for the media to examine “what’s too far” they usually do, so I’m not sure that gamers – or the industry – should be all that shocked.
Kyle: Can any of the “problems” in Bulletstorm be found in any other form of entertainment? (Movies, books, DVD’s, etc.).
Hal Halpin: Absolutely! Pushing the boundaries is often what makes the artist more famous/infamous than they might have been otherwise. In this case, that could be said about the notoriety of the title itself.
Kyle: Some minors still do get their hands on rated M games. Do you still feel it is the parent’s responsibility at this point?
Hal Halpin: Having run the games retail trade association (IEMA ) prior to the ECA, I can tell you that the gaming merchants have gone far beyond the expectations that legislators – and even I – had for them; including ratings signage in every store, training for staff, cash register prompting and the like. The FTC conducted an extensive survey and found that the game retailers were even better off than the movie theatre folks in carding. Then, with the consoles each having parental controls built in, parents can choose what kind of content they want playable…empowering them to be the guardian.
Kyle: Do you feel that there should be any restrictions at all on video games no matter the violence level?
Hal Halpin: My feeling is that we have a great ratings system in place already which acts as a guide for consumers. Just like with the DVDs I buy for my kids, we can’t and shouldn’t abdicate our parental responsibilities. That said, it does strike me that a game like Bulletstorm is in the same ratings category as Halo…
Kyle: You are a firm believer in the ESRB correct? Why do you think it comes under scrutiny at times more often than the MPAA?
Hal Halpin: I’m a fan personally, yes. And it’s fair to say that the ECA is very supportive of the ESRB. The times that the ratings system itself has come under fire are actually very few. Typically, anti-games advocates target the title or even the developer, but it’s atypical to see ESRB squarely in the cross-hairs. MPAA has the luxury of being a mature system that most Americans have grown up with and understood and respected it along the way. ESRB is comparatively new, as are games as a medium.
Kyle: If you are comfortable answering, do you feel like video games are used as scapegoats?
Hal Halpin: I’m happy to answer… And absolutely! Between the past four years running ECA and the previous nine running the IEMA, I can attest to that fact.
Kyle: Not all parents are familiar with parental security controls on consoles. Do you recommend that they get up to speed on said fact?
Hal Halpin: Hmm, I’m not sure what else the retailers or manufacturers could do on that front, honestly. The parental controls are pretty overt and seem – to me – to be fairly easy to use. I suppose the first-parties (Nintendo, Microsoft, Sony) could promote it more, as could ESRB, but making it an intrinsic part of the process was pretty important.
Kyle: I couldn’t help but notice in your excerpt to FOX News you said, “I respect the creative rights of game developers to make a game like Bulletstorm in the same way that I appreciate Quentin Tarantino’s rights to make over the top movies like Kill Bill“. You also referenced that movie in a previous question. *Insert Humorous Tone* Are you a fan of the Kill Bill series?
Hal Halpin: I remember hearing that it was going to be very violent before seeing it, back when it first came out. But I also recall being shocked that it went as far as it did – which is, I’m sure, what the filmmaker was going for. But I liked it a lot.
Mr. Halpin has been generously thanked for his time and continues to fight for our 1st amendment rights involving entertainment with the ECA. Check out the official ECA website here and support their cause!
Personally, I believe that it is ultimately the parent’s responsibility for what their children play and how they react to it. There are many gamers who are under 18 and play rated M games every day. Now they don’t go crazy and commit shocking acts of violence because…the values that were put into them or the values they learned, taught them how to act in the real world. When it comes right down to it, parents are the keystone for child development. Not video games or other forms of entertainment.