The bill to regulate video games in Chile: is there any point at this stage?

by Digital Rights LAC on September 19, 2013


A law to regulate video games is on the point of being approved six years after the process first began. The biggest problem with it is that the technologies and the cultural context have changed to such a degree that it is no longer necessary.

By Francisco Vera*

At the end of July this year (2013), the Chilean senate approved a bill to regulate the sale and rent of video games to minors. This means that, after it has been back to the Chamber of Deputies for some minor changes to be approved, the bill will be ready to become law.

The bill has a number of problems which, apart from the minimal social impact it will have, demonstrates some of the rubbish commonly spoken by the region’s legislators when it comes to regulating matters of rights and technology, which means that when it comes to regulating some emerging problems, they do it badly and too late.

But let’s take a look back over its history. Nearly six years ago, on 19 December 2007, a bill entitled “Regulates the sale and rent of excessively violent video games to under-18s and requires parental control over consoles” began its passage through the Chilean Chamber of Deputies.

In that year, the current generation of consoles had only recently been introduced. Also, there was no Netflix (or Cuevana, others will say) and going to rent a film or video at the corner shop or a huge Blockbuster was still a valid scenario. Only the occasional small computer video game could be said to be distributed through the internet but not consoles, because of their size and the fear of their content being pirated.

The main reason for the bill being introduced was the fear that the more violent video games inspired in certain sectors of society. The bill itself cites as its motivation that “studies have shown that the excessive use of violent video games is related to more aggressive behaviour, thoughts and feelings (…)”. It also makes direct reference to examples such as the following: “(…) cases at the international level have shown that young people who are addicted to violent video games have carried out shootings and massacres among their own fellow students. It is enough to remember the death of 34 people the 17th of April 2007 at Virginia Tech, USA”.

This is why, in 2008, at NGO Derechos Digitales we decided to participate in the debate on the bill. We prepared a paper on the subject and asked Congress for a hearing to give our views on the bill. There, in the first instance, we ruled out any degree of correlation or causality between violent video games and violent behaviour among children and adolescents, in order to prevent the debate being taken over by public alarm and fear of the technologies.

As far as the rest of the bill is concerned, in principle, it doesn’t seem wrong for parents to excercise some control over and to be informed about their children’s behaviour, which is why we set out reasonable and technically feasible means of carrying out the process of ranking the games. We proposed adopting the most popular ways of ranking used abroad in order to avoid us having to repeat work that had already been done, and which would also have the effect of delaying the import and sale of any video games in Chile. We also pointed out that all the new generation consoles incorporate parental control technologies, so that as well as demanding that they be present, parents should also be informed about them in a clear and instructive way.

When the time came, the parliamentary commission that analysed the bill decided to incorporate some of the suggestions made, such as recognising the existing ranking of video games and including them in the Consumer Law (the original bill would have created a new law, separate from the Chilean judicial system, a solution that on many occasions has proved to be completely useless).
Up to here the history of the bill is normal. The problem is that six years later, the law is about to be passed with the same provisions as in the year 2008. However, the current context of the market in video games (and digital technologies in general) has changed dramatically.

Six years later, video games shops like Valve have become very popular and they don’t exist in a physical but in a virtual world, where it’s almost impossible to verify a person’s age. Video clubs – including neighbourhood ones like Blockbuster – have almost disappeared, and DRM technologies contained in the games does not allow them to be used in the new generation of consoles (PS4, Xbox, among others). In the meanwhile, young Chileans have not been involved in any episodes of aggression nor have they committed murder or anything that could allow us point a finger at video games.

In this context, it is worth asking whether the legislative processes are becoming obsolete for the digital world, or whether this delay allows us, with the advantage of hindsight, to realise how unhelpful this particular bill was. Whatever the conclusion, what is clear is that the Chilean Congress is on the point of approving a bill which is obsolete and unnecessary and which offers no concrete benefit whatsoever.

* Francisco Vera is the director of projects at NGO Derechos Digitales