Each week Dennis McCauley contributes The Political Game, a column on the collision of politics and video games:
Canada gets it.
The Canadian government is offering grants and a contest to support emerging game developers. The program is called the Great Canadian Video Game Competition, and ten small firms will receive funding. The best of their game projects will be recognized at next year's GDC. The overall winner will receive a half-million dollar award.
Okay, that's Canadian dollars, but still. Why is Canada doing this? To help create Canadian IP and Canadian jobs.
So why do American politicos expend so much time and energy on futile video game content laws instead of helping grow the industry and work to keep the jobs it creates from going to New Delhi or Saigon or even Montreal?
It's baffling. Like moths to a flame, U.S. elected officials waste incredible amounts of time and energy each year on video game laws that aren't worth the paper they are printed on. In Utah this week, the legislature decided to once again consider a "games-as-porn" bill in the upcoming session, against the advice of the state's Attorney General. The Utah pols also chose to ignore the fact that a very similar bill has been blocked by a federal judge from taking effect in Louisiana.
While the nanny staters trip over one another in their rush to legislate games, they are missing an opportunity to embrace an industry that grows bigger every year, one that could brings jobs and educational opportunities to their constituents.
ESA boss Doug Lowenstein talked about the economic benefits of the video game industry at this year's E3, pointing out that U.S. sales of games for all platforms surpassed the $10 billion mark in 2004. But more importantly, the game industry stimulates another $7.7 billion in related spending, bringing its net effect to $18 billion.
Lowenstein quoted from a research report by two professors, Crandall and Sidak - hired by the ESA, let's be up front about that - who said, "the video game industry has grown into a vibrant business that creates thousands of jobs, improves the performance of other industries, and spurs technological advancement. video games play a real role in maintaining America leadership in information technology and are a powerful driver of the digital economy so important to America's economic future."
The ESA president cited other factors such as the ripple effect of processor development for the next-gen consoles which in turn leads to advancements in other areas. A senior IBM exec told Crandall and Sidak, "IBM places great value on chips made for entertainment software that goes beyond revenue and profits. These chips help drive technology in other areas."
Indeed. IBM is marketing the PS3's Cell processor to medical tech firms for use in manufacturing diagnostic imaging devices. Those virtual home tours on Realtor.com are based on 3D game engines. The cable and phone companies love gamers, too, since they drive demand for broadband services.
Crandall and Sidak also reckoned that the video game industry was good for 144,000 well-paying jobs in 2004, a figure that will nearly double by 2010. Maybe the game-legislating politicians would prefer if everyone worked at McDonald's? Video games also offer countless educational benefits, including the drive to learn math and science by kids who hope to become the next Will Wright, Shigeru Miyamoto or Cliffy B.
It's time for U.S. politicians to embrace, not legislate, the video game industry. If we don't do it, other countries will. Democratic strategist James Carville said it best:
It's the economy, stupid.
Dennis McCauley is Editor of GamePolitics.com and writes about games for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Opinions expressed in The Political Game are his own. Reach him at