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Panels at PAX

In addition to the various games I played and cos players I saw, while I was at PAX I also sat through a few good panels and presentations. Some, like the Saturday night concert, have little to do with games, and were pure entertainment, but at least two were tangentially legally related. I missed one that had been scheduled for 9pm on Saturday that could have been interesting, about “Why Gamers should care about Net Neutrality.” There had been a reschedule from the late afternoon to the late evening on that one, and I missed it in favor of standing in line for the concert, instead.

Tales from the Din: The XBox Live Enforcement Team Talks
This panel was third in a series, and featured Stephen “Stepto” Toulouse and a few from his team talking about what they do to enforce the Microsoft Terms of Service, and how the process to evict jerks from multiplayer actually works. There wasn’t much time for a Q&A at the end, but I regret not asking them how they, as people who are paid to observe and enforce the rules of a virtual space, see their roles in that virtual world. They used graphics of police officers in their slides, and referred to their roles as angels in a more fanciful presentation, but those two ideas are not identical.

The role of the police, in the physical legal system at least, is to gather data and arrest criminals, which the team does. They have the ability to ban players instantly if the enforcers are online and observe bad behavior, but if they don’t observe it themselves, they have to evaluate the evidence gathered by other players to determine if it is truly bad behavior worthy of sanctions. In that way,the enforcement team acts more like the District Attorney’s office, in deciding which players should be charged, rather than the gatherers of evidence themselves.

As for the idea of being archangels, imposing the will of an all-powerful entity from above on the unsuspecting jerks at the behest of thousands of praying gamers? Well, the image is not inaccurate, but suggests that the role of the enforcer requires no thought or judgment, and is individually merited, not generally applied. If one does not believe in the angels of enforcement, who is summoned to impose justice?

Legal Issues in Video Game Law

This panel was scheduled dead last at PAX, on Sunday afternoon. Most of the discussion dealt with the upcoming Schwarzenegger v. EMA Supreme Court case, for which at least one of the panelists was helping to write an amicus brief on behalf of the game industry. The case involves the ability of the state to add big “18+” stickers to games with violent and sexually explicit content, much like the music industry. The aspect of the case that worried the panel the most was that the Supreme Court usually only takes on issues where the circuits are split, and not where the circuits are in agreement.

So far, every time a state or city has attempted to regulate the sale of video games to minors, the local courts have struck the regulation down as unconstitutional. Thus, the panelists suggested that either the Court wants to prevent other states from attempting to enact similar laws, lose the ensuing court case, and cost taxpayers money, or that the Court is going to overturn all of the prior decisions, and say that this type of regulation is okay. Another aspect to the California law is that it mandates the posting of a physical sticker on the box, but increasing numbers of games are sold without a physical product at all. How would an online retailer comply with such a law? Would they still be fined for each sale of a violent game within the state without such a sticker? Unsettling questions for the video game industry, and ones that could curtail the creation of certain types of games altogether.

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Posted in Wednesday: Current Issues.