Joe Lieberman, Anti-Video Game Violence Senator, Dead At 82

Joe Lieberman, a former U.S. senator who crusaded against violence in video games, has passed away at 82. According to a statement from his family, he suffered “complications from a fall.”

Lieberman, who was the Democratic vice presidential nominee alongside Al Gore in 2000, made waves early in the ‘90s for his criticisms of violence and sexuality in video games and what he saw as the industry’s failure to properly shield children from them, claiming that playing such games could make children violent. In particular, Lieberman, along with Democratic Senator Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, took aim at the realistic sprites and digitized violence in fighting game Mortal Kombat, as well as the sexual content in the FMV game Night Trap.

Both titles launched on Sega systems as part of the company’s ongoing “console war” over the western games market against Nintendo. Nintendo, which was more selective about third-party games published on its systems at the time, held the majority of the market, and Sega began attempting to sway developers and publishers with looser content restrictions. Though Mortal Kombat also came to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, it was highly edited: blood was replaced by “sweat,” and many of the fatalities in the game were made less violent to abide by the company’s more family-friendly image.

Lieberman and Kohl responded to the releases by holding congressional hearings in both 1993 and 1994 that put sufficient pressure on the video games industry to more effectively police itself and implement a better rating system. Eventually, the industry would form the advocacy group known as the Entertainment Software Association (the very same ESA that used to put on E3, RIP) and the formation of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, or the ESRB, which is responsible for the age ratings on games to this day. I wonder what he’d think of the 20-something guy who helped me get around the age rating by buying me the God of War HD Collection back in the day while I waited outside the GameStop.

Lieberman’s influence on the content of video games was sometimes ridiculed over the years, with one famous example being the addition of “friendships” in Mortal Kombat 2 as an alternative to the fatalities he railed against in his hearings. He continued to lobby against violence in video games, eventually criticizing Grand Theft Auto in the 2000s, but failed to get as far against those games as he did in the 90s.

Lieberman eventually retired in 2012, meaning he just missed the release of Grand Theft Auto V, which would’ve surely given him a second wind. Man, if he thought the stuff in the ‘90s was bad, he would’ve hated the gnarly stuff that’d eventually come out of franchises like Doom and the later Mortal Kombat games.

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By asm3a