In the”good old days,” when games were a fairly isolated experience and singleplayer content was essentially the only kind of content that existed, cheats were fairly basic. Typically, you just had to press some buttons or enter a code somewhere and all of a sudden your singleplayer campaign became more of a test to see what would happen if your character became an all-powerful deity that could do anything that they wanted (within the confines of the game’s mechanics). As games evolved over time, however, cheats became more and more complex, turning into things that only exist to make other people’s multiplayer experience more miserable. For games like Overwatch, rampant cheating can lead to the death of a franchise, to say nothing of what it can do to whatever ESports scene is attached to it.
Naturally, this has led to developers and publishers implementing ever more interesting (and sometimes mildly amusing) strategies to try and combat cheating, ranging from throwing cheaters into a lobby with each other (Titanfall), to randomly scheduled ban waves, to public shaming. However, thanks to a bill that South Korea has allegedly passed not that long ago (according to PvPLive’s translation of a supposed law anyways), cheating can lead to a much greater punishment than being banned. Get caught creating or distributing anything that goes against a game’s Terms of Service and you can be slapped with a rather hefty fine or even jail time; the law supposedly ignores people who use cheats, likely because it would make no sense to chase after small fish when you can go straight to the source. In other words, you can report someone to Blizzard for using an aimbot in Overwatch all you want in South Korea, but they aren’t going to jail for it; the aimbot distributors, on the other hand, can end up behind bars.
Such a move on the government’s part, while only passingly similar to China’s proposed “Loot Box Law” in intent, if nothing else, nonetheless raises some questions regarding exactly how much oversight should governments have over a ceaselessly growing pillar of modern culture. Both laws are (on paper) fairly consumer friendly, but China’s law is a little bit too close to a government mandating what kind of features should be in a game, while South Korea’s law can open up all kinds of loopholes that an exceptionally shady developer or publisher can exploit (a potential clash between benign mods or third party programs/apps/services and cleverly worded Terms of Service agreements immediately comes to mind). Plus, regardless of how much faith we have in Blizzard banning cheaters in Overwatch, mistakes do remain within the realm of possibility. Obviously, at the end of the day these laws and the respective governments that passed them have to be closely monitored by consumers to prevent abuse, but at least they don’t outright ban content on moral (or other) grounds a la the Prohibition in the United States.
Speaking of the Prohibition, the United States government has since seemingly learned that regulating popular entertainment on moral grounds is a dicey prospect at best, letting the ESRB (a self-regulatory committee) decide what can and can’t be in games instead. For what it’s worth, the courts have also tended to protect video games against censorship (Jack “Games teach our kids to be efficient killers and should be banned” Thompson, anyone?), letting developers and publishers make whatever kinds of games they want even if they end up being confined to the sales-killing AO ESRB rating. Such a relatively hands-off approach means that developers and publishers have to go out of their way to bring someone to court, but at least it also means that it would be rather difficult for your local politician to ban Overwatch because Tracer’s pose is too risque for their children. In any case, 2017 should prove to be rather interesting for the game industry, as we will get to see exactly what kind of impact all three paths of government regulation (direct, hands-off, and limited) have on one of the world’s most popular hobbies.More About This Game