It’s funny how things are all connected. I’ve lived in KW all my life and so it’s nice to see connections to my hometown through my research. Brief aside before I begin my post, researching government documents is really fun and also insanely difficult. Also, my french is not nearly as good as it used to be.
Elizabeth Witmer served as an Ontario MPP for 22 years from 1990 to 2012. She served first for the Waterloo North riding before it transitioned into the Kitchener-Waterloo riding in 1999. She is now chair of Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. She was a Conservative MPP, although if I’m being honest, I’m not sure there was really a division when it came to the topic that she fought for in the early 90s so her party allegiance is likely moot. What makes Elizabeth Witmer important to my research is that she was one of the key members leading the charge in Ontario’s Parliament for the regulation of video game ratings.
It’s important to set the stage here a bit as obviously this didn’t come from a vacuum. In September of 1993, Mortal Kombat was released on the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. The game was immensely popular to say the least but also managed to get the attention of Senator Joe Lieberman and in December of 1993, congress held a joint hearing to discuss with Nintendo and Sega representatives, the violence in video games. Night Trap released in October of 1992 was another game that caught the attention of political figures where young girls were depicted getting attacked at a slumber party. There were threats of banning games but eventually things died down after the industry implemented the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.
These debates extended into Canadian political debates and Elizabeth Witmer was one of the most vocal opponents to violent games in Canada. In July of 1993 she brought up the issue to Ontario’s Parliament. She states, “[i]n the past year, we have seen a tremendous increase in the number of video games that capitalize on violence against women.” She spoke out specifically against Night Trap as an example. There were even-handed responses. Another MPP Margaret Marland pointed out that there was a rating system in place from the publisher and that Toys R Us had already decided to not carry Night Trap.
The debate was mentioned again throughout the month but it seems very little came from it. In November of the same year, Witmer again brought up the issue. Her fixation with video games actually stems from a larger issue, violence against women. She brings up video games again in November as part of her larger discussion of violence against women. She says, “[l]ast July I called on you to take steps to deal with a disturbing trend and increase in video games that capitalize on violence against women. So far, we have received no response.” Her cause for concern is quite fair but the links she makes are unfortunately weak, but this is only known because of more recent studies about violence and video games but in light of the times it is understandable that she responds in this way. She pleads her case:
“We know there is similar demeaning and brutalizing entertainment everywhere. We see it on TV, we see it in the movies and now we’re seeing it in video games. Although we can’t say this causes all violence, we now recognize that there is a link between media violence and what is happening on our streets, in our schools and in our homes. We can’t expect to give people a steady diet of violence and not expect that they won’t in some cases follow through, because violence has become glamorized.”
Her position inspired others particularly Diance Poole of the Eglinton riding who brought up women violence and video games just a few weeks later. These two ministers would bring up violence against women and games again in the following months.
Having not gone through the records between this period, I am uncertain if there was a resolution or act that worked on the larger issue of violence against women but by April of 1994, Elizabeth Witmer’s focus shifts just to regulation of video games. The Theatre Amendment Act 1993 or Bill 135 (which seems to have never been implemented) was a proposal to give further classification power to the government. Over the rest of 1994, Elizabeth Witmer brought forth petitions on nearly half a cozen occasions. Her push to amend the Theatre Act was overall never successful and the whole cause lost steam after 1994, much like it did in the United States.
What Elizabeth Witmer’s cause shows is that the fear and misunderstanding of video games and violence in the early 90s extended deeply into Canada. National parliament and other provinces held similar discussions in this time frame. In the end, video games were able to manage and regulate themselves but this was not a certainty in 1993, as it could have likely gone the other way where video games could have ben regulated by the National or Ontario Film Board. Violence in video games is still a topic today (albeit much smaller) but it is fascinating to see the discussion and battle that took place in the halls of parliament.
Shoutout to my partner Hayley who continues to stand by me despite how much this project is taking up my life.