In the 1980’s, the Philippines had banned playing video games. By virtue of the legislative powers of the president, Presidential Decree 519 became law, initially banning the use of pinball machines. This was later expanded to include video machines by virtue of Letter of Instruction 1176 s. 1981 which provided:
“NOW, THEREFORE, I, FERDINAND E. MARCOS, President of the Philippines, by virtue of the powers vested in me by the Constitution, do hereby declare jackpot machines, commonly known as “one armed bandits”, pinball machines, slot machines, video machines and similar devices as prohibited and/or gambling devices and contrivances, and do hereby order and direct that you forthwith take over or cause the taking over of the possession of said devices wherever they may be found and to completely destroy or cause the destruction of the same.
All permits or licences for their operation, if any, issued by any office are hereby cancelled and withdrawn. Henceforth, possession and importation of aforesaid prohibited and/or gambling devices are hereby declared unlawful.
You are also directed to devise measures to prevent the entry into the Philippines of any such devices.”
At the time, video machines was the term used for arcade cabinets, a new invention that was booming into an industry of its own. In 1981, people were playing video games like Pac-man, Defender, Frogger, Centipede or Donkey Kong. They were light-years away from the lootbox mechanics in video games we have today and yet, by the whims of one person, they were banned, lumped in with pinball and slot machines, labelled as gambling devices.
The ban didn’t only include commercial use of video machines, even personal use of video machines was prohibited. If the constabulary found a machine, they were authorized to destroy it on sight, regardless of the purpose of its existence. Just having the machines touch Philippine soil could get people in trouble, as one video machine supplier found out when he had a tussle with customs at the time.
To make matters worse, the all-encompassing “and similar devices” would have included home consoles. It’s undeniable, home consoles were video machines that you attached to a television set. Instead of changing ROM chips, it had interchangeable cartridges.
While the Family Computer, often noted as the earliest popular home console to make it to he Philippines, wouldn’t be launched in Japan until 1983, two years into the video game ban, it wouldn’t have been difficult to interpret the LOI in a way that would have included it in the ban. Afterall, playing video games, at the time, was thought of as bringing moral corruption to the youth. Seeing how people continue to view video games, be it on PCs, tablets, phones, home consoles or handheld consoles, as a scourge (although not as much anymore) to the morality of children, there’s a big chance Family Computers and their subsequent consoles would have been blocked from entry into the Philippines.
What this means is that if these laws continued to exist and if the attitude toward gaming did not change, the video games we enjoy now would be considered contraband. Buy and sell groups would not flourish as they do now and the exchange of consoles and games would be forced underground. Playstation, Xbox or Nintendo consoles heck even PCs, would not be enjoyed as they are today because of the unilateral policies that were implemented and would have continued to be implemented.
When the dictatorship fell, so did the power of his letters of instructions. Yes, Presidential Decrees continued to have effect, but the letters of instructions, especially LOI 1176 s. 1981 ceased to be controlling, because there was a new president, government and constitution.
The EDSA People Power Revolution that later led to the restoration of the separate legislative and executive branches through a new constitution effectively removed the looming ban on video games. It was this moment in Philippine history that opened the gates to video gaming as an industry and allowed Filipinos to enjoy gaming out in the open.
Could the video game ban have been lifted even without the revolution? Yes. Between 1981 and today, a lot could have happened, but for the years that the ban was implemented, there was no indication it was going to be lifted.
How does this affect video gaming?
Aside from the obvious lifting of the ban, the restored checks and balances in government have protected video games from similar bans attempted in recent years. Barangays have implemented “Anti-DOTA” ordinances which have targeted video games specifically. Policy-makers still have a tendency to consider video games a blight to the morality and development of the youth, but with the current government systems, their backwards-thinking isn’t unilaterally made into policy.
No sweeping ban on video games can happen today without first going through the chambers of Congress. Before it can be signed, we as gamers would have been able to make our opposition heard, and if it somehow still gets passed, we can contest its validity in court. This is how that February revolution affects gaming and the gamers who enjoy it.
The system of government and the Constitution[PxxxT] that followed the revolution gave protections to people from all walks of life and the expression of ideas. An industry, hobby and a medium so often maligned by draconian ideas, is one that enjoys the most protection from the era that came after. Without the restoration of the democratic institutions, the fate of gaming and other art forms like it, would hinge on the whims of a single party– worse, a single person.
To yearn for the days before the revolution is to yearn for the destruction of all video games and devices that are similar in nature. It is to believe that video games are a corruption of the values to the youth and adults alike. It is to believe that video games should not exist.