Commentary

Video-Game Violence Should Be Regulated By Parents, Not Politicians

Don't be fooled by the decade-long decline in youth violence. Video games are driving kids cross-eyed with violent rage, immersing them in, as Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch put it, "the bloody slaughter of babies and animals, urination and defecation, rape, decapitation, dismemberment and disembowelment."

Hatch, who has clearly been playing different games than I have, painted violent ones as "worthless, disgusting speech," far removed from "the type of political speech which the First Amendment protects the most staunchly." He spoke in defense of a state law that sets out fines for underage kids buying mature-rated video games. The law is currently being challenged in federal district court.

Violent video games have become the new hot-button issue for politicians who badly need to appear as if they care about children. And bigger fish than Hatch are swimming in these waters. Politicos with national ambitions, like Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Joe Lieberman and New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer have all expressed great concern that parents are inexplicably unable to prevent their kids from playing violent video games. Thus, they need the government to step in and help them.

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Gamers, commenting on sites like Evil Avatar and GamePolitics.com, have a few choice words for the abovementioned legislators, many of which can't be reprinted here. But the politicians' interest is a natural extension of gaming's growth as a medium; they want desperately to be associated with anything that might win them some attention. Even the kind that gets you featured on The Daily Show as an "out-of-touch jackass," as members of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Commerce were recently described.

Legislators' arguments surrounding video-game legislation all embrace the idea of protecting children. But this current push to regulate our beloved pastime is enough to make gamers feel like we've been transported back to the Fifties. In 1955, the Senate Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency first convened. It concluded: "Parents have a right to expect that the producers of materials that may influence their children's thinking will exercise a high degree of caution. They have a right to expect the highest degree of care." Except back then, they were concluding it about comic books.

The same arguments are being bandied about in the discussions surrounding gaming, and they stem from a common misperception: Congress assumed these media are kid's stuff. Even today, the same misperception exists. In 2000, a Texas bookstore clerk was arrested and prosecuted for selling a sexually explicit comic book to an adult. During his trial, the prosecutor beseeched the jury: "I don't care what type of evidence or what type of testimony is out there. Use your rationality, use your common sense. Comic books ... are for kids."

The first "present day" comic book, according to that Senate subcommittee came out in 1935. So when the Senate was sitting down to talk about them in 1955, comic books had grown up with the kids. Similarly, gamers have grown up. Now, there are games targeted directly at adults--and parents need to recognize that when making their kids' buying decisions. We didn't need this sort of hyperventilation over comic books; and we certainly don't it now over video games.

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