Campaign against video games is political grandstanding|
March 24, 2005
By Franklin Harris
Whenever anyone says we must do
something for "our children's sake," watch out. This is when government
inevitably is up to no good.
Alabama is one of several states
considering legislation to restrict the sale and rental of "violent"
and "sexually explicit" video games to children. The others include
Illinois and Maryland, as well as the District of Columbia. The underlying
assumption, laid out in Alabama's bill, is that "it has now been
established by overwhelming scientific, law enforcement and medical evidence
that violent and sexually themed video and computer games can and do
harm to not only the consumers of the games but also lead to harmful
behaviors toward innocent third parties . . ."
As it happens, there is no
"overwhelming" evidence of the kind. The studies so far are deeply flawed,
and none deals with the plain facts of the matter, including, obviously,
the fact that millions of people play violent video games without
becoming criminals. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker says the link between
media violence and real-world violence is simply "an article of faith"
that isn't backed by the scientific evidence. He goes on to say that
"psychologists who have recently reviewed the literature have concluded
that exposure to media violence has little or no effect on violent
behavior in the world."
How absurd is this campaign
against video games? While lawmakers are busy grandstanding, juvenile crime
and teenage pregnancies are on the decline. Never mind that the typical
video-game player is 30 years old, according to the Entertainment
Software Association. The ESA already administers a ratings system for video
games, and most stores already refuse to sell games rated "Mature" and
"Adults Only" to children.
In short, bills like the one
pending in the Alabama Legislature are laws in search of a problem that
doesn't exist. Of course, one could say the same of most bills passed by
the Alabama Legislature. This is a government body, after all, that has
tried to criminalize the sale of sex toys to adults for no reason other
than that they seem to offend the sensibilities of Sen. Tom Butler,
If all of this seems familiar,
it's because the same arguments now leveled against video games were
leveled against comic books in the 1950s. The U.S. Senate held hearings,
during which psychologist Fredric Wertham, author of "Seduction of the
Innocent," claimed that comic books turned children into juvenile
delinquents and sex maniacs. But now, of course, almost everyone recognizes
that Wertham was, at best, misguided or, at worst, a crank.
Laws like those under
consideration here and elsewhere are insidious. They seek to transfer the
responsibility for parenting from parents to the government, which has a
difficult enough time delivering the mail, never mind acting as parent to
millions of children. They are like other proposed laws that would turn
the public schools into "fat police," informing parents as to whether
their children are obese, as if parents cannot already tell if their
children need to lose weight. These laws treat parents like children.
Of course, some parents say they
need the help. The common complaint is that there are too many media
available today, and not just video games, for parents to monitor what
their children watch. Parenting, the argument goes, is much more
difficult than it was in years past.
Actually, however, it has never
been easier to be a parent. Two centuries ago, parents worried about
their children facing disease and starvation. If parents today spend a lot
of time worrying about popular entertainment, then that's because they
don't have anything else to worry about.
Restricting video-game sales
won't protect children, who aren't in danger, anyway. But it will give
politicians more power, which, as always, is what they're really after.