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Friday, May 27, 2005

Seriously, let's think of the children

Let's take a step back and go to why the Illinois law get's so much traction in the first place. It's about the kids. Everyone loves kids. Well, almost everyone - but very few people want to see them shoot each other in the street. I know I don't want to see that kind of thing on my street, we have enough problems with people picking up after themselves as it is.

Remember that the law defines violent video games as a factor in youth related violence. Let's assume for a moment that the statement is accurate. We'll ignore the sticky issue of casuality and say that yes, video games depicting violence can have such a harmful effect on children that it's in the public good to curtail their exposure to this media.

So what will the Demuzio bill do to help that?

The answer is .... probably very little. The main reason is because the vast majority of video game purchases aren't being done by minors:

The Washington-based Entertainment Software Association noted last year that the average age of a video game player is 30 and that the average age of a video game purchaser is 36. Parents are involved in the purchase of games 83 percent of the time, the association said.

"When we look at our consumer graphic information, approximately 50 percent of purchases are made by women," said Anita Frazier, an analyst for the NPD Group, which tracks the industry. "They're largely buying it as a gift or as a reward to a child, a husband, a brother."
- Washington Post

And of course, we have the fact that in Illinois, police aren't too worried about video games. So who is going to enforce this? If this isn't going to help the kids, and it's not going to help the parents ... why do it?

Well, it sounds good for the politicians and it opens the door wide open for frivolous lawsuits. When it comes to educating parents and trying to hoist some responsibility on them - this law only does two things: force a new label on games and maintain that retailers must post a sign about the ESRB (again ... what about Internet retailers?).

The sad thing is ... education is probably where the two camps could agree. Here are the words of Craig Anderson, a Doctor of Psychology at the University of Iowa and one of the staunchest opponents of children being exposed to violent media:

However, even though one cannot reasonably claim that a particular act of violence or that a lifetime of violence was caused exclusively by the perpetrator's exposure to violent entertainment media, one can reasonably claim that such exposure was a contributing causal factor. More importantly for this hearing, my research colleagues are correct in claiming that high exposure to media violence is a major contributing cause of the high rate of violence in modern U.S. society. Just as important, there are effective ways of reducing this particular contributing cause. Educating parents and society at large about the dangers of exposure to media violence could have an important impact.
- Senate Hearings, 2000

I think if both sides of this issue look at that conclusion the argument would center on this:

One can reasonably claim that such exposure was a contributing causal factor [to an act of violence].

For myself, I find the statement reaching and difficult to prove. What kind of contribution does the Doctor infer here? How much exposure would be required to be considered "high"? So on and so on. But let's focus on the Doctor's other two statements:

One cannot reasonably claim that a particular act of violence or that a lifetime of violence was caused exclusively by the perpetrator's exposure to violent entertainment media.

Educating parents and society at large about the dangers of exposure to media violence could have an important impact.

Now if we put all this together, I think maybe everyone could agree on what's important. Let's not focus on trying to stop crime by limiting the sale of games which depict crime. That has more problems of perspective than an MC Escher sketch. Let's agree that a ten year old raised on wrestling, cop shows and online shooters is probably not going to be as mentally healthy as the one who mastered Katamari Damarcy ( but then again, who would be? )

And let's agree that the best solution is to go to the source of the problem - the parents, and try to help them out. Not blame them, but focus on helping them get the information they need. Let's think education, not legislation. Then maybe we'll get healthier kids instead of richer lawyers.

5 comments:

Corvus said...

Great post, Josh, and not merely because it echoes my sentiments exactly. *nirg*

Blame is so misused in our society. Attributing responsibility to people (or even organizations) and then providing tools to help them meet that responsibility head on would be far more effective.

Corvus said...

Oh, and BTW, thanks for covering this issue in such depth. I've been impressed with your willingness/eagerness to explore ramifications and encourage action, rather than just finger pointing and muck raking.

Josh said...

Thanks, and thanks for your responses - it's been good to have some sounding boards on this one. And makes me feel less like a loony.

Next week, though, I'm all over the muck racking. I miss it so...

Josh said...

Also, I do want to postscript this by saying that I did try to get a hold of Dr. Anderson for comment. He didn't respond, but I also didn't give him much time.

Brinstar said...

As someone who used to work in video game retail, I couldn't agree more. So many of the parents who came were incredibly uninformed about what their kids were playing. The number of parents who were shocked when I told them why GTA: San Andreas has an M-rating was substantial. If parents refuse to get involved in what their children are doing for fun, that is their fault. It shouldn't be up to the government to raise children.