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Friday, January 18, 2013

The Band-Aid

There has been new legislation put to the House floor regarding violence in video games.


Weeks ago, after the Sandy Hook tragedy, there was a call to at least have a conversation about some of the things involved that led to Adam Lanza taking a gun to an elementary school.  The NRA said they would add something meaningful to the debate.

They didn't.

Instead of blaming the proliferation of assault weapons in this country, the NRA heaped blame on our violent tastes in entertainment, video games and movies to be specific.  In the same breath, he suggested arming our teachers, but let's stick with one thing at a time.

Fact: Violence is pervasive in our entertainment culture.  We see too many movies -- and, yes, video games -- that make gunplay cool.  The neighborhood movie theater in Flatbush, where I grew up, closed in 1999, a week after the premiere of The Matrix prompted some knuckleheads to shoot up the movie theater.  No one to my knowledge was hurt, but it wasn't exactly common knowledge either.  There could be reasons behind that, but I'll save that for another rant.  The makers of Call Of Duty pump out a new version of the game every year, and that is met with fanfare, and long lines of people camping out to be first to buy.  There are very few statements I agree with from the NRA regarding the debate; the nod to our culture of violence is it.

The issue at hand, though, is whether restricting violence in video games is the answer.  As of 1994, in the wake of the Mortal Kombat hullabaloo, game developers were submitting games to the ESRB, a self-regulating board who would determine the level of maturity or objectiveness in the content of the game, and assign a corresponding rating.  Games with violent or other adult content are emblazoned with a giant "M" for mature.  It is then the responsibility of the consumer to either buy the game or not buy the game.  If the consumer is a parent, then they make the decision to buy or not buy the game based on the appropriate rating for their child.  The new legislation mentioned at the top of the blog makes submission to the ESRB mandatory, and game ratings enforced by monetary penalty:  sell a game to someone of inappropriate age, get a $5,000 fine.  I agree with this as well.

What I don't agree with is the notion that real-world violence stems from video game violence.  Since the majority of gamers are under 18, and most likely have games bought for them as gifts by their loving parents, shouldn't it be the responsibility of the parent to (a) screen the game for content inappropriate (by reading the label) and/or (b) educate their children to the difference between fantasy (on screen) and reality (off screen). If we fear our children are being brainwashed into being killers by these damn video games, then undo the brainwashing by stating that the game is just that... a game.  It's not real.  It's not how people should act in a civilized society.  Failing that, the prudent thing to do is DON'T BUY THESE GAMES FOR KIDS!!!  Make them wait until they can buy it for themselves, by either getting a job and learning about the real world, or saving up for it and learning about the real world.

Restricting violence in a video game is a band-aid.  It is at best a stopgap measure to address a byproduct of the problem.  The bigger problem is that it's still easier to get a gun than it is to get a drivers license.  The issue is still that you can get an automatic weapon at Walmart.  The biggest issue in my mind stems from the changing dynamic of the American family.  But that's the subject of another rant.

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