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Gaming is (Not) the Root of All Evil

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Jack Thompson, out-there-over-the-top activist for anti-anything gaming has come up with another unsubstantiated claim of “gamer violence”, where he appears to put gamers in the same category with hit men. Interesting. Being a long-time gamer myself and one of the most easy-going and down-to-earth people you’d ever meet, most of what Jack Thompson has said I find rather offensive.  Thompson seems to involve himself in situations to shift blame for social problems that seem to hit headlines in the media.

At least the police officer who responded to this particular claim saw it for what it was saying the situation is, “more of a debate for the living room rather than the courtroom.”  I quite agree, especially in instances when Jack Thompson takes it upon himself to use a situation like this to his own ends.

However, there are a few areas of concern in the gaming world that have the potential to be valid points of discussion

There is an issue of minors being able to get a hold of games with content deemed not for their eyes by the ESRB.  This is an issue that Jack Thompson has been very vocal about, yet also narrow minded.  His basic views are that minors should not be able to get a hold of games with an “M” or “AO” rating, in part, because of teen violence apparently caused by playing violent video games.  This flow of logic is not supported or sustained by any solid scientific or psychological findings (course, going the other way, gaming is not scientifically or psychologically proven beyond reasonable doubt to *not* have an affect on teen violence either—so either way, it’s hearsay at this point).

The ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) game rating system that is currently in place is much like the MPAA film rating system where E (Everyone) can be equated to “G” or “PG”, K-A (Kids through Adults) can be equated to “PG”, T (Teens) to “PG-13″, M (Mature) as “R”, and AO (Adults-Only) as “NC-17″.  There are also a few other “E” ratings, but they merely specify which younger audiences would most play the game, such as small children, pre-teens, or simply anyone over 6 years old.

Last November, there was a bill floating through US Congress called the Family Entertainment Protection Act (FEPA), which called for federal enforcement of the ESRB rating system, punishing those who sold “Mature” or “Adults-Only” games to minors.  Now, on one hand, an initial gut reaction may leave you with a reasonable feeling about this bill.  At face value, it may seem that it goes to help protect minors from seeing content that they should not yet be seeing, much like at the movies.  However, the basis of this bill appears to be unconstitutional on the grounds that federal enforcement of a private company’s guidelines that were not even remotely approved as law by any legal legislative or judicial body.

Surprisingly, Thompson agreed with the unconstitutionality of the bill, even though it appeared to be in line with his goals.  The reason for his assessment may have been more politically driven against the bill’s flagship supporter than anything else.

Nevertheless, it is not the stores’ nor the government’s job to regulate this entertainment media anymore than it’s their job to regulate who sees movies.  Remember, with an “R” rating, the restriction is that in order to see an R-rated film, viewers “under 17 require an accompanying parent or adult guardian,” which in turn, places the responsibility on the parent/guardian as to determining if the minor is mature enough to handle the movie’s content.

The same goes for video games.  If the game is rated “M”, it is the parent’s responsibility to determine if the game is suitable for their child.  Bringing a child into the world can make you a mother or father, but only by raising the child responsibly could you be considered a Mom or a Dad.  Too many parents these days often forget that and let their children run wild, thus never learning responsibilities or safe boundaries.  It is not the government’s job to make up for this deficiency.

Historically, this dilemma is not unique to video games.  Similar situations have been applied to comic books, music through the years (jazz, rock & roll, and disco/funk), and as mentioned before, films.  Attempts at censorship of these forms of media have been struck down in the US as being unconstitutional according to rights granted by the First Amendment.  Because video games are a newer medium than comics, music, and film, as well as an interactive medium unlike the aforementioned media, it seems to open the floor for debate, or as one police officer put it in the recent incident of violence (mentioned earlier), it is “more of a debate for the living room rather than the courtroom.”  Movie ratings and parental advisory labels do not have the status of law. Games, as some insist (including Jack Thompson) because of their interactive nature, are different.

There have been no conclusive studies that playing video games automatically makes a player exhibit violent behavior—there are certainly many other catalysts for that in today’s world of unfortunate broken homes and bullying (mainly exhibited by children also from broken homes).  There are already psychological issues in place in situations like these when (most often) a young teenager picks up a game controller.  If there was a correlation between violence and video games, there would be a very close correlation between the number of gamers running around and the number of people running around with psychotically violent tendencies.  That is not the case.

There is also the issue of inherent mental illness and insanity pleas when young adults engage in escalated violent behaviors, usually involving weapons (knives, handguns, rifles, etc).  In those cases, the person is at fault, not the weapon.  By itself, the weapon does nothing.  The same goes for video games.  By themselves, they pose no threat.  However, in the hands of people with psychological problems or mental illnesses, they may become a source of inspiration for individuals with already deranged violent tendencies.  Simply pleading insanity and stating that the person was not able to tell the difference between a virtual reality and the real-world should not have an effect on the censorship of games.  Honestly, anyone who cannot tell the real world apart from a virtual world found in a video game may either be too young to be playing such a game, or may already have a set of psychological issues in the first place.

Just keep this in mind—the term “gamer” is a spliced or term for “game player”.  There is nothing inherently wrong with either one.  The only difference is that a “gamer” is seen as being a bit more devoted to playing video games, so far as to call it a hobby.  It is simply politicians, the media, and other outspoken advocates who like to take the occasional potshot at the gaming community whenever an act of violence is committed and the perpetrator has somehow been discovered as owning video games.  In this Ctrl+Alt+Del online comic strip, it goes to show the general negative connotations of being a gamer, or rather, a person who plays video games.  In fact, many people who call themselves gamers lead quite normal lives, much like any non-gamer.  Gaming is not always a solitary activity.  Much of the time, it can be quite the social activity that includes Multiplayer games and LAN Parties.

Like anything else, moderation of the hours spent on gaming is important as well, because too much gaming may be detrimental to other areas of life.  For example, a student who spends all his waking hours playing games will most likely perform poorly academically speaking.  Gamers must be disciplined enough to know much is too much, and it is important for parents to teach this to their children.  This has become a serious enough matter to warrant a game addiction clinic in the Netherlands (archived link here).

Gaming, in moderation, is quite healthy, like any other daily activity or hobby.  Like anything else, taken to excess, it can pose some risks.  But, if you enjoy it, feel free to partake in it responsibly like any other form entertainment.

(Originally published on a now-defunct blog)