Game Over

Video game legislation isn’t productive, it’s actually just negligent politicking

In its first week of sales “Halo 3” grossed over $300 million dollars. Quite a lot of people, undoubtedly many of them adolescents, couldn’t wait to get their hands on an updated game that boasts better graphics and new weapons for the first-person shooter.

But with the increasing popularity of video games has come a barrage of legislation targeted at keeping games like “Halo 3” out of the hands of impressionable youngsters. At the end of August several politicians spoke out about halting the sale of ultra-violent video games to minors. Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D-NY) even claims that legislating against video games is a top priority for his state.

In arguing their case, most proponents of a ban on violent games draw parallels with pornography and sexually violent images. Supposedly, too much gaming persuades more kids to go on killing sprees. State Senator Leland Yee, a San Francisco Democrat, even compared video games to substances like cigarettes and alcohol that are prohibited for minors.

Regardless of the legal problems and constitutional violations, there is a far greater reason for politicians to lay off the gaming industry.

For starters it’s ridiculous for the government to prioritize protecting children from the perils of the “Grand Theft Auto” world. Ever since the tragic school shooting at Columbine High School, media pundits and politicians have tried to illustrate how video games have a direct impact on children’s behavior. While the narrative makes for a compelling segment on the local news—and provides a reason and a target for a traumatized nation—it’s false and truly damaging.

The physical evidence that links video game usage to violent behavior is distorted and inadequate—at best. When the American Psychiatric Association, in 2002, published a report entitled “Violent Games Can Increase Aggression” it sparked nation-wide alarm and hysteria. Suddenly millions of parents assumed that “Mortal Kombat” and “Doom” would turn their children into miniature killers.

Omitted from the press release was that the data was essentially inconclusive. The purported relationship between violent media and violent people is actually not causal, but sometimes correlative. Put simply, the evidence accumulated from this study could only conclusively argue that “aggressive” people enjoy “aggressive” entertainment. Hardly a profound statement condemning the gaming industry.

Henry Jenkins, the Director of Comparative Media Studies at MIT, even concluded that no research has found that a violent video game “could turn an otherwise normal person into a killer.” (And with all those copies of “Halo 3” sold—thank goodness!)

Jenkins has also raised the point that, as proven by a report from the Surgeon General, the biggest risk factors for school shootings center upon mental stability and a child’s home life (not video games). And given the fact that violence amongst teenagers is at a 30-year low, it seems that perhaps politicians should refocus their energies on measures that actually protect children.

And yet the suits in D.C. have another agenda.

In 2005, Sen. Hilary Rodham Clinton, now the likely future Democratic contender for President, drafted a letter to the Federal Trade Commission concerning the “Mature” rating for the popular game, “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.” She wanted the rating upgraded to “Adults Only” because of a “silent epidemic” of violent games among vulnerable children.

The senator, of all people, should know that the deplorable state of children’s healthcare is a far more serious problem when it comes to protecting kids. But, most of all, the whole saga speaks to the laziness of D.C. politicking. Censoring video games is an easy way to score sound bytes that seem meaningful, but are ultimately fruitless.

But I suppose it’s much easier to protect children from the virtual world than from real issues.



Jessica C. Coggins ’08, a Crimson arts editor, is an English and American literature and languages concentrator in Cabot House.