With so many Democrats working anti-game violence rhetoric into their "family values" platforms, you'd think that Republicans might squirm at the prospect of ceding the moral high ground. After all, some pundits claim that the current spate of video game legislation is nothing more than Democrats' attempt to steal the key married parent demographic away from Republicans.
A few weeks ago, however, the National Review Online, a popular conservative political magazine, featured an op-ed by Adam Thierer (left), a senior fellow at the Progress & Freedom Foundation (PFF) in Washington, D.C. and director of PFF's Center for Digital Media Freedom.
Thierer begins by tearing into politicians for using a few game titles such as 25 to Life and Grand Theft Auto "to indict an entire industry." He compares it to judging Hollywood based on viewing Natural Born Killers and Sin City.
He goes on to praise the ESRB, calling the game ratings "remarkably detailed and displayed prominently on all game cartons, making them easy for parents to evaluate." Thierer argues that since games are quite pricey, parents are much more likely to be involved in game purchases. He also mentioned the parental controls present on many gaming consoles. For games that contain extremely violent or otherwise objectionable content, Thierer observes that "a quick glance at the back of any game box provides parents with plenty of information to make decisions for their families."
As for concerns that more and more games contains sex and violence, Thierer quotes the PFF's own studies, which examined the top-20 lists from 2001-2005, and found that less than 20% of those titles were rated M. He doesn't expect these numbers to dissuade regulation-advocates from claiming that most games sold contain extremely mature content, and predicted that the claim would make an appearance at last month's senate hearing on video game violence. (CM: Though that wasn't hard to see coming...)
Thierer goes on to comment on what he calls the "myth" that there is a clear correlation between violent games and destructive social behavior. Calling on various statistics that indicate that violence among youth is going down, Thierer doesn't claim that these stats prove that games don't influence people, but instead says that "they should at least call into question the 'world-is-going-to-hell' sort of generalizations made by proponents of increased regulation."
Finally, Thierer touches on the highly contested "cathartic or educational benefits" of video games:
"From the Bible to Beowulf to Batman, depictions of violence have been used not only to teach lessons, but also to allow people - including children - to engage in a sort of escapism that can have a therapeutic effect on the human psyche. Kids know the difference between make-believe violence and the real thing."
Thierer concludes by warning politicians and industry critics that they should pay careful attention to the facts, rather than myths and mis-perceptions, when crafting legislation, especially when regulations have "profound First Amendment implications".
CM: Although an increasing number of Republicans are proposing video game legislation in places like Tennessee, Utah and Oklahoma, I suspect the Republican party may take advantage of the recent string of constitutional failures plaguing Democrat-led game laws in Michigan, Illinois and, perhaps, California. "Thinking of the children" works well for some voters but the traditional conservative view doesn't hold with government interference, particularly of the ineffectual, tax-dollar-wasting variety.
-Reporting from Saskatchewan, GP North American Correspondent Colin "Jabrwock" McInnes