Steven King on Violence in Video Games

There’s been a lot of discussion lately on the effects of violence in video games on children, with numerous arguments coming from both sides of the issue.  Most recently, accomplished author Steven King has published his thoughts on the Massachusets proposal to ban the sale of violent games to minors.

So, nope — videogames are not my thing. Nor am I some kind of raving political nutcase. But when I heard about HB 1423, which happens to be a bill pending in the Massachusetts state legislature, I still hit the roof. HB 1423 would restrict or outright ban the sale of violent videogames to anyone under the age of 18. Which means, by the way, that a 17-year-old who can get in to see Hostel: Part II would be forbidden by law from buying (or renting, one supposes) the violent but less graphic Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

It’s probably no surprise, but I agree with King.  Beyond the issue of the effects of violence in games on children (which has seen nebulous conclusion at best), it seems odd and illogical that the games industry has been singled out among the Film, TV, and Music industries.

According to the proposed bill, violent videogames are pornographic and have no redeeming social merit. The vid-critics claim they exist for one reason and one reason only, so kids can experience the vicarious thrill of killing. Now, what does and doesn’t have social merit is always an interesting question, one I can discuss for hours. But what makes me crazy is when politicians take it upon themselves to play surrogate parents. The results of that are usually disastrous. Not to mention undemocratic.

King, who himself has authored of a number of violent books (note how the book industry has no rating or regulatory system at all), ends with a interesting take on the nature of violence in our culture – and more notably, how our government responds to it.

What really makes me insane is how eager politicians are to use the pop culture — not just videogames but TV, movies, even Harry Potter — as a whipping boy. It’s easy for them, even sort of fun, because the pop-cult always hollers nice and loud. Also, it allows legislators to ignore the elephants in the living room. Elephant One is the ever-deepening divide between the haves and have-nots in this country, a situation guys like Fiddy and Snoop have been indirectly rapping about for years. Elephant Two is America’s almost pathological love of guns. It was too easy for critics to claim — falsely, it turned out — that Cho Seung-Hui (the Virginia Tech killer) was a fan of Counter-Strike; I just wish to God that legislators were as eager to point out that this nutball had no problem obtaining a 9mm semiautomatic handgun. Cho used it in a rampage that resulted in the murder of 32 people. If he’d been stuck with nothing but a plastic videogame gun, he wouldn’t even have been able to kill himself.

While the proposed law in Massachusets is worrying, similar laws in other states have been ultimately deemed unconstitutional.  Even still, it’s nice to see such a visible figure as King, a self-described non-gamer, publish a coherent explanation on why the games industry should not be singled out amongst all forms of media in respect to government intervention.

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