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Video games and violence: It's the parenting, stupid

Video games and violence: It's the parenting, stupid

December 29, 2005 |

Readers keep e-mailing, with comments along these lines:

Name:  Joel Handloff
Abingdon, MD
Ugh.  I grew up on video games and violent slasher movies (I'm 36, btw) and have never committed a violent crime.  I've never even considered committing one.  Why?  How could I watch all these horrors and not become totally twisted?  Oh lord, how could one child defend himself against this overpowering onslaught of death and violence?  Because 1) I know the difference between reality and fantasy.  2) I have a moral center.  Why do I posess these qualities?  Because my parents made sure I did.  They both worked, but they made damn sure I knew right from wrong.  The idea that a good, normal kid would turn to crime and violence because of the media is a cop-out.  It's a way for parents to either explain their kid's mental illness or to get out of their own responsibility for raising their kids well.  "Hey, it's not my fault, it's the TV or video games.  Just because I never spoke with my kid or treated him with respect or even spent time with him couldn't possibly be the issue.  Nope."  While I generally disagree with the whole "classic family" platform of the Right, it has a real point here.

Glenn writes:  Politicians on both left and right want us controlled.  Just in different ways.

Name:  Neal McClellan
Augusta, Georgia
This letter is in response to one of the letters you posted today.  If parents are so concerned about their children getting their hands on *gasp* virtually violent and pixilated sexual content in video games, they should take a more active role in their kid's lives.  Don't just buy the game for them because they asked for it.  Take a few moments to find out what is in it.  All video games come with a rating for your parental convenience.  If a game is rated Mature (for ages 17 and up) and you buy it for your 13 year old, don't complain to your congressperson about the content to which you exposed your child.  One other note, video games are not just "for kids" anymore.  20-35 year-old males are the target audience for most games in today's market since they are the people most likely to have the disposable income to spend on multiple hundred-dollar consoles and the fifty plus dollar games that go with them.

Glenn writes:  Yes, the notion that videogames are just for kids is more evidence that members of Congress are out of touch.  What's really frightening is that they probably don't know any more about the other stuff they legislate on.

December 29, 2005 |

Readers have some strong views on this subject.  Here are some of the e-mails I got:

Name:  Joe Pratt
Saratoga NY
Glenn, It seems that you are opposed to censorship based on the overall tone of this article.  Does this apply to TV & radio programming (i.e recent FCC crackdowns on language and specifc words) as well or only for those things Democrats want to censor.  Just curious but not unsurprised if your answer is only for the latter.

Glenn writes:  I'd limit the FCC to a purely technical role and take it out of the business of regulating content.  I think the market is more than capable of doing that.  However, like many of my views on social questions, I doubt this is shared by a majority of the voters.

Name:  Jordan
West Palm Beach, Florida
I am happy to see someone speak up about this.  I am a 26, and a huge gamer.  I think politicians have better things to worry about than video games.  They claim that it causes violence even though there is absolutely no proof.  If anything, it prevents violence by allowing you to take out your aggressions in a virtual world.  Are politicians too dumb too realize that people understand the difference between shooting someone in real life and in a video game?  If someone can't differentiate between the two, then the problem lies in their head, not w/ video games.  Also, what is worse, seeing some pixels of blood, or seeing all the killing on the evening news?  How about movies?  Where is all the outrage about seeing realistic looking deaths in movies?  After all, it looks far more realistic than a video game.  Politicans need to pull their head out of their you-know-what, and focus on real problems.  Or maybe try actually playing a game for once instead of preaching to us about what they percieve as "good" for us.  Again, Thanks for bringing up this topic.

Glenn writes:  I think there are a lot of gamers out there who feel this way.  The politicians supporting this legislation had better hope they don't vote.

Name:  Barry
Detroit, MI
"SimCongress?"  Isn't that the new game that costs 3 times more than any other game, but automatically hits pause and renders itself unplayable for 6 months out of the year?  Sign me up!

Glenn writes:  Heh.

Name:  J.J.
Oh, video games.  Very nice.  Yes, that's a good topic as the full scale of Bush's electronic easedropping becomes apparent.  Yes, ignore the growing storm until you get a better sense of the Republican talking points on this issue.  BTW, the Sims is a far cry from most of the violent video games that I see advertised on TV.  So, what exactly is your point here?

Glenn writes:  I swear I could write about pruning azaleas and someone would try to turn it into a Bush-bashing opportunity.  (On the eavesdropping, I expect it to go away as an issue if it keeps -- as says, another spy scandal and Bush will be over 60%.  Even Democrats are about how they're coming across.  But back to the subject at hand...)

Yes, there are lots of violent videogames.  There's just no evidence that playing them does any harm.  Since videogames are every bit as much free speech as books or movies, there's no justification for subjecting them to a variety of censorship.

Of course, some people think I'm wrong:

Name:  Dave Dermody
Hometown:  W
aterloo, IL
It's interesting to me that children supposedly aren't affected appreciably by entertainment with sexual or violent content, and yet last month we read about the effect that food advertising directed at children has on them.  It's been my experience that I am generally affected by environment, alternately sensitized to some things and desensitized to others.  Parents have a responsibility to provide a healthy environment for children, and it would be helpful if the government could occasionally support them in this.  I don't think The Sims is the type of video games that folks are concerned about.

Glenn writes:  The people complaining about food ads are health nazis and opportunistic trial lawyers -- they've got an agenda.  Likewise the people complaining about video games.  The First Amendment is supposed to stop people with agendas from censoring speech.

One thing's for sure:  If we held journalists, health advocates -- and especially politicians -- to the same standard of care that we hold other industries to when they produce a defective product, they'd all be sued out of existence.  The First Amendment protects them from that.  You'd think they'd show more support for First Amendment protection where others are concerned.


Congress and videogames: A bad mixHillary Clinton and various other top politicos want to impose on videogames.  Courts have overturned such regulations pretty much everywhere they've come up, on the grounds that they're an intrusion on consitutionally protected free speech.  They are, but that's not the only reason to oppose such regulation.

In fact, as MIT Professor Henry Jenkins has noted, most of the calls for regulation of videogames are :  Videogames don't lead to growing youth violence (youth violence has, in fact, plummeted in recent years), they're not marketed primarily to children, and they're not socially isolating.

That certainly been my experience.  My daughter is a big fan of The Sims, and as I've written , the game seems to teach some useful and important life lessons that children aren't likely to learn in school:

SimWorld isn't the real world, of course.  But it's a world in which actions have consequences, and not necessarily happy ones.  (Your Sim characters can die, if you let them screw things up too much).  It's a world in which traditional middle-class virtues, like thrift and planning, generally pay off.  In short, it's a world that's a lot more like the real world than the worlds of movies, popular songs, and novels -- the places where children and adolescents have traditionally gotten their non-parental information on how life works.

And, in fact, Jenkins' article makes a similar point, and even invokes The Sims:

The Sims designer Will Wright argues that games are perhaps the only medium that allows us to experience guilt over the actions of fictional characters.  In a movie, one can always pull back and condemn the character or the artist when they cross certain social boundaries. But in playing a game, we choose what happens to the characters.  In the right circumstances, we can be encouraged to examine our own values by seeing how we behave within virtual space.

I suspect that most of the politicians pushing videogame regulation haven't played a game since "Pong," if they've ever played a game at all.  Before they get involved, perhaps they should do some learning on their own.  Too bad they can't be forced to play a few weeks' worth of "SimCongress" before taking their seats.

December 24, 2005 |

Happy Everything!

I hope you're enjoying Christmas weekend.  After my last post, it seemed only fitting to leave

you with of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" by .  All my bases are covered now!


Merry Christmas!

Over at another network, they've been pushing the notion of a "war on Christmas" full-throttle. Personally, I've been inclined to think that this has more to do with than anything else, but there's no question that you hear "Merry Christmas" less often than you used to.

To me, there's enough irony to go around.  Merchants want you to spend a fortune this time of year because of Christmas, but are afraid to use the word for fear of offending anyone.  Meanwhile, the "war on Christmas" crowd is waging a counter-campaign that, when you boil it down, basically comes to a complaint that Christmas isn't being commercialized enough.

Give me a break.  While a few people -- like atheist filmmaker -- really have declared war on Christmas, mostly it's just an effort to be polite.  On the other hand, if you're genuinely offended by hearing the word "Christmas" then, well, you need to get over it, and get a life.

At any rate, back in favor of more traditional greetings:

In the cultural battle over whether to use the seasonal greeting "Happy holidays" or "Merry Christmas," the latter appears to be winning, according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll released Tuesday.In the poll, which surveyed 1,003 adult Americans by phone, 69 percent said they prefer "Merry Christmas" over "Happy holidays," which garnered 29 percent.Compared with the 2004 Christmas -- or holiday -- season, the number of people who said they use "Happy holidays" has dropped 12 percentage points, from 41 percent to 29 percent.

Well, I'm glad that weighty issue is settled.


On Friday, the House of Representatives took a , with a resolution that said Congress was committed "to achieving victory in Iraq."  How did it go?  Well, it passed, but "Democrats voted against the resolution by a roughly two-to-one margin."

Uh oh.  Sunday night, President Bush gave a speech -- you can see the video -- and in the speech he went out of his way to identify himself with the Iraq war.  He didn't have to do that -- Congress voted in favor of war by an overwhelming margin -- but he did.  He spoke repeatedly of the war as his decision, and he took full responsibility for it.

Why did Bush do that?  Because we're winning, and he wants credit.  What's more, he wants to make clear in the minds of Americans that we're winning in spite of the Democrats' opposition, because he wants people to remember that come election time.

Bush obviously thinks that by the 2006 Congressional elections, and especially the 2008 Presidential election, it will be obvious that we've won in Iraq, and he wants to make sure that the Democrats can be portrayed as defeatists and losers -- imagine the television commercials that Republicans can run regarding Democratic members of Congress who voted against a commitment to "achieving victory in Iraq."

It looks to me as if the Democrats have been expertly maneuvered into a very uncomfortable position.  Before long, I think it will look that way to them, too.

December 16, 2005 | 4:31 PM ET

The sun sets on the Patriot Act

The Patriot Act reauthorization has, for the moment at least, failed as a Senate vote to end a filibuster received only 52 of the required 60 votes.  (You can see the roll call of who voted how ).

I don't know what to think about that.  As I've written here , the Patriot Act is neither as bad as I feared originally, nor -- as far as I can tell -- as important as its proponents claim.  As law professor writes:

The dirty little secret about the Patriot Act is that only about 3% of the Act is controversial, and only about a third of that 3% is going to expire on December 31st. Further, much of the reauthorization actually puts new limits on a number of the controversial non-sunsetting provisions, and some of the sunsetting provisions increased privacy protections. As a result, it's not immediately obvious to me whether we'll have greater civil liberties on January 1, 2006 if the Patriot Act is reauthorized or if it is allowed to expire....Of course, four years after the Patriot Act was passed, a meeting of everyone who thinks of the Patriot Act as actual legislation could be held in my kitchen. For most people, the Patriot Act is a symbol of the Bush Administration and the War on Terror. From that perspective, the current debate makes a lot of sense: for opponents, fighting the Patriot Act reauthorization continues the valiant struggle against the evil forces of Big Brother and the out-of-control Bush Administration; for supporters, supporting the Act helps beat Al Qaeda, makes the homeland safe from attack, and helps win the global struggle against terrorism. If neither of these visions bears a particular resemblance to reality, well, hey, no one ever said democracy was perfect.

There does seem to be a lot of symbolism involved.  On the other hand, there's been a lot of "mission creep," with Drug War legislation that has nothing to do with terrorism being slipped in to the reauthorization act.  I don't know whether we'd be safer with the bill passing or dying either.  But that seems to me to be reason to hold back:  If we're going to pass a big national security bill, shouldn't we know things like that?  The debate, which has been long on symbolism and caricature but short on substance, hasn't helped much.

On the other hand, the Patriot Act gets a bum rap sometimes -- I can't tell you how many people e-mailed me in response to the Cory Maye case mentioned below, which had absolutely nothing to do with the Patriot Act, and everything to do with Drug War stuff going back decades, by blaming, you guessed it, the Patriot Act.

If you want to really worry about civil liberties, forget the Patriot Act.  Start looking at the other stuff that's on the books, without even the excuse of fighting terrorism.  But nobody, on either side of the aisle, really wants you doing that.