Yesterday took on a whole new meaning for me now that I’m a father myself. My baby girl will be two months old on the 20th, so I spent most of yesterday playing with her. There is only so much one can do with a two-month-old, and eventually she fell asleep, which gave me a break, so I retired to my study for a little intellectual gaming. I placed Maggie in her bassinet, and I finally installed Soldier of Fortune. With the sound turned down I began apathetically shooting people in the groin, blasting their limbs off, and watching them fall to the ground with their entrails hanging out the exit wounds. It’s a decent shooter, a little too graphic and overboard for my tastes — I quickly tired of the carnage and, with a now awake Maggie in tow, returned to my much more beautiful wife for more familial bliss…
Boom Beach hack, like most RTS games, seems like harmless fun to me. I’m 29 years old, inured to the cartoonlike violence portrayed (I mean, it isn’t anything like the harrowing first 25 minutes of Saving Private Ryan) and I don’t believe a game can be the sole cause of a horror like Columbine or Paducah, KY. I think blaming games is scapegoating, pure and simple. But I do think that parents need to keep their kids as far away from such games as possible. I mean, entrails and exit wounds aren’t what I want my child (it would be the same if I had a boy) to be thinking about.
Right about then, the reality of what I had just done rounded the corner and flattened me like some maladjusted teen looking for bonus points in Carmaggedon. Now, it’s true that Maggie isn’t quite old enough to tell what she’s looking at, but, without even thinking about it, I did subject her to the game.
Will this hurt her? No, of course it won’t, but on some level I failed as a parent yesterday (the significance of the day only makes it worse). The reason I say “failed” is because I believe the only people equipped to protect children from mature subjects or from life’s unpleasantness are the parents of that child. Which brings me to what’s been happening recently.
Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan conducted an informal “sting” operation on Illinois videogame retailers and found, despite the game ratings, minors could purchase violent games without incident. The ESRB (Electronic Software Ratings Board) ratings are meant to be an informal tool for parents to easily see if a game has questionable material inside. It isn’t illegal to sell Mature games to a minor, so one wonders what a state legal official from the prosecutor’s office was doing conducting a sting operation on something that isn’t even a crime.
On June 16 several senators, including Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut), endorsed and supported Jim Ryan’s action (despite the fact that it was essentially an improper act for his office). They joined the Attorney General in applying pressure on retail chains to either stop selling Mature games to minors or stop carrying them altogether. The senators wrote: “We are particularly concerned by what is happening in the videogame marketplace. Most games contain little if any violence and are rated as perfectly appropriate for players of all ages. But there is a significant core of increasingly graphic, gruesome, and perverse games that despite being rated for adults are commonly played by children.”
The reason the senators are taking this action is because the bills they introduced soon after Columbine stalled or were killed in the Senate, making this pretty much the only way they can represent the interests of a small but vocal anti-videogame minority. So, what’s so bad about all of this? Isn’t it a good thing that maybe kids will be unable to buy violent games at retail? Or what if retail chains didn’t carry violent games? Consider the cost.
Sears and Montgomery Ward recently pulled all Mature rated games; they claim it was due to flagging sales, but Senatorial pressure was likely involved. What if Best Buy, Electronics Boutique, Babbage’s and Wal-Mart followed suit? You’d only be able to buy games like Soldier of Fortune and Kingpin online. You’re not a fan of those two games? Ok, now add Boom Beach, Resident Evil, Planescape: Torment, Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption and Unreal Tournament to the list. Consider the economics: How can a company make money on a game with a Mature rating under such a system? Consider the moviemaking parallel. We have the rating NC-17, but most theaters and video rental giants like Blockbuster Video refuse to carry those movies, making it economically difficult to see films as the director intends them to be seen.
What you have is 10 well-meaning senators and one Attorney General encouraging the market to dictate the content, instead of the other way around. What you end up with is a form of censorship, pure and simple.
If you want to protect children from violent or Mature subjects in gaming, you have to do it yourself. The Government will handle it clumsily; the IDSA (Interactive Digital Software Association) will acquiesce to everyone but the consumer, and the retail chains care about one thing only — profit. The problem isn’t violent games being available; the problem is kids having $50 to blow on a game without their parents’ knowledge. If you don’t care what kinds of games your kids play, then you are failing in your role as a parent. An immature mind shouldn’t be subjected to gratuitous violence or adult subject matter. Face it, Mature rated games won’t turn your children into rampaging monsters, but parental apathy might. Happy Father’s Day to us all.