Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Video Games and Values

The Supreme Court recently ruled a California law banning the selling of M-rated, violent video games to minors was unconstitutional. Justice Scalia, whom I dislike in just about every way, wrote the majority opinion.

The ruling is welcome, but the law was misguided in the first place. Almost no one thinks minors should be allowed to play violent video games. Stores already have practices in place to prevent their purchases. Even I, at 29, have to show my ID most of the time.

Also, the games, like movies and music, are "rated" so that parents know what kind of content is in them. And you know, if I had a 13-year-old boy, I would buy Call of Duty for him, or Fallout, or pretty much whatever game. Maybe not some of the really crass and vulgar ones, but those titles are fine for a teenager, if they're interested.

The reason people are worried about it is the idea that violent imagery begets violence in people. Video games must be worse because they're interactive. This is based on the false notion that we are blank slates with brains that are putty-like and adopt whatever they are exposed to. This is not so.

That's not to suggest environment can't shape us - it can and does. But generally not through mediums of entertainment, like books, movies, music, video games, and even pornography. A few people might be genetically disposed to be more affected by such things, but here's an easy test to the effect of violent games on youths: has crime risen or declined in the years since Grand Theft Auto? If violent video games were a instigator, wouldn't we see a dramatic rise in aggressiveness from the $18 billion dollar a year industry?

Instead, the effects of video games are minimal. They get blamed because they are a relatively new technology, just like people thought the Walkman was the end of conversation. The iPod, too. And how Twitter is allegedly going to make us dumb and only able to communicate in 140 characters and unable to have the attentions pans we're supposed to.

The medium is not the message. Behaviorism got it wrong. If you want to ban violent games, you would have to logically extend that to every other medium as well.

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