Friday, July 08, 2011

Bad Games, or Bad Parents?

I'm not sure if you've heard of it, but the decision on Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association was released recently (if you don't want to read the whole document, there's a good video synopsis here and here). The back story is that California wanted to ban violent video games to anyone under the age of 18 and require more labeling of games beyond the ratings of the ESRB. The Supreme Court decided that such a law was in violation of the First Amendment, stating 
The most basic principle--that government lacks the power to restrict expression because of its message, ideas, subject matter, or content--is subject to a few limited exceptions for historically unprotected speech, such as obscenity, incitement, and fighting words. But a legislature cannot create new categories of unprotected speech simply by weighing the value of a particular category against its social costs and then punishing it if it fails the test.
I thought this was a great ruling, but it begs the question, what's wrong that people think such a law is needed in the first place?

Is this really so hard to understand?

Many of my readers know about the ESRB, but I think it's worth discussing the basics of the organization. It's a self-policing body that gives ratings to video games, among other things. As you can see in the image above,  a quick glance can tell you the age appropriateness of the game. On the back of a game box, there's even a detailed description of the game, telling the buyer why the game got the rating. If you don't want to go to the store to do this research, it's all on the internet via the ESRB website. Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a hard thing to understand. Let me add just one more point before moving on: Most retailers (Wal-Mart, Gamestop, and others) have policies that force cashiers to card anyone who wants to purchase a M-rated game.

With this information at hand, what was the point of California's law? Basically everything the law set out to do was already in place. My answer: because idiot parents still can't wrap their heads around simple things. Log on to a M-rated MMO and wait for an annoying, bad mouthed 15 year old kid to start screaming about how everyone but him is an idiot. Don't blink, it won't take long. How did a child who obviously can't handle such a game in a mature manner acquire it? More than likely the parents gave it to him. The same parents who are upset about the violence in video games usually, and claim that they didn't know how violent the games really are. Let's even assume that the kid didn't get the game him or herself. It was a gift from a relative. How hard is it for a parent to take the game away? How hard is it to realize the child does not have the maturity level to handle a game and then take it away until they do have the maturity level necessary?

The way I see it, the problem with violent video games is not with their content, but who consumes the content. Steps have been taken to limit what content is consumed by certain groups, but no laws have been made (until California's attempt), largely because it is not a state's, organization's, or other group's place to do so. It is ultimately the parent's (or legal guardian's) decision and responsibility to decide what their child plays. With all the resources available to guardians as to the content of the game, there are two reasons as to why children are supposedly being negatively affected by video games. 1. The parents don't bother to learn about the rating system and/or 2. the parents aren't in good enough touch with their children to know that they can't handle the games.

If the first option is the case, then we have a lot of seriously messed up parents. They don't bother to learn the system set up to help them "protect" their children, but they will cause a huge outcry at the thought of violent video games. If the second option is the case, then what right to the parents have to complain about violent video games when they have bigger problems on their hands? Everyone knows that any Grand Theft Auto game is not meant for kids, that anything that has a muscular man with a gun on it shouldn't be given to a 13 year old, and that most anything that has two people on either side of the screen fighting each other may be a bit graphic. The ESRB rating system simply backs up the obvious, and in some cases actually brings to light what may not be so obvious.

To bring this back around, what was the point of the California law? Was it to punish "bad" games and protect the youngsters, or was it to do the job that parents should already be doing? It seems to me that the latter is a more plausible possibility. Why else would a special department be set up just to put a sticker on a game that's already be rated? And why else would it (eventually) lead to M-rated games being pulled off the shelves and not sold in stores? And why would people want to set up such an agency with tax-payer money in an already bankrupt state? It makes no real sense except that maybe parents no longer want all the responsibilities of being parents in the modern age. And that, my readers, is a scary thought.

What do you think? Bulls-eye or missed by a mile? Let me know what you think! Leave comment below or contact me to let me know your thoughts!

A quick on this article. This week's article subject was chosen by the fans of this website. Next week I will be covering the Casey Anthony case (unless something better comes up). If you want to get involved in this process, join the community on Facebook or Twitter!

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