The January 1999 issue of Reader's Digest contains a "special report" called "Computer Violence: Are Your Kids at Risk?" The author, Stephen Barr, feels compelled to place a strict rating system on video games. For game players like myself, Barr's text is a scary insight into the mind of someone who would push closed the doors of free expression.
First, let me set the record straight. Though I do enjoy Quake- and Doom-type games, it's not because of the violence itself -- I would not consider myself a general fan of violent video games. For instance, I despise fighting games, because memorization is the key to game play. These have more in common with games like Memory or Concentration than actual video games. What remains isn't interesting to me; I don't understand the appeal of watching blood splatter across the screen. It seems like a cheap way for a game to draw attention.
But I would not make the choice for another person. There is no reason for a law that would prohibit a thirteen-year-old from purchasing a violent video game. This is just a sample of what Barr proposes. What is on his agenda after that? The outlawing of kids buying water pistols and army men?
The article begins by describing a killing. It isn't until a few paragraphs have passed that you realize that no real violence has occurred. Instead, Barr is describing a session of the Nintendo 64 title Goldeneye as played by two boys, aged ten and twelve. This is Barr's attempt to mislead the reader into having an initial negative attitude toward video games. Barr quotes the father of the two boys: "I'm not going to invite somebody into my house to teach kids to kill." Barr uses this example as a springboard for propounding a rating system that would make it illegal to rent mature (i.e. violent) games to minors.
An introduction to the video-game rating system that was established in 1994 is given. Not mentioned is that Nintendo was still the family-type game company at that time. They helped to pressure Congress into adopting a video-game rating system; in my opinion, they wanted ammo for their fights with third-party game companies that were making a lot of money. Since then, Nintendo has dropped that unprofitable family image. I wonder if they might have any regrets.
Barr runs an experiment in which a ten-year-old boy is sent into various stores to rent or buy games that are rated "M" (age 17 or above). The boy is able to rent or buy the following games without any problems: Mortal Kombat IV, Resident Evil II and Parasite Eve. It seems that any kid can rent violent games "as long as they elude parental supervision." This infuriates Barr, who obviously feels that parents don't have time to see what their children are up to.
Barr does seem to like the existing rating system; he just doesn't like the fact that a store can't be held accountable if a child purchases a violent game. He sidesteps what the store might be held accountable for -- murder, suicide, rape? He never says. It seems that Barr has taken the same attitude that began the backlash against so-called Satanic music in the early eighties. Like video games, people tried to hold music accountable for what their sons and daughters did. Ozzy Osbourne was even taken to court, following a teenager's suicide -- just because the boy had listened to Osbourne's music (the singer wasn't ultimately held responsible). This nonsense will happen to video-game companies if laws are passed that push the responsibility from the parent's shoulders onto the government's.
As a parent myself, I understand that I must make decisions about what I let my son play. I try to steer him clear of violent games -- not because of some rating system, but because I watch him play and then decide for myself. Dominic has an imagination. He runs up and down the hallway shooting at "bad guys," pretending to be in Star Wars. If it were the 1950s, I'm sure that he would be shooting "bad guys" while pretending to be Buck Rogers. I'm not going to stop him from pretending. He even goes running around the house shooting monsters from Doom or Quake; this doesn't worry me. It is all make-pretend.
But you know what does worry me? When he pretends that he is a policeman and shoots the "bad guys." Now, where did he get a crazy idea like that?
No law will be acceptable that allows the prosecution of video-game companies until a law is passed that lets me sue the government for allowing violence to happen on the streets and during war. -- AT