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What Is It About Violence in Video Games That's So Different?

18 Apr, 2004 By: Kurt Indvik

There has been a consistent and ongoing legislative effort across the country to “do something” about violence in video games.

The most recent example we're reporting on in this week's issue (see page 8) is the set of bills presented to committee in the California state legislature that attempts to restrict and control the rental, sale and merchandising of some violent video games and ‘M'-rated games.

There have been similar efforts in states, counties and cities across the United States in the past couple of years, many of which have either failed to pass or, once passed, have been rejected in federal and state courts of appeals, or are still hung up in the appeals process. There are dozens more bills and local laws pending in state and local governments in New York, Florida, Washington, New Jersey and Delaware, and I may be missing some.

But despite the apparent Constitutional problems with attempting to restrict what the courts have judged on several occasions to be material covered under free- speech provisions, we're seeing a record number of efforts to make it a criminal offense to sell or rent these games to persons under 18.

Why are video games garnering this obsessive attention? Why not violent movies on home video, for instance?

It's simple. In a violent movie, you may watch some guy burying a hatchet into an unfortunate victim's head. But in the video game, you may very well be the guy wielding the hatchet! That visceral experience, even on a computer screen, to digitally shoot, stab, maim and kill one's “enemy” is, I think, the reason we may not see an end to these legislative efforts anytime soon. Production quality is only improving, and the reality of the gore and characters that producers are able to create is technically impressive.

The ability to wreak virtual mayhem is unsettling enough that otherwise rational people are ignoring the First Amendment and judicial precedent in these issues and pressing ahead with their bills and local business codes.

No one is questioning their concern about what impact such games might have on young, malleable minds, although their political motives to make hay over an issue they know to be legally unsound might be questioned. But they also seem to ignore the fact that the retail industry, including the Video Software Dealers Association, is well aware of parental concerns over these games, and have taken stringent (and successful) steps to ensure that ‘M'-rated games cannot be rented or sold to minors unless the parents deem that it's alright for their children, just as a parent can accompany a child to a film that's rated more appropriate for an older age.

Perhaps the video game industry just seems like a safer target than Hollywood for most legislators.

The VSDA and partner associations are going to have their hands full for the forseeable future defending themselves against what some feel may be part of a growing and disturbing trend to legislate and control media around the country.

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