Thursday, March 17, 2005

Bang, bang, you're dead

The Illinois House today passed the Safe Games Illinois Act, a completely useless law that bans the sale or rental of violent and sexually explicit video games to minors. The penalty for doing so would be up to a year in jail and up to a $5,000 fine. Furnishing alcohol to a minor will only get you at most a $2,500 fine, even though both are Class A midemeanors.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that minors should be getting their hands on these games. From what I've heard, Grand Theft Auto is not a game that should be played by anyone of, shall we say, a more impressionable age. Governor Blagojevich said of the passing of this bill,

I would like to commend and thank the Illinois House of Representatives for moving Illinois one step closer to protecting our children from violent and sexually explicit video games. In today's world, parents face unprecedented challenges in monitoring and protecting their children from harmful influences. This bill will make their job easier."

"Protecting our children from video games"? He makes it sound like they jumping off the shelves and attacking people. Every video game out there is ESRB rated right one the front of the box, just like movies. You can't miss these ratings. Grand Theft Auto, which is basically the game being demonized this week is rated Mature, inappropriate for those under 17. Apparently this law will make it easier for parents to protect their children because they're too damn lazy to pick up the game and look at the front of it.

Even though movies are rated using similar criteria as video games, and movie theaters (in theory) don't let kids into R-rated movies, a kid getting a ticket to see Constantine or Sideways isn't a criminal act. Why should movies be treated differently?

Andrew O'Hehir has a fascinating article in Salon today about the myth of violence in media and how it affects children. It is taken as gospel that violent media and violent video games turns kids violent. Whereas, it turns out that there is no scientific basis to make that claim. The article points out that there is no such consensus in the fields of psychology, criminology or media studies about the effect of the media.

The author says there are two assumptions that underlie this debate:

  1. We live in an unusually violent era.
  2. Our entertainment avenues, our media, is significantly more violent than previous generations', and therefore the cause.

He points out that we do not live in violent times. In fact, over the past five centuries, violence has been decreasing. The murder rate now is lower than it was in medieval Europe. Perhaps a steady diet of Scott Peterson, OJ, and the War on Terror just has us hypersensitized to it.

Nor is our entertainment more violent than previously. Now we watch movies and TV and play video games. O'Hehir points out that in previous generations, as recently as the 1930s, public executions were actually attended by thousands of people, recreationally. Now we watch fantasy violence. Our grandparents watched real violence.

This stupid law is just a hysterical overreaction to an imaginary problem.

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