Game violence-- the BC solution?
by Alan Zisman
(c) 2000. First
published in Vancouver Computes,
BC makes the tech news again. Way to go!
No, not for growth of the local high tech industry.
And not for the
bogus posting of fast ferries for sale on E-Bay.
This time, we made the international technology news
government restrictions on video games.
Yes, the summer announcement that BC was going to
require that the game
'Soldier of Fortune' be treated the same as pornographic videos made
province one of the few political jurisdictions (along with the city of
Indianopolis) to go on record as wanting government regulation of what
Hot enough news to make the July 31st Question of the
Week on the popular
GameSpot.com site "Is governmental regulation of the game industry
Of course the issue doesn't originate with the BC
government. The same
GameSpot page notes that four major health organizations recently
a paper stating that violence in the media could have detrimental
Notice, however, a couple of points, even in this very
First, note the weasel words, like "could". Many
game-players like to
respond that they've played violent games for years without turning
serial killers. And they're right. Of course, many people smoke for
without getting lung cancer.
But the other point in the report endorsed by the
American Medical Association,
the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological
and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry is that
not really talking about a computer or video game problem, but rather a
media problem. More than that, the acceptability of fantasy violence is
a broader social issue.
In fact, the studies cited in the two page release by
the four US health
organizations looked at violent content in movies, television, and
video games. Still, the report suggests that video game violence may
effects that are "significantly more severe" than the media actually
Overall, the report suggests, that media violence
helps make children
see violence as an way to solve problems and that it desensitizes
towards real life violence. As well, it leads children to view the
as a nasty, violent place. Finally, the report holds that children
at a young age to violent content are more likely to exhibit violent
aggressive behaviour later in life.
When the GameSpot viewers were asked to vote on
whether government regulation
was necessary, however, 87% of the more than 3600 voters said
not surprising given who were likely to go the site.
British Columbia, besides ordering action of 'Soldier
of Fortune', announced
plans to develop a mandatory rating system, to ensure that retailers or
renters do not make violent games available to young children. BC is
the first government in North American to impose compulsory ratings on
the game industry.
Since 1994, most game companies have participated in
the voluntary Entertainment
Software Rating Board (ESRB), an industry-run ratings system designed
preclude government regulation. BC Attorney General Andrew Petter,
stated: "I think many parents would be shocked as to what the industry
considers 'mature' as opposed to 'adult." Since 1994, the ESRB has
over 5,000 games, with only 7% receiving a 'mature' rating, and even
there's little evidence to suggest that retailers and game renters
restrict sales of such-rated games.
Like other media, spokespeople for the game companies
claim that they're
just giving the public what the market wants. And they're right?there
is a market for violent games. This, however, doesn't free them from
game companies advertise to help create a market for their product, and
seem to be forever pushing to expand the limits of what's acceptable.
And what is acceptable varies from place to place.
America has rated media for sexual content, while turning a blind eye
violence. Rating organizations in Sweden, in contrast, take violent
very seriously, while generally feeling that sex is harmless.
In the end, though, public attitudes will make all the
who take an interest in what their children watch and play should feel
that they have the right and the responsibility to set family limits on
what's acceptable?for TV shows and movies, video and computer games, on
the Internet, and on the playground and in the back yard.
Parents who can't be bothered to monitor their
children's viewing and
playing can't expect either the games industry or the government to
over their responsibilities for them.
At the same time, when a clear public consensus
builds, as it did in
the 1980s about drunk driving, it's reasonable to expect legislation,
and the courts to follow that consensus.
If, as the BC government and the four US health
media and computer game violence does negatively affect the way
behave, then it's up to all of us to take control.