The tale goes a kid once pulled a gun on George Reeves, star of the 1950’s Superman Series, to see if the bullet would bounce off him like it should. Reeves stayed in character and said he could totally bounce the bullet off his chest, but the ricochet could hurt the other people in the area.
Meanwhile, there exists an urban legend of kids jumping off roofs to see if they too could fly like Superman.
And so it goes. Basically, since media existed, there’s been questions regarding how media influences society, and specifically impressionable children. Right around 1930, the powers that be in Hollywood got together and adapted something called ‘The Hays Code’; a series of self-imposed morality guidelines designed to prevent the government from regulating film, which eventually turned into the MPAA rating system you know and ignore today.
In 1990, the RIAA introduced parental advisory stickers following congressional hearings regarding vulgar music.
That same decade the ESRB was formed, and created a MPAA-esque rating system, following similar hearings regarding the extreme content in games like Mortal Kombat and (allegedly) Night Trap.
While the medium of focus may change, the stories remain the same; The United States Federal Government basically demanding self-regulation of entertainment – or else. Joseph Lieberman, Tipper Gore, Hillary Clinton, and now President Donald Trump, have all come out, stating grave concern regarding the kind of effect violent entertainment content can have on children.
In recent years, the medium of concern has been video games. In part due to their near-omnipresent popularity, but also due to their interactivity. It’s not a stretch to assume the interactive nature of games might result in a far more visceral and emotional response in players – especially developing kids. It’s one thing to see a guy fake shoot another guy. It’s entirely different to pull the fake trigger yourself.
That’s the notion anyway.
And now, in the wake of yet another national tragedy, our nation seeks answers; and the question of what and who to blame – guns, lack of parenting, over-prescribed psychoactive anti-depressants, and now, video games are among the top candidates:
Despite the Electronic Software Association (ESA) being unaware of any such meeting, Trump will meet with video game developers regarding violence in games, to “…see what they can do on that front…” according to Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
What sort of action? TBD. President Trump mentioned rating them like movies…which is already being done by the ESRB. Which would imply either Donald Trump has no idea such a system exists or, if you take Trump’s 2012 tweet on the subject to heart, he believes something more substantial must be done.
What is to be done? Good question. In the slowly settling wake of the Loot Box scandal, government regulation was designed to limit and punish retailers who sold games containing Loot Boxes, claiming they were both predatory and damaging to – you guessed it – impressionable children.
That legislation was met with generally positive response from gamers, many claiming it’s the developers own fault for going to far, or trying to exploit the gamers via after-purchase micro transactions.
Now, ahead of a meeting, the narrative has perhaps changed. With the President of the United States taking aim at gaming violence – and the door already proverbially open for some regulation of games anyway, it is possible games could be the subject of scrutiny, and perhaps, legislation, regarding their violent content – in the name of protecting children.
Surely an onslaught of graphic violence in video games is far more…dangerous than loot boxes, right?
However, games *can* desensitize children, and just about anyone with a brain is aware of how easy it is for games and films to make an impact on just about anyone – from kids imitating WWE moves and sayings during the late 90s (“Suck It!” anyone?), to even something as silly seeing Rock Band symbols or Tetris pieces when you close your eyes after long play sessions.
But those sorts of impressions does not a violent person make. Just because a kid performs a Stone Cold Stunner on a class-mate, doesn’t mean WWE made them a violent sociopath; just like seeing Tetris pieces in your sleep doesn’t make you Russel Crowe from “A Beautiful Mind.
Yes, of course, games – and all entertainment, have an effect on us. It’s what they are there for. To entertain, to stimulate, to encourage, and challenge. To educate. If games didn’t effect people in a way other mediums did not, we wouldn’t have the edutainment game industry, and countless start-ups focusing on gamifying just about everything under the red sun of Krypton.
And it is on the parents of young players to set boundaries and explain the difference between reality and fantasy; the problem is that not all houses have good parents – in fact there’s a startling correlation between single-parent households and mass shooting perpetrators.
Thus, the question becomes – and hopefully the question asked at the meeting between Trump and Video Game people is in the absence of quality parenting, what is the government’s responsibility to protect minors from intense, violent, or sexuality explicit images across all forms of media – especially in games media where that content is perpetrated by the player. Is the answer self-censorship of that content such is the case now at retailers, or actual laws to prevent minors from accessing it – and to make those laws effective?
I don’t know. The kid in me that grew up cherishing Mortal Kombat and Golden Eye and countless other violent games thinks it’s stupid to think games effect people in a drastically negative way. The adult in me says; against my better judgement, thinks at the very least regulation of violent content should take priority over regulation of pesky, stupid, loot boxes.
Then again, turns out that might not be constitutional.
Though to be fair, that’s never really stopped us before.