Every Christmas season, along with a glut of turkey and apple pie, there is a glut of lamentation over violent video games. Columnists weep over the fact that department stores are selling these openly to young teenage boys. What’s happening to Gen X, or Y or Z (which is it, exactly?) Don’t politicians care about our kids? Why don’t they pass a law to ban these products?
Well, as a professional hacker with time on his hands over the holidays, after surfing the internet for ages, I discovered the password to the database of politicians’ secret motivations. I peered inside and I am about to disclose why violent video games for kids are not going to be banned. Ever.
It’s simple, really simple. It’s because adults like playing them, too.
Take Grand Theft Auto. The game in the series Grant Theft Auto: San Andreas stirred up controversy because a software modification allows players to enter a graphic sex mini-game. Once the sex mini-game was discovered, some retailers took the game off the shelf and the game’s "Mature" rating was raised to "Adults Only". I am certainly no fan of pornography, but I was puzzled by the change.
In the normal game of Grand Theft Auto, you play a criminal and street thug. Part of the fun is causing general mayhem by stealing cars, running over pedestrians, stabbing women in the street and killing police officers. Many of the "missions" in the game involve these activities. Exactly why does a little simulated sex merit an "Adults-only" rating, when cutting up prostitutes for fun is just "Mature"?
It is easy to complain about Grand Theft Auto because the series was designed to push the limits of what video games can get away with. But it is far from the only game like this – and not the worst, either. Last Christmas, several games were released which include such gems as jailers urinating on prisoners. The graphic violence is getting more detailed and realistic as video game controllers become more powerful and sophisticated. Who knows what delectable scenes lie in the future?
Lawmakers are fond of saying that these games "will never be suitable for children". I agree. But these weasel words evade the real issue: what makes these games suitable for adults? After all, the tastes of adults are linked to the tastes of teenagers. If parents or older brothers regard violent games with blood splashing all around as "no big deal", why would they keep it out of the reach of children? And why is it that a little foreplay upsets people but not the butchery that the entire game is based on?
This reminds me of Janet Jackson’s famous "wardrobe malfunction". She was singing a song with lyrics like "I'm gonna get you naked by the end of this song"; why was America offended when she delivered on her promise? Why is it OK for entertainers to talk about graphic sex but the pillars of Western Civilisation crumble if Janet’s breast is visible? Am I missing something or is this inconsistent?
The fact is that adult entertainment has debased children’s entertainment. What is "unsuited for children" is not often suited for adults either. Is it emotionally healthy to fantasise about urinating on prisoners and to chuckle as blood spurts from the bodies of the pedestrians who got in the way of your car?
People may fault video game manufacturers for supplying debased entertainment, but they are simply supplying a demand. America was shocked by the obscene and sadistic images of its soldiers tormenting prisoners in Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison. But the dirty secret is that people across the developed world are gloating over material substantially similar — but calling it private entertainment.
Groups abound which do research on the effects of media on children. The National Institute on Media and the Family, for instance, does a sterling job. But where are the groups which protest the effect of bad media on "consenting adults"? Folks got hot and bothered by allegations that the Harry Potter series was propaganda for witchcraft. Isn’t Grand Auto Theft propaganda for the vilest forms of criminality?
Choosing inhuman entertainment simply assists in the process of creating an inhuman society. We congratulate ourselves on how far we have travelled from the horrors of Roman Coliseum. But if we choose to simulate those horrors on a videoscreen, have we really become more civilised?