Don’t Blame the Games, Blame the Parents
It’s not video games that are making children fat, dumb and violent.
While in middle school, I spent many afternoons playing the first Grand Theft Auto game on my Sony PlayStation. From 4 to 5:30 p.m. on most weekdays, you’d find me sitting in front of the TV, cheerily running over pedestrians and shooting rocket launchers at hospitals—a virtual deed, I imagine, that many contemporary middle school kids are doing today with their Xboxes and PlayStation3s.
Of course, things have changed a lot since then. When I was blowing up police stations and taking flamethrowers to taxi drivers, I was doing so in a two-dimensional environment. To say that the graphics in the first “GTA” game were primitive would be like calling cavemen tools “simplistic.” All of the cars looked less realistic than your standard Penny Racer, and the “character” you controlled was basically nothing more than a red dot for a head and a yellow box for a body. It was a graphical step-up from Pac-Man, but just barely.
The videogames of today, of course, are far more complicated visually. A lot of games have graphics that are easily on par with the best animated features of five years ago, and that Grand Theft Auto game I grew up playing? It’s now a multi-million dollar franchise featuring voice work from actors like Samuel L. Jackson and the late, great Dennis Hopper. It’s also a much more visceral—and controversial—experience than what I grew up playing, too.
You really can’t go for more than a few months without hearing some sort of debate about violent video games. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court struck down a California law that would have banned minors from getting their hands on violent video games, and ex-Reagan-cabinet member William J. Bennett recently said video games are contributing to a decline in intelligence in young men across the nation. And of course, there are the myriad reports out there that have linked violent video games with increased aggression in male youth (although to be fair, a lot of those accounts come from guys that aren’t exactly the most reputable sources out there, like obscenity-obsessed Florida attorney Jack Thompson and the great-great grandfather of videogame haters, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman).
The riddle we’re looking at now is, essentially, this: Are video games really turning our kids into amoral, overweight and violence-prone halfwits?
To really grasp the question, you’ll have to go back to the early 1920s, when we were asking ourselves the exact same question about the movie industry. There was a proposal that when people are exposed to media images, that same image has the exact same effect on everyone that experiences it. Today, we know this is a load of it (if it were true, that means that all bible-readers would be akin to David Koresh and all Beatles fans would be on par with Charles Manson), but at the time—and more importantly, because we wanted easy answers—we accepted the proposal as valid and began censoring and banning movies like crazy.
And then we did the same thing with comic books in the 1950s and rock music in the 1960s. Just because something is A) embraced by the young and B) not a product of the parents’ generation, the adults of those particular eras assumed that there was some sort of moral imperative in stopping these industries, and what do you know? It’s a battle we seem to be fighting all over again over the Xbox.
When ever a kid goes on a shooting spree, one of the IMMEDIATE scapegoats is always “violent video games.” When the Columbine Massacre occurred, the makers of games like Doom and Resident Evil were hoisted with as much blame for the tragedy as the gunmen themselves. Never mind the fact that minors had access to heavy weaponry or the fact that many such shooters are loaded on psychotropic, clinically-recommended medicines, many people in the nation were content with blaming the PlayStation for such horrific incidents of violence.
Why? Because it’s an easy answer, that’s why. Nobody is going to blame the firearm industry, or lax gun laws, or medical over-dependence or failure on the educational infrastructure, because those are hot-button issues that ruffle too many a feather. But going after Quake and Halo? Easy answers, with next to zero public resistance.
Blaming video games for violent behavior, low test scores and childhood obesity is nothing more than a scapegoat for horrible parents. The reason most people in my generation played video games (violent or nonviolent) was to escape the lackluster environment our parents had created for us. It gave us a distraction from a dysfunctional home life, and allowed us to relax and unwind while our parents had shouting matches in the den. Odds are, it’s a coping mechanism a lot of kids these days still use, more than likely for the same reasons.
Simply put? If you really want an answer as to why some children of today are fat, stupid and physically aggressive, the finger of blame shouldn’t be on the video games they play. Rather, it should be upon the parents that bought them the games to begin with.