We prefer a meaningless collective guilt to a meaningful individual responsibility. ~Thomas Szasz
The latest attempt to regulate the game industry by New York has gone widely reported, but is just the latest in the long trend of poor responses to over-dramatized concerns in the wake of a complete absence of parental responsibility. I feel compelled to once again step outside the typical realm of my blog's discourse to address this issue. Fortunately, the theory of governance and the basics of legislation are an area I can claim some expertise as my Bachelor of Arts is in Government. (While other schools may refer to it as Political Science, my alma mater still refers to it as Government.)
It seems that certain members of the public who crave attention generally find something to demonize for publicity. In our generation, the easy target is the video game. While the real effect of gaming on youth is still hotly debated, there is at least a reasonable amount of evidence showing the claims of the extremists are overbroad, reactionary and absurd (where they even have grounding in fact, unlike some claims). However, the very nature of our society seems to dictate that if a group cries loud enough, anything can be banned. In fact, the results are usually less than satisfactory.
Other forms of media offer the same escapism as the game industry. And, much like other forms of media, have been tied to deplorable acts. However, media that is one the edge of acceptability has often been demonized. To quote Miyamoto, "Video games bad for you? (laughs) That's what they said about rock and roll."
Why do politicians gravitate to these non-issues? The simple answer is to placate the reactionary, uneducated voter. Moreover, it makes these government officials appear to be protecting the public when they are in fact allowing parents to scapegoat an easy target. No parent wants to admit they are failing their child, but to be perfectly honest, most of them are not paying nearly enough attention to their child's media consumption. In fact, if they took the time to pick up the box and look at the rating, even that would be a substantial step in the right direction. This is not a complex issue, and it is one that has worked in both the movie and television industry. Game ratings are no different.
Rather than wasting an absurd amount of taxpayer money re-regulating a self-regulated industry and litigating issues that have been previously struck down, the government should be trying to help the public become educated and learn to take personal responsibility for their actions. The courts have done their part in striking down these unconstitutional restrictions on speech, but free speech has never been the reason I see these regulations as so absurd. To me, reactionary politics is a perpetual waste of time and money that could be avoided with reasonable discourse and personal responsibility.
Of course, if the video game lobby was not eons behind certain other industries, more reasonable solutions such as these may already be on the table. I would have thought the history of the ESRB would have been enough impetus to increase the lobbying presence, but it took the upheaval brought on by recent events to get the ball rolling, so to speak.
My great hope is that excessive government entanglement will be avoided, lest we repeat history. While I don't believe ten year olds should be able to freely access M-Rated games, I do believe parents need to take more responsibility for their children. We have survived the printed word, the radio, and the motion picture without excessive government action to "protect" us from the media. We will survive the video game just the same.