Blood, Guts and Rock & Roll: We're Up in Arms About Bratz, But We Ignore Killstreaks in Black Ops
This month the Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments regarding a California law banning the sale of violent video games to minors. And the college students! Were outraged! Writes Lydia Statz at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's The Daily Cardinal:
Remember the countless hours you spent in the basement as a child playing "Mortal Kombat," "GoldenEye 007" and in your later years the "Call of Duty" series? Nearly every student in our generation has experience with one of these, but a new California law seeks to stop minors from accessing these violent video games.
Ah, the memories. Just can't wait for "game of the year" Black Ops to unleash some awesome tomahawks:
The four game modes are: "one in the chamber" - each player gets one pistol, one bullet and three lives; "sticks and stones" - crossbow, ballistic knife, and tomahawk, with the twist that if you toss the tomahawk and hit someone, you bankrupt that player; "gun game" - in which you start with only the pistol and, with every kill, progress to the next higher weapon: from pistol, through to shotgun, to sniper rifle and RPG; and finally "sharp shooter" in which each player start with the same weapon, use it for a fixed amount of time, then everyone switches to a new weapon.
My distaste for media violence for children started with the opening sequence of Bambi. After Bambi's mom got popped, the movie vastly improved. Still, it shocked me at whatever tender age I was, and after that I started hiding my eyes and waiting for the sharp or flammable objects to come and threaten or devour one of the main characters of every single movie I watched as a child.
Are we all done reliving the pain inflicted on families by senseless violence? And that was Bambi.
"It's not real, right, Mommy?" my six-year-old daughter asks, as she inevitably sees some death-inducing plot twist play out, be it Nemo's mom or Simba's dad or what have you. And as I reassure her, "No, it's just a movie," I'm caught in the conundrum all parents find themselves in -- how do you explain away the fearful scene your child just witnessed without sending the message that it's not still pretty horrifying for -- in Bambi's case -- a mother to just disappear due to violence?
If Bambi had witnessed his mom mating, all hell would've broken loose. But a little blood and guts with adverse psychological consequences for the main character? No worries, mate.
Clearly, I'm blowing the Bambi thing out of proportion for the sake of my point. I vascillate between worrying about the effects of violence on our entire society, not just kids, and laughing when my friend lent her ninja kid the family butter knife because she lost his plastic sword on Halloween. Part of me wonders why kids need to arm themselves even in play, and part of me writes it off to evolution and a human's need to dominate the world around her. It's difficult to break down violence, because in some ways, it helped us survive as a species and still does in certain parts of the world in which families must be defended on a daily basis. But then, here, in a country in which we are for the most part safe, we seek it out for entertainment. I don't get why we do that.
Legislating access to violent games isn't the answer. Any law would be toothless because -- like drugs -- people are going to buy what they want to buy, and legislating against it just creates a black market and the taxpayer burden enforcing an ineffective law. I'd rather my tax dollars were spent on stopping violence in real life.
I don't think we should pass the law. But I think we should ask ourselves what we're getting out of the violence, why we've chosen it for so long that it's become a mainstay in our culture to the extent that I'm nostalgic for pop guns after seeing the excellent graphic bloodletting going on in video today. It's so realistic! It's as if your enemy is actually dying in front of you! Kickass! Can I get a squirt gun now?
We get so bent out of shape about kids seeing sex acts or sexy Katy Perry on Sesame Street. I don't want my daughter watching Miley Cyrus writhe in satin sheets, either, but Katy Perry's cleavage doesn't freak me out half as much as watching the neighborhood kids bludgeon each other on Halloween. Seriously, why are we so tolerant of violence? Opponents say there aren't any studies proving definitively that watching violent video games harms your child (the American Psychological Association, who in my opinion doesn't have skin in the game, begs to differ) -- but, um, do there really have to be? Doesn't your gut work just fine? How do you feel after you watch someone get shot on the nightly news? After watching the opening sequence of Bambi?
There are different kinds of violence -- violence in the black/white "good guy" vs. "blood-sucking space alien that's not real and bleeds green blood" and "hero of the game" vs. "other flesh-and-blood human" or even "woman he's raping." (Grand Theft Auto -- you can have sex with a prostitute, beat her up and take your money back!) When people defend violence in the media, in video games, they're usually talking about the alien-green-blood variety, as BlogHer's Erin Kotecki Vest debated with her husband. The obviously-not-real variety. I'm talking about the people violence, the Blade, Scary Movie, Gangs of New York variety. Or maybe, sorry, Halo, as member Karen T. Smith writes about on BlogHer.
Because, I have a confession to make. I let my son play M-rated videogames. He's 9, well under the approved age of 17. But here's a newsflash - I know exactly what he's playing, and he can't play the one M game we play (well, three versions of the same title) without an adult in the room. And usually I play with him. And we talk about how terrible the one section of the one game is (if you're a gamer you'll know what I mean when I say the Flood in Halo 3. Eww.)
I respect Karen's right to her point of view. She knows her kid better than I do. And she's there with him, paying attention. I'm still not a fan, but at least she's there, and he's her kid, not mine. I worry about the legions of parents who shut the door and walk away.
When we talk about legislating violence in video games, everyone gets up in a free-speech tizzy because next! We'll be legislating movies! And music! And then the government will start wiretapping us and there will be cameras on us wherever we go and you'll be able to see our front lawn from space.
Oh ... wait.
I as a parent have no intention of ever letting my somewhat delicate daughter witness any part of Grand Theft Auto or even Saving Private Ryan. But, you know, as she gets older, she occasionally leaves the house. And encounters other kids. Whose parents may have let them play games in which it's possible to beat a prostitute, whether they realized that or not. There are just some things it's really hard to unsee.
Legislation won't fix that. What would fix it? If enough people stopped buying it. This is America. We have capitalism here.
If it became clear to game-makers that they should focus group twentysomethings instead of tweens for their next violent release, we might see a change. We parents have grown soft -- we have power in the form of our dollars and our choices, and we're not using it.
Legislating parenting decisions doesn't work. But just because it's legal doesn't mean kids should be watching it or playing with it. The next time we get up in arms about Bratz, we need to check to make sure we're not giving machetes a pass.