The Bay State doesn’t want to ban all video games — just the ones “harmful to minors.”
If Boston Mayor Tom Menino and other prominent state legislators have their way, Gov. Deval Patrick will sign into law House Bill 1423, which would prohibit the sale of violent and sexually explicit video games to anyone under the age of 18.
“Harmful to minors“, matter is harmful to minors if it is obscene or, if taken as a whole, it (1) describes or represents nudity, sexual conduct or sexual excitement, so as to appeal predominantly to the prurient interest of minors; (2) depicts violence in a manner patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community, so as to appeal predominantly to the morbid interest in violence of minors; (3) is patently contrary to prevailing standards of adults in the county where the offense was committed as to suitable material for such minors; and (4) lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors.“
As Stephen King, an author not short on R-Rated material himself, pointed out in an Entertainment Weekly column, politicians usually scapegoat violent video games, movies, music — popular culture, if you will — to score cheap political points. Even though King himself is not a gamer, he reprimanded Massachusetts legislators for attempting to play “surrogate parents.”
One of HB 1423’s cosponsors is Rep. Christine E. Canavan, of Brockton. ”I think this legislation is a good idea,” she told the Boston Herald. ”I don’t want this constant barrage of violence on young minds and for them to think it is all right.” It’s a good point…except that it seems to me that the games only reflect a violence that already exists in the society.
Nor will I argue for the artistic value of stuff like God of War, or 50 Cent: Bulletproof, where looting the victims of gang violence is part of the game (players use the money to buy new Fiddy tunes and music videos — classy). I do, however, want to point out that videogames, like movies, have a ratings system, and ones with the big M or A on the box mean ”Not for you, baby brother.”
And if there’s violence to be had, the kids are gonna find a way to get it, just as they’ll find a way to get all-day shooters like No Country for Old Men from cable if they want. Or Girls Gone Wild, for that matter. Can parents block that stuff? You bet. But most never do. The most effective bar against what was called ”the seduction of the innocent” when this hot-button issue centered on violent comic books 60 years ago is still parents who know and care not just about what their kids are watching and reading, but what they’re doing and who they’re hanging with. Parents need to have the guts to forbid material they find objectionable…and then explain why it’s being forbidden. They also need to monitor their children’s lives in the pop culture — which means a lot more than seeing what games they’re renting down the street.
If HB 1423 becomes law, will it remain law? Doubtful. Similar legislation has been declared unconstitutional in several states. Could Massachusetts legislators find better ways to watch out for the kiddies? Man, I sure hope so, because there’s a lot more to America’s culture of violence than Resident Evil 4.
Of course, not all parents are as fortunate as King to have two work-at-home parents and probably a barrage of paid help. A little help from the state would be welcomed by many working families struggling to raise children under the weight of bills and a cacophony of violent media.
But it does seem to be a slippery slope for the state to decipher what material has “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors.” Also, as King pointed out, how come minors are allowed to watch R Rated movies at 17, but not play Grand Theft Auto? The law would not apply to all media — just video games.
At the same time, I completely sympathize with mothers afraid of their young children playing video games. The games themselves have become so much more graphic and violent than my Nintendo Mario Brothers-playing days. Ari does have a Transformers game on his handheld Play Station that is violent, but we closely monitor and restrict his playing. If it were up to me, he would not play at all. But my husband who grew up playing video games and is aching to buy a Wii, sees nothing wrong with it (in doses). Because he knows more about the games than I do, I have let him set limits on video game playing in our household. For that, I am grateful as it takes the pressure off of me.