Monday, April 03, 2006

Larger Concerns

"It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress."

-Mark Twain

Hat tip to buttonmashing for looking into the recent Senate hearings concerning videogames.

The hearing is a good place to start to see where the battle lines are being drawn. The people pushing regulation are trying every tack they can to try and restrict content. Their arguments constantly shift, probing for any possible weakness.

This is not to say that they don't have concerns they feel warrant discussion. My stance, however, is that they're being incredibly preemptive, lack substantial scientific arguments and don't particularly care about freedom of expression anyway.

I like to think that if there were data to support the notion that violent media causes violent action that I'd be one of the first to support regulatory legislation. But the data simply isn't there. Instead what we get is a kind of magical thinking: Projection of action is as bad as action will lead to action.

I mentioned the PMRC, but censorship movements go back further. They also seem, to me, to be tied into larger repressive political and social movements. These aren't necessarily strict divisions in time, but swells of progressive thought and the inevitable backlash, an untidy ebb and flow of neophilic and neophobic temperaments.

In the 1980s, with the Cold War at its apex, concerns about youth culture again hit the forefront. Dungeons and Dragons was linked with a Satanic Panic (which turned out to be nonexistent). Even tales of alien abductions and cattle mutilations enjoyed a resurgence.

I think I've mentioned the comicbook scare drummed up by Fredric Wertham, beginning in the 1950s. The Korean War was also dominating headlines, the McCarthy hearings spread divisive paranoia throughout the United States and the rise of Rock and Roll fueled parents' concerns about all that youth and sex and youthful things. The typical licentiousness that each generation discovers and which is roundly condemned by the suddenly pure and good and moral parental generation.

The FTC has already reported that there has been a substantial decrease in minors being able to purchase M-rated games. Now, which has probably been more successful in getting this reduction: The anti-videogame hype and attacks on the ESRB or measures to educate people on the ratings system and concentrate on self-enforcement?

There's always something to blame; And it's usually not what's to blame.


Tension points, whether they are created by manipulative politicians, religious or social leaders, or whether they arise elsewhere in the world and draw us in, are easily exploited by those same politicians, religious and social leaders. They appear as a fulcrum by which highly contested camps vie for control of the narrative.

None of the self-appointed arbiters of the taboo ever seem to use their passion to fight those unfortunate social situations that reinforce actual, dangerous behaviors, which children see and emulate. They never seek to reduce those obvious pressures (in today's society typically related to money) which, you know, actually affect families.

Lieberman never focuses on legislation that aims to stem domestic violence or raise education opportunities in low-income areas or ensure children can seek out secure social support networks; No, instead he tells rape victims that a hospital shouldn't have to give them contraception since, "In Connecticut, it shouldn't take more than a short ride to get to another hospital." What a nice, moderate, fucking asshole.

There isn't charity or mercy or a sense of justice in people who look at Mortal Kombat and see a danger greater than poverty or government corruption or the fact that the "most advanced country on earth" can't see fit to provide medical care to over 45 million of its citizens (according to data from 2003 - see page 14).

It's insanity. That's the only way I can describe the neverending fascination of the moral fascists with the over-reaching desire to infantilize our entire culture. There are constant cries of how children grow up so fast. They learn such adult things. Maybe someone should crack open a fucking textbook and read about life only one hundred years ago: the public hangings complete with family picnics, or the marriages arranged before puberty, or constant work in the factory or on the farm. Or the government-sanctioned bigotry, the crippling diseases, the military draft. People are not fragile.

We're fast becoming a Crybaby Nation, and it's not the hippies or the peaceniks or the welfare state doing it. It's the scared shitless authoritarians scrambling over each other trying to legislate that old chestnut Vice, using Fear as a bludgeon. They're busy inventing bogeymen and sacking the treasury while figuring out how to fasten the straps tight so nobody gets away.

Anybody remember that there's a difference between Crime and Vice? Mr. Spooner, kick it old school.


At present, one of the goals I would most like to see is the acceptance of videogames alongside other technical/creative artistic endeavors, while at the same time presenting its novel simulo-sensation* presentation as just another conduit by which art is presented to minds, not necessarily as a more emotionally-affective "interactive" experience (the word "interactive" being inadequate and devalued at this point).

Legitimacy, if you will. And I'm not talking about finding the videogame Citizen Kane. What does that mean? Looking for the videogame Citizen Kane is like looking for the architectural White Album.

Yeah, it's that stupid.

*I use the word "simulo-sensation" to describe the meta-sensation which most video games rely upon to stimulate gamers. This might be accompanied by true physical simulation, or even a virtual physical simulation, but goes beyond that to acknowledge the meta-physical sensation of controlling a character like Mario. There is no true simulation of Mario jumping, and not even a virtual simulation, but a player might still feel a sense of vertigo or whimsy nevertheless.

1 comment:

GregT said...

Hi there! Your post got me blogging on the topic; feel free to see my response/brainstorm at