Through Stew Shearer‘s blog, I discover a column written by retired business editor Jack Markowitz in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Published last week, it’s about the ongoing case in the USA to decide whether the sale of games should be age-regulated. Like Stew, I’m going to email Mr Markowitz. But first, let’s have a look at the column in question, and pick out a few choice quotes.
“Make that stupid, violent games — another notch downward in the country’s cultural decline.” — Ah yes, of course, because each new societal element which appears is automatically a decline in civilisation. Of course.
“Millions of parents probably aren’t aware of the trash the kids are toying with in their rooms in lieu of homework.” — Millions of parents should be better at being parents.
“Video games are addictive to many youngsters in the first place…” — Evidence, please. Research increasingly and overwhelmingly points to this being nonsense. John Walker has written on this topic with particular clarity.
“But leading-edge video games now also make use of savage, anti-social plot elements.” — Leaving aside the intriguing use of ‘anti-social’ (do these plot points, perhaps, hang around on street corners and abuse old ladies?), we are of course expected to accept that no other narrative medium – say, great novels, phenomenal works of cinema, or theatre throughout the ages – have ever featured violent, sexual or otherwise vaguely risque story points.
“Just make it impossible for under-18ers to get their jollies “killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being.”” — Whom exactly is he quoting here?
Oh, goodness, there’s a lot more to go on. Stew is very forgiving in his blog post, far moreso than I am, of Markowitz’s demeaning tone throughout. The columnist refers to gamers “computer geeks” and “the immaturity market”, and to games sales as “recreational garbage-vending”. He begins by bemoaning the “precious freedom” to sell “stupid, overpriced games” to minors, failing to qualify in what way he considers hours upon hours of entertainment for – say – $50 to be an exorbitant amount of money (has he examined how much is spent in the development of such games, how many units they sell, how many people gain enjoyment from them, and what they add to culture and society, in calculating his assertion that these stupid games are overpriced?). And that’s without even touching on his claim that states against the legislation are so because “Their key argument is ban a game today, it’ll be a book or movie tomorrow” — a claim which is not only misleading, but speaks numbers of the author’s attitude towards an apparently inherent difference of value between the three cited media.
What’s interesting is that, as someone who’s grown up as a gamer in the UK, a part of me agrees with Markowitz: I think children should be protected from violent, sexual or otherwise potentially disturbing content in videogames, just as I believe they should be protected from such content across all media. I think the UK’s system of doing this is fine (though it is interesting that only visual media are age-rated in such a way). Having spent my life in a nation which does not have constitutional rights to consider as such a pivotal element of society, the fact that certain media products are legally restricted by age is something I’ve always been fine with. (I also think that under 18s absolutely should be playing violent games against the wishes of their parents and the regulators, just as they should be sneaking around in the middle of the night to watch an “erotic thriller” on Channel 5: it is important that young people have something to rebel against, and an avenue through which to explore themselves as growing cultured people. But that’s a different matter.)
And I most certainly agree with his eventual assertion that parents should be taking more notice. Of course they should. In today’s digital era, parents have an enormous responsibility to understand the elements of technology to which they may not want their children exposed. For a person spawning young in this day and age, I cannot comprehend that they would not want to attempt to understand such a fast-growing and youth-focused culture as gaming. It’s likely to be an enormous part of their child’s life, especially kids who are born now, in the 2000s and 2010s. It should be a basic aspect of sensible parenthood, just as it would be common sense to not allow your seven-year-old to watch – I don’t know – a SAW film.
But, crucially, Markowitz could have said all this – as I just have – without resorting to sneering at videogames at every available opportunity, using hyperbolic put-downs, citing unreliable evidence, and grabbing quotes from the ether to support his ill-informed view of the medium. It’s an absolutely egregiously written column, and, I suspect, the sort of thing that could play a large role in turning undecided gamers against the idea of sale regulation to minors: if this is the sort of argument that’s being used in the pro-legislation camp, then I can’t imagine many sensible and open-minded individuals wanting to be associated with it.