I Support a Rating System
Opinions on the recent video-game violence controversy
by Tony Fabris
In the last week of April 1999, Pennsylvania state senator
Jack Wagner proposed legislation designed to make it more
difficult for minors to buy violent video games.
His concept is simple. The ESRB, currently a voluntary video
game rating system, would become the de facto standard. It
would change from being a voluntary system to an enforced
system. Minors would be unable to purchase video games rated
above a certain violence level, in much the same way that
minors are currently prevented from watching R-rated movies
As I understand it, Senator Wagner is only proposing this
legislation for his state, but is encouraging other states
to pass similar legislation. I'm writing this article to say
that I support this movement, and I would like to encourage
my fellow U.S. Quake fans to do the same.
But wait! Before you start to cry "censorship", please hear
me out. I believe that my reasoning behind this support is
logical. Give me a chance to state my case. I totally
disagree with the senator's reasons for proposing the
legislation, but I support the principle itself.
First of all, it's obvious that Senator Wagner is having the
expected knee-jerk reaction to the recent school shootings.
I do not mean to belittle the terrible events that happened,
but he appears to be using these tragedies as a springboard
for getting this legislation passed. From reading Senator
Wagner's statements, it appears as though he's one of the
growing number who believe that video game violence directly
encourages real-life violence.
The school shootings are a symptom of a larger problem, to
be sure, but I don't believe that video game violence is the
problem. Millions of people play violent video games without
committing so much as a misdemeanor. The vast majority of
U.S. suburban male teenagers are video game fans, and a
large percentage of video games have violent or at least
semi-violent content. So it makes sense that when a suburban
teen male gets into trouble, you can expect him to be a
video game fan. In fact, video games are so universal, that
I'd be more surprised to hear about a teen shooting that
didn't involve someone who happened to be a video
So, in my opinion, Senator Wagner is proposing this
legislation for all the wrong reasons. That doesn't
necessarily make it bad legislation. I think that enforcing
a rating system is a good idea, but for totally different
The Root of the Problem
If there is one thing you can blame on today's society, it's
this: Today, it's too easy to blame things on society.
I believe the real root of the problem is responsibility. In
our culture, it's becoming increasingly common to blame
external factors for our behavior, so that we no longer have
to take responsibility for our own actions. The school
shootings are an obvious example. Video game and movie
violence is an easy scapegoat. It makes for a good sound
bite. It wraps the problem up into a neat little package
that's easily digestible. It fits nicely into a headline.
But as with all things in life, the truth is quite a bit
more complicated than the sound bite.
Here's another example of the lack of responsibility in our
society today: I heard on the news that a convicted murderer
was suing his psychiatrist. Why? Because the psychiatrist
didn't take his patient's psychosis seriously enough to have
him locked up. Therefore, according to the lawsuit, the
murder was the psychiatrist's fault.
I'm sorry, but I just don't buy it. There is such a thing as
Free Will. We all have it. It's what makes us responsible
for our own actions. With few exceptions, every adult on
this planet should be held directly responsible for what
they do. Blaming a movie or a video game for a violent act
is no different than blaming a Twinkie. (For those of you
who don't know about it, the "Twinkie defense" was a genuine
case. They claimed that the defendant's blood sugar and
mental state were altered after eating a Twinkie.)
The Most Important Job You'll Ever Have
So how can children be held responsible for their own
actions? They can't, their parents can. As a parent, you
are responsible for the actions of your children.
Parenting is the most important job you'll ever have. It
carries with it the greatest amount of responsibility. It's
your duty to watch over your children and give them proper
guidance until they are ready to leave your family and begin
a life of their own. During the eighteen years that they're
under your care, you must teach them the difference between
right and wrong, teach them a system of values, teach them
how to love, teach them how to learn, and teach them how to
At the same time, you must teach them how to think for
themselves, too. This is perhaps the hardest thing to do
right. I'm a parent, and my daughter will grow up learning
the difference between right and wrong. But she will also
grow up to be a free thinker, someone who can question what
she hears and judge for herself if it's right or wrong. She
will be able to interpret what she sees and hears, and
understand the meaning of it. In the course of her life, she
will see plenty of violence on the screens (movie, TV,
computer) in front of her. But she will understand exactly
what it is and why it's there. If a time ever comes that
her peers suggest she should join them on a shooting spree,
she will have enough knowledge to weigh the options for
herself and make the correct choices.
Today, a parent's job is getting increasingly more
difficult. As technology and science allow us to become more
connected to the world around us, the insulating layer of
the family is worn away. It's possible for today's children
to grow up without even really knowing their parents well.
That's where things like rating systems come in.
Forcing the Issue
The reason rating systems are good is because they force
children and parents to communicate with each other.
Children who want to buy a copy of Doom or see an R-rated
movie should do so only after discussing the matter with
their parents. A rating doesn't prevent the purchase, it
just makes the parent approve the purchase and communicate
with the child about it.
Basically, the rating helps replace one of those insulating
family layers that technology has stripped away. It's not
Big Brother- it's Mom and Dad. It's not the government
monitoring your purchases, it's a tool to help the parents
keep closer tabs on what their children are buying.
It comes down to this: Parents should communicate with their
children about violence and violent entertainment. An
enforced rating system will help that.