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    PlanetQuake | Features | Articles | I Support a Rating System
   

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 by themselves.

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.

Knee-Jerk Reaction

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 game fan.

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 reasons.

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 succeed.

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.

 


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