One of the key tasks of responsible parenting is teaching children to control their immediate desires. Eating too much candy, running into the street, screaming when angry, and biting or hitting other children are a few of the typical actions that we teach our children to control. Early on, we must physically prevent them from these kind of activities and as they grow we guide them to remember these rules and to add social norms such as not interrupting or insulting others. The underlying desires remain but are controlled.
Beyond the protection of children, most societies have imposed restrictions on violence considered to be totally unacceptable. From Roman gladiators to bear baiting and dog fights, most societies have outlawed these practices as both inhumane and inciting violent behavior.
Under stress or when encouraged, however, even adults may forget the value of these rules and act irresponsibly, usually harming others and often themselves. We see this in a variety of criminal behavior, in “mobs”, including highly emotional situations such as sporting events and of course in war. Our free speech ethic allows this kind of encouragement or incitement to break social norms or even to break legal rules with a few exception such as “shouting fire in a crowded theatre” or the plotting of or conspiracy to commit criminal acts. Public officials and media personalities are given even greater latitude to incite generally unacceptable behavior with the only preventative recourse being defamation and libel suits.. Political opponents, echoed by the media, are commonly allowed to make outrageous claims which would be severely criticized or even criminal if made by private citizens.
It is our body of laws which are intended to provide the background guidance for acceptable behavior. Well beneath laws against violent acts, most societies impose a wide variety of restrictions to protect the quality of life including restrictions on “disturbing the peace”, food preparation and sale, pharmaceutical, Motor Vehicle, Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives restrictions as well as construction and building codes, and many others.
In attempting to deflect criticism of poorly controlled gun ownership, the gun lobby has recently pointed to video games and popular movies and television as a serious cause of violent acts. Civil rights groups have similarly accused the government of encouraging general lawlessness through the acceptance of violent treatment of prisoners, outside of the recognized rule of law. While it is widely held that viewing and simulating violence heightens the chance of violent acts, it is also considered to be protected speech and activity. Complicating this conflict further is the definition of violence. How do we determine what activities are encouraging violence. At one end of the spectrum most people would laugh at the idea that a board game or badminton match encourage violent behavior. The record of violent fan behavior associated with various professional sports (UK Football, EU Soccer) or the problem of returning soldiers who have been trained and conditioned to react violently are undeniable sources of violent behavior.
Within recent history, however, we have a number of examples of how society has controlled access to socially undesirable material or events. The Motion Picture Association of America maintained standards of acceptable content although it has recently been reduced to a published rating system dependent upon viewer discretion and parental control. Purchase of tobacco and alcohol sales are restricted based on the age of the purchaser. It would seem that society should be able to apply similar restrictions to violence simulations such as violent video games. Unlike violent movies, video games place the player in the position of committing violent acts virtually. To the extent of the players imagination and the visceral quality of the games immersive sensory experience, the player has the experience of actually committing these violent acts.
“…half-man, half-machine cyborg ninja, equipped with a soul fueled by revenge.”
“Facing deadlier evolved enemies”
“Chaotic street fighting and tank battles”
Grand Theft Auto,
Even games for young children such as Luigi’s Mansion, Lego City, while rated for “Everyone” teach the use of simple weapons to destroy various targets and act as gateway games to the more violent teen versions. One of the key lessons taught by all these games is that Winning Requires Violence. While parents are ultimately in control of what their children experience, exposure to violence inciting materials should require action on the part of parents, rather than negligence. This would match our existing restrictions on alcohol, tobacco, driving, and guns. Without direct parental action, children would then be protected from materials and practices considered dangerous to themselves and others.
Unfortunately, the current limits of acceptable corporate and personal behavior have not been found. Oddly, oversight and regulation are least for those with the most economic and therefore political power. Whatever the wage earning public is willing to buy, or at least allow, will be offered.