Questioning an Anti-Game Advocate on Government Intervention

With the Schwarzenegger vs. EMA case still fresh on everyone’s minds there has been a lot of speculation about its outcome, and even more discussion about the role of government and parents in the issue of regulation. Recently I threw my opinion into the lot, firmly on the side of parental intervention.

Shortly after that, while reading the headlines at Game Politics I happened upon this op-ed written by Jack Markowitz of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. In it he described “stupid, violent” video games as “another notch downward in the country’s cultural decline” and was fairly adamant that even though parents should be the first authority, legislation was still needed to ensure inappropriate “anti-social” games are kept out of the hands of youngsters. Suffice it to say, the editorial piqued my interest and seeing Markowitz’ email address near the bottom of the article, I quickly typed up the following and sent it his way.

I wrote:
“Mr. Markowitz,

I am writing to comment on your recent editorial on the California anti-game Supreme Court case.

I am certain you have probably received from nasty emails from several fans of the medium at this point. Rest assured I’m not writing to insult your intelligence or instruct you on the proper to burn in hell. I have no doubt you are an intelligent man and also a good one. That said, I do think you demonstrate a lack of understanding about the medium and your writing on the subject is grounded in ignorance.

I take issue with your saying “leading-edge video games now also make use of savage, anti-social plot elements.” I am twenty-four years old and have been playing games my entire life. I have had the unique opportunity to watch them grow from simple “jump on the monster to win” games to games with deep stories, several novels worth of writing and dialogue and mechanics based in moral decisions and critical thought. I could name off the top of my head any number of titles that, if you would actually take the time to try, could demonstrate this. I imagine doing so would be an exercise in futility; you seem fairly set in your opinions.

That said, let me just say this. If there is something wrong with children today, it’s not because of the media, or video games. It’s because of bad parenting. You say at one point in your article “A lot parents must wish their offspring would just “go out and play” as in the pre-electronic past.” Correct me if I’m wrong but I thought it was well within the authority of a parent to tell their child what to do, and moreover make them do it. A simple push of a button is all that’s needed to turn off a television, a video game, a cell phone.

Curiously, I think you’d agree. You say at the article’s end, “if legislators are powerless to stop this bad influence on children, here’s a radical notion: maybe parents should.” If that is the case, if we agree that it is the job of parents to control what influences are a part of their child’s life, why are you arguing that the government should do it for them? If passed, this law would make it so that minors can’t buy adult-intended games without a parent. I can’t think of a single retailer that doesn’t already adhere to these rules. GameStop, the largest game retailer in the world, still cards me when I buy M-rated games. You’d think my beard would enough, but they’re sticklers to it. Children wind up with these games because their parents buy them for them. No amount of government tape is going to fix that so many parents are too lazy to read the content description present on the box of most every game sold in retail.

-Stew Shearer”

Truth be told, I wasn’t expecting a response. I’ve penned similar comment emails in the past on a variety of topics and usually get no response. Markowitz wrote me back however, offering the following rebuttal.

“Hi Stew – Thanks for the well-reasoned email and I have to agree that responsibility for the lives and games of children rests first with the parents. But it’s also true that kids get exposed to influences out of sight and hearing of the best-intentioned mother and father, and that’s why some states are trying to bar the sale of antisocial video games to kids under age 18. Over 18, hey, it’s a wide open market. The issue is important enough, and involves enough states, that it’s in front of the Supreme Court where it really deserves to be. Whatever my knowledge or ignorance about video games, it’s a fact that parents who were able to exert a lot of authority over their children in the pre-electronic past aren’t able to today – a big loss to society, in my opinion, and very much due to the fact that product producers can market easily to kids for the quick buck …… Best wishes, Jack”

Obviously, I don’t agree with Mr. Markowitz on most of his points. I am not naive enough to think a parent can control every aspect of their child’s life, but at the same time I think he grossly underestimates a parent’s level of control. This is especially true of when a child is younger, and I’m sure we can all agree it would be much worse to have a seven or eight year old playing Grand Theft Auto over a thirteen or fourteen year old.

What boggles my mind in his insistence that parents simply can’t control the media their children partake in. All those same tools that supposedly worked in his bygone days of child-rearing still exist today. It isn’t a matter of rules and discipline not working; it’s a matter of them not being exercised. Point in case, I find it dubious for him to continually claim that we need laws to keep violent games out of the hands of children when there isn’t a legitimate retailer in the country that will sell a child an M-rated without a parent there offering their approval and paying for it. It’s not a matter of these parents feeling powerless and not having the information, they’re just too embarrassed and too lazy to deal with little-Johnny throwing a hissy fit in the middle of the mall.

I also don’t find it fairly baseless for Mr. Markowitz to claim that “product producers can market easily to kids for the quick buck,” at least in the case of the gaming industry. For instance, Call of Duty: Black Ops came out this week. It’s easily the biggest game of the year (not my cup of tea, but whatever) and Activision has been advertising the hell out of it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard “Gimme Shelter” playing from my TV just today as they try to convince me to buy this game. Nowhere in said commercials have any children been featured. Nowhere in said commercials have they even mentioned children. The most recent one that I’ve seen shows a bunch of adults pretending to be soldiers to symbolize playing the game. Which one of those people is supposed to represent the “anti-social, violence hungry tween” demographic? The business woman with the assault rifle or the cook with the dual pistols? Just curious.

Granted, children may be attracted to those images of simulated violence. I know that I was when I was a child. But I was also attracted to my Dad’s stash of Playboy’s and you’d be hard-pressed to argue those were marketed toward kids. Just because a child might like something, doesn’t mean it’s for them.

Honestly though, I find it hard to really be mad at Mr. Markowitz. I won’t degrade the man by saying he’s too old and just doesn’t get it, but I can sense there is a bit of a generation gap going on here. I am sure he is an intelligent man and I bet if given the right games and an incentive to play them that he could learn, but right now I just don’t think he gets it. He sees video games and thinks they are children’s toys. And how dare we sell children toys about violence and war!

Hmm, have they tried to ban those plastic green toy soldiers yet, or is it just video games that aren’t allowed to simulate human atrocity for purposes of play?

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3 Responses to Questioning an Anti-Game Advocate on Government Intervention

  1. Lewis Denby says:

    The biggest issue I take is with his use of the word “antisocial.” In what way are these games antisocial? That’s a pretty big term to drop.

  2. Pingback: Me on Markowitz on the Sale of Games to Minors « Lewis Denby

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