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“Video games are bad for you? That's what they said about rock n' roll.”
May 15, 2014 10:52 AM   Subscribe

A Short History of Game Panics: [Boing Boing] "Do you know where you child is? Watch out: they might be in an arcade! Jesse Walker of Reason Magazine on video gaming's juciest moral panics." [Previously] [Previously] [Previously]
posted by Fizz (34 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
If playing videogames is supposed to make me in to things I wouldn't otherwise be then why can't I be the director of a multinational, privately funded research organization dedicated to investigating and defeating a mysterious extraterrestrial threat on this very planet?! Surely my accomplishments in the various simulators should have recruiters knocking down my door.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 11:04 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]


I'll tell you exactly what video games have made me into: A middle-aged man who questions how much time he spends playing video games.
posted by nubs at 11:06 AM on May 15 [6 favorites]


And the further I read this article, the more I am reminded of the moral panic around Dungeons and Dragons as well.
posted by nubs at 11:12 AM on May 15


At 12, I was a pasty kid, lining up quarters on Galaga instead of getting a healthy tan.

I did get put out of doors in later summers, which lead to UV damage and a double retinal detachment by 16. The cure involved staying indoors, however, so that all worked out in the end.
posted by bonehead at 11:13 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


Not a bad list. It's missing the evil/satanic angle, though.

I do think WoW mainstreamed choosing games over saving your marriage/job, which is a legitimate problem.
posted by michaelh at 11:13 AM on May 15


months of smashing ice comets into mars in Sim Earth didn't prepare me for throwing ice comets at mars in my daily life.
posted by The Whelk at 11:17 AM on May 15


My wife and I recently purchased and started playing the 2011 Mortal Kombat game, and we spent a lot of our time playing talking about the social problems with it: the outfits worn by the female characters, the racism, the storyline bit where Johnny Cage hits on Sonya, and she refuses him, and then they fight with you controlling Johnny Cage. But the violence and gore? It seems quaint to be upset about that.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:19 AM on May 15


Fortunately, we can now laugh at this. Scientific evidence has proven that they are ridiculous.

Only the Kinect can actually remove the soul of players, the rest are fine.
posted by blahblahblah at 11:20 AM on May 15


Not new, one of the ways in which Yalom tracks the adoption of chess across Europe is by looking at how some of the first generations to encounter the game tried to regulate it because it encouraged drunkenness, gambling, and violence. A short time later, the chess pieces became a liturgical idiom.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:22 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


I'm sort of surprised they mention Lieberman's crusade without referencing his cameo as a secret character in BloodStorm.
posted by griphus at 11:22 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


Experts blamed Williams' Mortal Kombat for a spate of clandestine international martial arts tournaments hosted by supernatural entities
posted by uncleozzy at 11:23 AM on May 15 [11 favorites]


nubs: "I'll tell you exactly what video games have made me into: A middle-aged man who questions how much time he spends playing video games."

Sometimes I wonder about that too, but then I remember my grandparents. If this was 50 years ago we'd all be playing canasta or bridge or some other pointless old card game (Oh hai there, Magic:TG), or throwing money away at the dog track, or just smoking on the porch all night. Video games aren't necessarily a better use of time & resources than some older pastimes, but they certain have the potential to be more interesting.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:25 AM on May 15 [7 favorites]


I recall when they first started to rate games in the 90s. I can also recall my dad just shrugging his shoulders when the sales clerk told him that Quake was a violent game.

"He's seen worse on television." ~ Dad
posted by Fizz at 11:25 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


The tone of this article--particularly the later sections--seems unnecessarily dismissive. We treat gambling addiction, alcohol addiction, seriously, so why not video game addiction? Why shouldn't we make an effort to keep young minds, which we know haven't developed adult levels of impulse control, from neglecting "real life" in favor of (admittedly) rich and compelling virtual worlds? Sure, you can become addicted to books or card games or any number of things, but "press-button-receive-dopamine" has an awfully low barrier to entry.

Which isn't to say, of course, that "we" ought to ban any sorts of video games or enact extraordinary restrictions, but dismissing even the idea of having a conversation out of hand because Joe Lieberman thinks Scorpion is a bad influence is probably counterproductive.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:44 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


It looks like it got screwed up on that page, but in the print edition they used a picture of mine taken at a Metafilter Meetup at Funspot in Laconia, NH. It was the smallest meetup ever, attended only by me, a friend of mine, and Backseatpilot.

They emailed me a couple of months back and asked to use it. I said yes without even really knowing much about the magazine. They sent me a copy and... yeah. I kind of wish I'd said no.

Death Race was the shit, though.
posted by bondcliff at 11:51 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


I'll tell you exactly what video games have made me into: A middle-aged man who questions how much time he spends playing video games.

My dad once came home from a weekend spent catching fish and throwing them back to chastise me for wasting my time on pointless video games.

Why shouldn't we make an effort to keep young minds, which we know haven't developed adult levels of impulse control, from neglecting "real life" in favor of (admittedly) rich and compelling virtual worlds?


Because for that group of people with anxiety/avoidance issues the video games are the least interesting aspect of the problem or the resolution.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:55 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]


The tone of this article--particularly the later sections--seems unnecessarily dismissive.

Well, it's a reprinted feature from Reason magazine, the magazine by and for libertarians, and the "Addictive Worlds" part absolutely fits the narrative of addiction being a personal and moral failing, rather than, well, addiction.
posted by griphus at 11:57 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


It's interesting the shield of dismissal that liberals surround video games with. If Cosmo can induce eating disorders in teenage girls, then why can't video games adversely affect teenage boys (and girls)? The hours I sank into Quake and UT didn't turn me into a school shooter, but not every girl who reads Cosmo becomes anorexic, either. So why the instinctive, emotional dismissal of this subject? I don't get it.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 11:57 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


No one's arguing that cosmo should be banned or censored like people were arguing video games should be.

And maybe not with violence, but there's plenty of articles (and plenty posted here!) on sexism in games and how that might be bad for young people.
posted by Zalzidrax at 12:39 PM on May 15


Sometimes I wonder about that too, but then I remember my grandparents. If this was 50 years ago we'd all be playing canasta or bridge or some other pointless old card game (Oh hai there, Magic:TG), or throwing money away at the dog track, or just smoking on the porch all night. Video games aren't necessarily a better use of time & resources than some older pastimes,but they certain have the potential to be more interesting.

You obviously haven't heard the story about the 1950s version of my father stealing a police car. That's only one of many stories...

Don't get me wrong, I love me some video games but, more often than not, the world nowadays seems much tamer than the world folks lived in back then.

But this'll be all better once the Oculus Rift comes out. Gimme that level of immersion, I need it!!!
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:40 PM on May 15


I was raised on a diet of violent video games. My parents neither understood nor cared and I gleefully devoured Wolf 3D (which was bought by a grandmother who had no clue about what it actually was) and I was the tender age of eleven when Doom first came out.

My sister posted on Facebook about how a neighbour's sons had gotten their hands on GTAV at ages five, seven, and nine. She was gleefully crowing how she had trained my nephew about how he came home saying he wasn't allowed to see those games.

It got me thinking. What are adult themes? What separates them from the G rated escapades? It all comes down to emotional intelligence. G rated fare is just that because it literally is trying to teach kids emotional intelligence. It tries to teach them ways society wants them to act, how society expects them to handle emotions, what emotions society figures are the best responses to certain stimuli. It's like an instruction manual for being a better human that requires no external interaction at all to clarify to someone with no emotional intelligence. Adult themes on the other hand assume some semblance of emotional intelligence and rather than try to show the viewer the difference between right and wrong it tries to evoke specific emotions in the viewer. Unless the viewer both knows how to handle those emotions and what emotions are healthy, yeah, it's possible for cognitive dissonance to set in and a person who's already in a less than emotionally mature state is going to have a lot of trouble with it.

Take for example a horror movie where a violent antagonist hurts a puppy. Now, when an emotionally healthy adult sees that they'll most likely feel strong empathy towards the puppy and have an instant desire to help it. Less emotionally healthy adults may want to harm the antagonist and less still emotionally healthy adults may wish to do so violently and excruciatingly. A child on the other hand has very little emotional intelligence to fall back on, no innate emotional state really. Unless they've been taught enough about their emotions or they're taught context they can only assume that's how some people interact in society and if they're really confused they might try to emulate it. But if there's an emotionally healthy parent there to guide the child with "oh my god that poor puppy" and teach the child that hurting a harmless puppy is wrong, the child will try to emulate that response instead.

It seems to me the innate nature of the content is irrelevant. What matters is whether the child is curious and whether the parent can correctly guide a child on what, why, where, when, how when the child is curious. We seem to have lost that quite a bit in society though.
posted by Talez at 12:41 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


And the further I read this article, the more I am reminded of the moral panic around Dungeons and Dragons as well.

"Son, in my day we had to throw non-square dice and talk about dwarves to get our parents to flip their shit completely. You're not trying nearly hard enough here."
posted by mhoye at 12:46 PM on May 15 [4 favorites]


It's interesting the shield of dismissal that liberals surround video games with. If Cosmo can induce eating disorders in teenage girls, then why can't video games adversely affect teenage boys (and girls)? The hours I sank into Quake and UT didn't turn me into a school shooter, but not every girl who reads Cosmo becomes anorexic, either. So why the instinctive, emotional dismissal of this subject? I don't get it.

Probably because the most politically active and visible attacks on games as a genre have been hyperbolic, two-dimensional, and ridiculously broad. Most feminist criticism of electronic games tend to parallel feminist criticism of cinema, tv, fiction, and fashion in genreral, which often is to advocate for more thoughtful content creation rather than to call for the banhammer. However a certain segment of gamers tend to get pissed off when you treat their favorite medium with the same kinds of attention that we give to cinema and literature.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:53 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


My dad once came home from a weekend spent catching fish and throwing them back to chastise me for wasting my time on pointless video games.

I'm not saying I find them pointless or being dismissive; I enjoy them and I just sometimes wonder if I indulge that enjoyment too much.

If Cosmo can induce eating disorders in teenage girls, then why can't video games adversely affect teenage boys (and girls)? The hours I sank into Quake and UT didn't turn me into a school shooter, but not every girl who reads Cosmo becomes anorexic, either. So why the instinctive, emotional dismissal of this subject? I don't get it.

Point me to the congressional hearings, legal actions, outrages, and attempts at banning that have surrounded Cosmo? Because what I'm dismissive of is the moral/"won't somebody think of the children" panics around various forms of entertainment, not the notion that people can be negatively affected/influenced by the media we all swim in every day. Can Cosmo* cause problems in a portion of the teenage girls who read it? Wouldn't surprise me. My next question is - for those who are affected, what else is going on: what other factors are at play in their lives that might help us understand why they - and not everyone else exposed - are at risk for negative outcomes? And maybe those factors are the more important ones to address because they might point to a situation where people are left vulnerable to certain influences no matter their origin - TV, movies, magazines, video games, etc.

*(or more specifically, the introduction of Western television into a part of the world that had no exposure to it previously, which is what that study is about - and note that there are no changes in BMI in that study, the significant changes are in attitudes as well as an increase is in reports of "some" induced vomiting to control weight, and "some" is a slippery word in the context of a scientific study. The study notes that no attempt at clinical diagnosis was made.)
posted by nubs at 12:58 PM on May 15


My dad once came home from a weekend spent catching fish and throwing them back to chastise me for wasting my time on pointless video games.

Yep, my dad would often chastise me from his chair in front of the TV that I was spending too much time in my chair in front of the computer.
posted by Foosnark at 1:37 PM on May 15


...and then I made a career of sitting in front of computers.
posted by Foosnark at 1:38 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


A lot of the media/violence study stuff came from Leonard Eron. I always dismissed the idea of a link between media and violence until I read Lt. Col. Grossman’s work (which formed the early basis for Hilary Clinton and Tipper Gore’s position, along with the Hot Coffee mod and misogyny in GTA) but I think the idea of training and viewing/playing a repetitive behavior diverge in one particularly important point: there is no real world connection in the latter.
But I think that’s part of the problem. There’s a gigantic difference in shooting a real gun and seeing the effects it has if only on a target or on a can or watermelon and shooting a pretend gun in a video game or watching a media depiction, an actor or cartoon, shooting a pretend gun.
Kids do indeed learn ways of behaving and solving problems from what they see. And a great deal of that is reinforced by peer and parent approval or disapproval. Modeling plays so much of a bigger role than telling.
I think desensitization is a settled question. I have no objection to that though. Some people enjoy violence in media and I enjoy violent video games myself and Tarantino films and sparring, so active participation vs. passive viewing – meh.
But I think it’s not so much the media itself but the tacit or explicit approval of the perpetrator of violence and who and more importantly – what - you’re taught to identify with.
Dirty Harry blows someone away, you’re not so much expecting a kid to go out and shoot someone with a .44 magnum, but rather to get the idea that transgressive violence is ok in certain contexts – that is, against certain people or when it’s done by certain people for a ‘good cause.’
It’s fascinating to listen to other parents’ horror when I tell them I teach my kids how to shoot (and archery, and fencing and practical hand to hand sans Asian pajamas), but watch them be perfectly ok with call of duty, etc.
In many ways, fantasy violence can be a problem because its ‘fantastic’ (that is, unrealistic) coupled with those kinds of idealization of ‘heroic’ ends regardless of (realistic) means.
Do we really want our police to be Dirty Harry type vigilantes?
And yet, here we are. Look at the society we have.
I come from a perspective where controlled violence is not at all a problem. But very often you see that technique – what you can do – drives ideology – what you want to do.
And that changes expectations enormously. And typically, kids who are playing hours and hours of video games or watching hours and hours of television a day aren’t getting behavior cues from other sources like their parents in the first place. Obviously those kids are at risk to begin with.
The thing is, what do we define as anti-social in the first place? Shooting up a school, clearly.
But if we see violence as a legitimate way of attaining certain goals that are considered socially acceptable, isn’t that an unacceptable influence on attitudes and behavior?
And that’s what we should be looking at, what attitudes and behaviors we want to promote. Banning a game, movie, book, whatever, generally works out about as well as it has worked out historically.
Yeah, clearly we’re not actually thinking of the children when we’re shouting “think of the children.” Which is kind of ironic, seeing as how it’s demanding the primacy of one delusion over another.
Kind of like playing a “puppy” video game and demanding the kid take care of the puppy, clean up its droppings and so forth. There’s no real world connection. Real puppy poop stinks though. And you have to deal with the puppy responsibly or you start to lose actual quality of life. Video puppy can starve to death and there’s no (or less – and rightly) attachment.
Of course, there’s money to be made in video puppy. Which should be a dead giveaway right there where the value of having IRL puppy has gone.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:53 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


> If Cosmo can induce eating disorders in teenage girls, then why can't video games adversely affect teenage boys (and girls)? The hours I sank into Quake and UT didn't turn me into a school shooter, but not every girl who reads Cosmo becomes anorexic, either.

Not to downplay the visual aspect of games and the influence imagery has, but game panics don't come from the same place concerns about eating disorders do.

I think the panics arise in large part because people intuitively recognize play as a form of practice for real life or as a component of socializing -- hence the insistence that games need to have some sort of externally redeeming aspect to them, something that you still see with books or movies but which seems quaint w/r/t those media. Hence also why someone who just spent the day fishing catch and release can come home satisfied yet be bewildered at their child chewing through levels in Quake. What's reacted to is the visual of the the solitary player who at best seems like a glassy-eyed compulsive and at worst seems to practice, alone, at inflicting harm.

Of course, you're not actually practicing to kill anyone in UT -- nor, in UT, are you even playing alone. If I were going to criticize it, I could say that maybe there's a problem with how the game values a state of play which relies on almost instinctively fast reflexes and an interaction that mimics high-intensity sports but which is entirely divorced from the players actual body. Or, more more commonly, point to the bog standard gender depictions of man with muscles or girl with sexy (or an alien with scary), one of which you must inhabit if you want to participate. Or yeah, that it presents violence, in a low stakes / high intensity format, as masculine entertainment.

But only the first of those objections is unique to the game as a game. The next two apply to other media as well. I don't mean to beg the question and imply that Cosmo presents a certain set of (damaging) cultural values while games are a culturally valueless space (and therefore innocent) space. Games absolutely present particular values, often really gross ones and often in a compelling package (hello The Last of Us). But that's not what the panics in the OP seem to be about (or at least not the loud Lieberman/Thompson type).

I guess the point is that the panics around games don't seem to address the games themselves or really even understand them; they seem to come from a place of deep outrage that ignores wider context and doesn't correspond with what's actually going on. The counterpoint to the panicked image of the gamer compulsively practicing imaginary sex/violence/wasted-labor is the image of the sideline objector, someone who sees videogames as a devil on the player's shoulder rather than what they are: a collection of artifacts which respond to cultural norms just as much as they create them.
posted by postcommunism at 1:55 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


It's not a coincidence that congressmen huffing and puffing about video games mostly petered out in the previous decade, when video games went from being perceived as this niche industry full of small companies (that frequently went bankrupt) to being acknowledged as this huge industry full of very rich companies. Yeah, there was some grandstanding after Sandy Hook, but it didn't lead to anything and was much, much less vocal than after Columbine.

The US government will be A-OK with almost any industry once it reaches an acceptable level of revenue (enough for your trade group to have a phat PAC). Online gambling websites need to figure out how to get there while at the same being barred from operating in the US. If they can, Congress will open their arms to online gambling so warmly it'll be like they were never fighting in the first place.
posted by riruro at 2:25 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


I'll tell you exactly what video games have made me into: A middle-aged man who questions how much time he spends playing video games.

Earlier this week I was looking for a server I could join to play some Minecraft. I found one that seemed quite large and busy, to join you just needed to post a comment on their website with your username, age, and reason you want to join. I started typing it out, then scrolled up and saw most of the others were 14-17 years old.

I deleted what I had typed and left. No one needs to know I'm 20 years older than the other people playing this game.
posted by Hoopo at 2:30 PM on May 15


> I think the idea of training and viewing/playing a repetitive behavior diverge in one particularly important point: there is no real world connection in the latter.

Ironically, one of the very valid criticisms of games (and a criticism that also comes from within the industry) is addiction potential, and potential is down to their interactivity and ability to set up environments that train you to press an intermittent reward button. (Not quite what you were talking about, I know.)
posted by postcommunism at 2:33 PM on May 15


I dunno. I think the absence of FreeToPlay on this list was a huge miss. Yes, it isn't violent, and it isn't gambling in the traditional sense... but it is training people to waste their money for diminishing rewards and they hire people specifically to help short-circuit people's logic and resistance to this. When you are putting people on you staff who are designing revenue models based on price confusion and currency manipulation - people who are writing articles for peer reviewed journals on their subject matters... well... You are doing legitimate, measurable harm to people.

Now i have to leave this conversation because I just put $10 in my steam wallet to buy 1000 station cash in Planetside 2, and they are running a member's only sale on something I want - so its worth like 652 station cash. I'll have to figure out what I'll do with the remaining station cash.... probably I'll have to buy more station cash.
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:08 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


> When you are putting people on you staff who are designing revenue models based on price confusion and currency manipulation - people who are writing articles for peer reviewed journals on their subject matters... well... You are doing legitimate, measurable harm to people.

I got a little wrapped up in the more prominent examples (GTA, Thompson, etc.), but I strongly agree with this and I don't think it's an example of game panic at all. Objecting to exploitative models isn't the same as "...and the killers played DOOM!", it's more like pointing out that junk food is designed to be compulsive.

OP does feel like it's shortchanging that aspect to drive home a fairly shaky representation of online gambling regulation.
posted by postcommunism at 3:28 PM on May 15


Now i have to leave this conversation because I just put $10 in my steam wallet to buy 1000 station cash in Planetside 2, and they are running a member's only sale on something I want - so its worth like 652 station cash. I'll have to figure out what I'll do with the remaining station cash.... probably I'll have to buy more station cash.

yeah, it's pretty insidious. I have spent more on Planetside2, and played it more, than any other game ever (including almost dropping out of college due to civilization and master of orion). I have a healthier relationship with games now, but that one is a huge time sink. However for hours of entertainment per dollar spent-I am way, way ahead.
posted by bartonlong at 11:40 AM on May 16


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