We have always been in a moral panic over games
October 14, 2019 8:13 AM   Subscribe

Before science debunked the link between video games and real violence (Tallahassee.com), the concern that video games are detrimental to people, particularly youth, has come up again and again (Penny Arcade wiki entry on Jack Thompson). But before the heady days of video games in the homes, arcade games were corrupting the youth in the 1980s (Smithsonian Magazine), and before them, pinball machines were a source of moral decline (previously). But the fear of gaming didn't start there ... (The Conversation)

From The Bizarre History of American Sport in Sports Illustrated, an article from the January 8, 1962 issue:
The Puritans were, to generalize broadly, middle-class moralists in revolt against the Anglo-Catholic pomp and splendor of king and court. They transformed Sunday from a day of recreation, which it had been in Roman Catholic times, into the pious Sabbath of the Old Testament. They accepted the King James Bible, but they had the common hangman burn the Book of Sports (Britannica.com), in which James I commended the games to be played after Sunday service. In Massachusetts the Puritans looked upon themselves as "saints, sacred and set apart from a wicked and persecuting world," and the struggle for existence gave force to the ban on amusements. The settlers had to work to survive, and even after they prospered, their stern code persisted. "Let others," wrote John Adams, "waste their bloom of life at the card or billiard table among rakes and fools." But John Adams played bat and ball as a boy, and loved riding and shooting and boating; he seined for minnows and turtles, hunted birds' eggs, played with bows and arrows, made toy windmills and water mills and whirligigs. Sport grew up through Puritanism like flowers in a macadam prison yard.

In Virginia restrictive laws against sport also prevailed at first. But with the introduction of slavery, the establishment of the plantation system and the creation of a leisure class, Virginia's restrictions abated. When, in 1674, the York County court fined James Bullock, a tailor, 100 pounds of tobacco and a cask, it was not because racing was against the law but because Bullock came from the wrong class, "it being contrary to Law for a Labourer to make a race, being a sport only for Gentlemen."
Going farther back, Ancient Rome, where gambling, at least in the form of dice games, was generally considered a vice, yet the only known criminal statutes prohibiting it were only sporadically and selectively enforced. (HeinOnline, paywalled article).

And before that, The Dialogues of the Buddha include an admonishment of "some recluses and Brahmans, while living on food provided by the faithful, continue addicted to the use of high and large couches." (Annotated on Sacred-Texts.com)
posted by filthy light thief (38 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
At least pachinko is OK for our youths!

Oh, wait...
posted by wenestvedt at 8:31 AM on October 14 [2 favorites]


What, no Dark Dungeons?
posted by gurple at 8:34 AM on October 14 [3 favorites]


"Video games" are a vast category at this point, so to ascribe any general effect is like saying the same thing about movies or books or board games. But given the general unease around Joker it seems clear that there is a tacit understanding that it is possible for modes of entertainment to normalize attitudes or behaviors that are detrimental to society. So the general line of "video games are harmless" needs to be updated to "game mechanics are harmless but the content they animate, maybe not always so much" because games can be propaganda, too.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:34 AM on October 14 [40 favorites]


In the epic of the Mahabharata, Yudhishthira, eldest son of King Pandu and Queen Kunti and the king of Indraprastha, loses an entire kingdom because of a game of dice and is exiled for 13 years. He wagers his brothers and his wife. He won the first game but was provoked into a second. It's inclusion in this epic has quite obviously been used as a cautionary tale against the dangers of gambling.
posted by Fizz at 8:36 AM on October 14 [6 favorites]


I say that any boob can take and shove a ball in a pocket, and they call that sloth, the first big step on the road to the depths of degradation -- first, medicinal wine from a teaspoon, then beer from a bottle, and the next thing you know, your son is playing for money in a pinch-back suit.

Edit: and one of the big points of The Music Man is that a con-man is using this to manipulate the parents into a knee-jerk reaction, so what goes around comes around.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:45 AM on October 14 [17 favorites]


I would agree with grumpbear69, and also note that science has not said there is no link, simply that a direct link has not been established. It’s disengenous for anyone to take the position that culture doesn’t effect the behavior of people within it, enforcing norms and allowing for individuals to see models of accepted behaviors.

That said, all countries suffer from “moral panics”, and having ways to cut through the emotional reactions to events by a society would be good as well.
posted by herda05 at 8:52 AM on October 14 [10 favorites]


Yudhisthira did not win the first game. He lost both. He gives a single cryptic reason for playing the second one. Decoding the reference, it says : a man may know the mirage and still run toward it.

It is often implied that Yudhisthira could not honourably turn down the challenge, gambling being seen as mock-war. Basically he got hustled.
posted by tirutiru at 8:59 AM on October 14 [3 favorites]


Yudhisthira did not win the first game. He lost both.

Apologies, it's been a long while since Sunday school. I do recall my temple priest commenting on how his loss at gambling was to demonstrate the frailty and weakness that humans have, even those who are seen fit to be called royal.
posted by Fizz at 9:05 AM on October 14


Videogame is just an art medium. If you've got one thing to say for the entire medium, you simply have nothing of value to say. Analyzing specific works is fair game, but you could never say Paintings is dangerous, even though some paintings have been.
posted by GoblinHoney at 9:07 AM on October 14 [5 favorites]


Video games cause violence in the same way that sports cause violence. There are some people who, when involved a competition, become intensely emotional and that can spill out in violence when things don't go their way. You don't even need to play, just be invested. See also sports-related rioting.
posted by SansPoint at 9:11 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]


Poetry is dangerous, paintings too (sez Plato)
posted by clew at 9:13 AM on October 14 [5 favorites]


There's ample evidence that video games lead to violence. Look at the case of Atatiana Jefferson who was playing video games at home with her nephew when police entered her property and immediately shot her dead from outside her bedroom window. (Guess her ethnicity and that of the police officer!)
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:19 AM on October 14 [6 favorites]


Anything to get out of talking about misogyny and racism.
posted by Reyturner at 9:20 AM on October 14 [8 favorites]


But given the general unease around Joker it seems clear that there is a tacit understanding that it is possible for modes of entertainment to normalize attitudes or behaviors that are detrimental to society.

Or all the nonsense surrounding the movie's release was yet another instance of the shrieking hysteria surrounding this topic that this post is about, and that for all the hand-wringing about incels and how Joker is the incarnation of Everything Wrong With Society, the streets did not in fact run red with the blood of the innocent on its release and it turns out it was just another movie that came and went.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:20 AM on October 14 [7 favorites]


There's ample evidence that video games lead to violence. Look at the case of Atatiana Jefferson who was playing video games at home with her nephew when police entered her property and immediately shot her dead from outside her bedroom window.

I'm not sure if you're being ironic or not.

She was shot dead because calling the police on a black person is almost akin to sentencing them to death. You're literally playing with their lives when you do this. The reasons: racism, bigotry, white nationalism, police brutality, gun violence, I could go on and on.

This woman was in her home with her nephew and the door was open. A neighbor called the cops to have her checked on and she was shot dead in her own fucking home. He was interviewed after and regrets ever doing such a thing.

She didn't die because she was playing a video game with her nephew. She died because of systemic racism and fear of blackness. Fuck that cop.
posted by Fizz at 9:33 AM on October 14 [11 favorites]


I was at a chess tournament once, and I overheard a teenager asking the tournament director what his friend, who wanted to come and enter an event, could tell his parents, who thought that it "wasn't Biblical". The TD was an Evangelical Christian and he said he could talk to them, but I don't know if he was successful.
posted by thelonius at 9:40 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]


I was being ironic, I am very angry about police violence against black people
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:07 AM on October 14 [9 favorites]


... the streets did not in fact run red with the blood of the innocent on its release and it turns out it was just another movie ...

There doesn't have to be a literal terrorist event in the wake of a movie release for it to nevertheless be a poorly conceived movie that serves to further normalize and humanize hateful viewpoints that frankly the internet, the media, and our culture is normalizing and humanizing at a terrifying rate. Yes, the idea that an entire art form in the abstract promotes violence and hate is dumb, but the idea that a specific piece of art promotes violence and hate is not an unreasonable stance.
posted by tocts at 10:26 AM on October 14 [18 favorites]


It’s hard to tell if your comment refers to Joker in 2019, Mortal Kombat in 1992, or any of the previous moral panics about specific pieces of art that promote “violence and hate” that the righteously outraged were so very certain represented the End of Civilization As We Know It.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:34 AM on October 14 [3 favorites]


Science has not debunked a link between video games and real violence as such science would not be ethically possible.
posted by 3.2.3 at 10:38 AM on October 14 [4 favorites]


Oh, so there's no reason that members of marginalized groups should be concerned about how they're portrayed - or not - in entertainment media. Entertainment media exists in its own world, completely causally disconnected from the beliefs and attitudes of the people that consume it.

If anyone is concerned it's just "moral panic" and they can be written off as "righteously outraged" ... that is, until the game content is something that makes Gamer Gate uncomfortable .... like punching nazees...

And yeah, I'm bringing up Gamer Gate because this is one of their favorite responses to all progressive critique of any "nerd" property, including games: It was released and the streets didn't run with blood. It didn't make me go out and shoot anyone. You can't prove a direct causal link between $PROPERTY or $MEDIATYPE and increased rates of violence, so you're just a pearl-clutching harpy that I can mock or ignore. I don't need to think deeply about what it means for my psyche to be steeped in stories that treat people different than me as less than human, because it's just fiction and there are never any real consequences of fiction.

So art doesn't fucking matter, it's just a hit of color and sound and dopamine and then it's like it never happened.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:52 AM on October 14 [30 favorites]


It’s hard to tell if your comment refers to Joker in 2019, Mortal Kombat in 1992, or any of the previous moral panics

No, it really isn't, unless you're pretending not to be able to tell because you'd rather we lived in a world where culture has no effect on humans because the alternative (e.g. reality) requires messy stuff like critical analysis.
posted by tocts at 10:56 AM on October 14 [11 favorites]


But given the general unease around Joker it seems clear that there is a tacit understanding that it is possible for modes of entertainment to normalize attitudes or behaviors that are detrimental to society.

Any reasonable list of things Americans have general unease about will show many tacit understandings that can only be described as horrifying. This doesn't mean you are wrong at all, but does mean this is terrible evidence for it.

So the general line of "video games are harmless"

While I'm sure you can point to some example sometime of someone saying it, the overall claim is not that video games are inherently harmless. The claim is that video games are not particularly different from other media, such as the novel or the film, and should not be subject to regulations that other media are not subject to. That there is nothing uniquely damaging about video games (or pinball or D&D or comic books) that merits singling them out for specific regulations.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 11:34 AM on October 14 [6 favorites]


The Joker is doing damage to this post's train of discussion. So there is that.
posted by srboisvert at 12:31 PM on October 14 [6 favorites]


At least pachinko is OK for our youths!

I was just thinking of the time I visited a large-ish pachinko/machine gaming place in Ikebukuro and it was completely unpleasant! Just recycled smoky air and lots of adults in fugue states oblivious to each other. I lasted maybe 6 minutes in there, just enough to gawk at some of the elaborate machinery. Nothing at all like a video game arcade where kids are making friends (and enemies) with each other and being enthusiastic about the games.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:35 PM on October 14 [2 favorites]


clew: "Poetry is dangerous, paintings too (sez Plato)"

“When I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun”

[attributed to various actual Nazis, originally from a play by a Nazi] in slightly different form.
posted by chavenet at 1:13 PM on October 14 [1 favorite]


The Joker is doing damage to this post's train of discussion. So there is that.

The Joker (and video games for that matter) may someday be seen to have directly caused (influenced?) acts of violence -- I don't doubt this (we already know that Taxi Driver directly influenced John David Hinckley). But I still can't help but feel that if we really want to cut down on horrible acts perpetrated by angry, alienated individuals, we'd do better (by orders of magnitude) putting our energy into things like gun control, advocating for a more comprehensive "social safety net" (as we call it up here in Canada), mental health options in general.
posted by philip-random at 1:26 PM on October 14 [2 favorites]


Science has not debunked a link between video games and real violence as such science would not be ethically possible.
posted by 3.2.3 at 10:38 AM on October 14 [2 favorites +] [!]


False. It would be impossible to prove thing to be absolutely non-existent, but it is very very possible to show that the proposed existence of a thing has no supporting evidence and is itself based on very bad science.
posted by FatherDagon at 1:35 PM on October 14 [1 favorite]


It's fascinating to see some of the comments in this thread and compare/contrast them with the comments in the post a few weeks back about "The El Paso Shooting and the Gamification of Terror."
posted by PhineasGage at 2:25 PM on October 14 [1 favorite]


but it is very very possible to show that the proposed existence of a thing has no supporting evidence and is itself based on very bad science.

I'm confused about what you're trying to say with the links.

The APA link's headline and bullet points

Violent Video Games: Myths, Facts, and Unanswered Questions

Studies provide converging evidence that exposure to media violence is a significant risk factor for aggressive and violent behavior.


say there is reason to note some connection.

The study from from the Royal Society's headline suggests the opposite but also notes its limitations of what it was seeking to measure and points to at least three possible areas of correlation within their own study among other things.

While The Vox article is just saying playing video games keeps young men off the streets and thus leads to less crime, but that there are studies that link gaming to aggression as well.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:28 PM on October 14 [1 favorite]


Video Games are a product of a culture. We make violent video games because we're a violent people. That these things are popular in any way at all is a window into who we are.

It's like that stupid goose game. Everyone loves this playing this horrible goose because everyone wants to be the horrible asshole that gets to win, because our culture is full of _some_ horrible assholes that get to keep winning and winning and winning. There are thousands of other ways they could have made a puzzle solving game, but nope.. you get to be an unkillable asshole goose.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 4:04 PM on October 14 [4 favorites]


Seems like this "video games" talk is a great deflection tactic to avoid talking about how guns pointed by misogyny and racism are killing people and how we can act to stop such.

it reminds me of the latest M*lc*lm Gl*dw*ll book, defending powerful dudes at Penn State with a contrived, contrarian theory about how humans can't help but lack critical thinking or something. It's not even wrong and why the heck are we even talking about this again? How did we wander into this forest of strawmen again? How can we get back to talking about reality?
posted by eustatic at 4:19 PM on October 14 [4 favorites]


Sorry, but I can't help but see posts like these with the "Ohohoh, don't you worry, nothing's wrong with video games" attitude as a deliberate attempt to deflect attention away from the actual, critical problems with the gaming industry and hobby.

Video games may not be a problem, but GAMERS sure as hell are. I know a lot of people who worked in or were associated with the gaming industry- over the last five years about 2/3rds of them have gone silent or dropped out, and the rest have to take major precautions whenever they say anything in public that can be remotely be considered critical. the same goes for any LGBTQ person, any male self-identified as feminist, or person of color. Death threats and doxxing are standard procedures in the post-GamerGate world.

The "Are video games infecting gamers with violent tendencies?" question is reversing the causal relationship. Gaming as a community is incredibly toxic, strongly influenced by Incels, MRA activists, and gamergaters who've organized to purge the hobby of anyone who promotes diversity, or who questions the dominance of AAA games, the sexism in gaming, the racism, or it's general portrayal of women. They will attack any company that doesn’t accede to their incredibly narrow worldview, and as a result, the companies and the associated media outlets are more white and male than ever. Any hint of diversity, such as placing a character that isn’t straight or white in a game will lead to harassment campaigns.

In fact, the GamerGate method of massive harassment has expanded into general geek media; the attacks on Kelly Marie tran, Brie Larson and the “Campaigns” against Star Wars IX and Captain Marvel are perfect examples of GamerGate methodology. Finally, there is very strong evidence that there are strong links between GamerGate and MRA and white supremacist groups. to argue that nothing's wrong is incredibly disingenuous.
posted by happyroach at 5:10 PM on October 14 [29 favorites]


I think the achievement/score-based nature of most video games is bad for internal reward systems, and that this may make people deeply immersed in games behave strangely.
posted by solarion at 5:16 PM on October 14 [6 favorites]


Sorry, but I can't help but see posts like these with the "Ohohoh, don't you worry, nothing's wrong with video games" attitude as a deliberate attempt to deflect attention away from the actual, critical problems with the gaming industry and hobby.

Sorry, but I can't help but see posts like that as nothing but whataboutery; there are several major issues at play around video games - and all of them are relevant.
  1. Video games do not directly cause violence - despite the claims of people up to and including Donald Trump. The NRA is encouraging these claims partly to take the pressure off gun owners and partly because time spent gaming is time spent not playing with guns and thus competes with what they want.
  2. People can tell fantasy from reality - but fiction can normalize attitudes. Almost no one seriously wants to do one of the Fatalities from Mortal Kombat - but stereotyping can be reinforced quite easily.
  3. Gamification can encourage just about anything.
  4. A major subset of gamer culture is toxic.
  5. For-pay loot boxes are nothing more than legalised unregulated gambling - and frequently prey both on children and gambling addicts.
I believe all the above are true and they all need talking about - and it's hard to call anything irrelevant when it was fairly recently pushed by the President of the United States. And regarding the moral panic there may be trouble in River City but there's no reason to pay a ransom.

That said if the motivation is as you claim to deflect attention opening a top level metafilter post not in response to a recent news event a spectacularly silly method of going about it. Instead all that's happened is that a top level post has been provided that can be almost summarily agreed with (does anyone really believe that video games directly cause violence in 2019?) and then brought round to either the gambling addiction that too many modern video games cause and exploit, or the toxic parts of the culture - which wouldn't have been discussed here right now without the FPP.
posted by Francis at 1:45 AM on October 15 [3 favorites]


I was at a chess tournament once, and I overheard a teenager asking the tournament director what his friend, who wanted to come and enter an event, could tell his parents, who thought that it "wasn't Biblical". The TD was an Evangelical Christian and he said he could talk to them, but I don't know if he was successful.

Obviously chess is suspect, tainted as it is with the heresy of papists and their ilk (don't tell me those "bishops" are supposed to be Episcopalian). Still worlds better than checkers, a.k.a. "Satan's Chess."
posted by sugar and confetti at 5:57 AM on October 15 [1 favorite]


Love a good video carnage; but children form actions from the actions they are exposed to and see.
Gotta blame somebody.
posted by buzzman at 8:46 AM on October 15


Most children can also tell the difference between fantasy and reality.
posted by SansPoint at 10:03 AM on October 15


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