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 Seeking a Sensible Tomorrow: The Media Marketing Accountability Act

 Author:  Topic:  Posted:
Jul 09, 2001
In late April, Senators Kohl and Lieberman introduced legislation that would empower the FTC to punish companies that market adult-rated video games to children. The Media Marketing Accountability Act has met much resistance in Congress and in the realm of public opinion, but its swift adoption is the greatest hope going forward for anyone who recognizes the problems video games pose in an age of exponentially increasing violence and realism.

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Some would say video games have nothing to do with real-world violence. We are somehow supposed to believe that the images children are constantly subjected to have absolutely no effect on children who view them, that they pass through children's consciousnesses like sand through the hourglass of our lives. Every week it seems, a new study comes out confirming the link between fictional violence and real-world violence, but these opponents never budge.

How many more studies can they possibly need? And don't be fooled into thinking the problems end with violence alone. Video games do more than just inspire violence; they cause rickets! It's no wonder that even seasoned gamers are starting to come around, recognizing the violence that has always been present in video games. It's clear that regulation of such violence is advisable and necessary; what remains is to determine whether such regulation is permissible under our Constitutional scheme of government.

Some argue that the First Amendment prevents the Federal government from regulating the violent content of video-game products. Even if (for the sake of argument) we accept the idea that such regulation is a form of censorship, it doesn't necessarily implicate the first amendment. The purpose of this legislation is to encourage the video-game industry to abide by tougher voluntary standards of decency. Self-censorship is no censorship, because no speech is created and censored.

Moreover, limits on the First Amendment, rooted in common-law traditions, have been recognized since its ratification in 1791. Libel and slander, along with obscenity, are not protected because they inhibit the free flow of information and productive dialogue by corrupting the channels of discourse with misinformation and filth. Likewise, restrictions on the dissemination of copyrighted speech are empowered under Article I, because copyright restrictions encourage free speech; in a world without copyright, no one would have an incentive to speak at all.

The same is true of video-game violence. Such violence imperils our cherished freedoms of speech by removing our children's capacity for rational thought. Though intellectually stimulating games (such as software implementations of chess and parchesi) do exist, their numbers are dwarfed by the heaps of games whose gameplay consists of nothing more than pure violence, games that bypass the higher-order rational-processing regions of the brain and tap into the raw evolutionarily primitive regions. Studies have shown that violence correlates with misfunction of the pre-frontal cortex. As if rickets and other deleterious health effects weren't enough, video games may be causing actual brain damage.

So if video games are such a menace, then why stop with the Media Marketing Accountability Act? Why not eliminate violent video games from adults' consumption as well as children's? Well, the answer is twofold:

  1. Adults have more-developed emotional and neurological functions than children do and so aren't affected as much by the influences of video-game violence. Just as alcoholism is sharply curtailed by limiting the possession and consumption of alcohol to mature adults, the far-reaching effects of video-game violence can be curtailed by limiting its consumption to adults who, by definition, possess the maturity necessary for healthy information processing. The growing incidence of violence at high schools underscores the simple fact that young people, by virtue of their being young, lack the cognitive functions necessary to interpret the dangers of their world and so need adults to process their world for them.
  2. Outright prohibition, alas, never works; it merely creates a vibrant black market for the prohibited item. To return to the alcohol analogy, Prohibition during the 1920s demonstrated that it was impossible to remove alcohol outright from the daily life of adult Americans. The imposition of a legal-drinking age, in contrast, has generally been a resounding success. Alcohol producers have a legal adult market for their liquors, and simple enforcement prevents young people from illicitly acquiring booze. With the video-game industry, we need only demonstrate that adults comprise a sufficient market for the industry's wares, a task that shoudln't be so hard in light of the fact that adults are the only members of our population who actually earn an income to purchase video games with.
In short, by restricting video-games sales to adults and prohibiting the video-game industry from marketing their violence directly to children, we can go a long ways towards eliminating the violence that plagues our society. Though future evaluation will decide whether we have gone far enough, it is clear that we must at least go this far. To do otherwise would be to abdicate our responsibilities as mothers and fathers of our most precious and vulnerable commodity: our children.


One small problem... (4.66 / 3) (#1)
by kezgin on Mon Jul 9th, 2001 at 03:37:28 PM PST
Though intellectually stimulating games (such as software implementations of chess and parchesi) do exist

You're forgetting that most children don't have the attention span to sit and learn how to play those games. They'd much rather play something that is easy and entertaining. Not to say that those games aren't entertaining, but give a kid a choice between learning the many rules of chess or learning how to press 6 buttons to play Quake, most will go for Quake.

Make a difference in our society. End it.

Absolutely (3.00 / 1) (#2)
by Anonymous Reader on Mon Jul 9th, 2001 at 03:46:38 PM PST
However, I think that Quake can its ilk can be intellectually stimulating - Quake is designed to be a multiplayer game, and can have really quite involved tactics.

The problem with Chess and such dry board games is that they don;t provide the same audio-visual instant appeal of modern games.

Still agree with you though, perhaps for slightly different reasons.

Why not a hybrid? (4.00 / 1) (#3)
by seventypercent on Mon Jul 9th, 2001 at 04:05:09 PM PST
The problem with Chess and such dry board games is that they don;t provide the same audio-visual instant appeal of modern games.

So? Why not mix and match?

I remember in the mid-to-late 1980s, a magazine called COMPUTE! (which I'm sure many other folks remember) published a game called "Laser Chess." The game was conceptually very similar to chess; you had different pieces laid out on a chessboard and took turns moving them. Where it differed was that one of your pieces was actually a laser and the rest of them were mirrors .. you could set up complex bounce shots to take out your opponent's king. (Some of your pieces had "exposed sides", and would be destroyed if they weren't hit on a reflective side.) This was an awesome game, and an excellent way to combine old strategy with new technology.

Exposure to real "thinking" games is critical to our children. Without it, they will grow up mind-numbingly, slobberingly stupid. You can't raise kids on television and Tomb Raider and expect them to be able to think for themselves when they get thrust out into the Real World. Technology is great, but let's not let it turn into an evolutionary dead end.

Red-blooded patriots do not use Linux.

laser chess, eh? (none / 0) (#4)
by elby on Mon Jul 9th, 2001 at 04:28:36 PM PST
that sounds sort of cool. There's also battle chess if you want to talk about old school games.

Attention Spans (none / 0) (#7)
by fsh on Mon Jul 9th, 2001 at 05:38:24 PM PST
I keep hearing that children have short attention spans, but I find it is not so. Maybe it's because I read to my nephews and nieces, or because my brother and I play chess so often that my oldest nephew (at three) enjoys watching us, even though he doesn't know how to play. He certainly doesn't have any trouble sitting down to watch any of his favorite movies, even the ones he's seen umpteen million times.

Of course if chess were taught properly, any child would quickly realize how violent it is. It is too often taught as just a game, with pieces that move so and so. But who cares about the rules, without the story? Two armies arrayed across a level field, and each 'piece' taken represents hundreds or thousands of dead souls.

I've always suspected that the violent video games are attractive to young children simply because of the adrenaline rushes, and the feeling of tiredness after playing them for a while. Children have far more energy than adults, especially with all the sugar water and caffeine we feed them. They need to expend that energy somehow, and if kept inside, and forbidden to run around and punch holes in the walls, they gravitate to whatever provides them with the most release.

But what do I know? Not much. These are just my opinions.


good lord, the smugness .... (none / 0) (#17)
by jsm on Tue Jul 10th, 2001 at 05:38:17 AM PST
I have no major social problems

The World has many problems

But they do not affect me.

Why is this?

Could it be because I am a Very, Very Good Person Indeed?

Could it be because I do All The Right Things?

Yes, I think it could.

There's a whole world outside your tiny little box there, you know.

... the worst tempered and least consistent of the editors
... now also Legal department and general counsel,

Tiny Little Box (none / 0) (#21)
by fsh on Tue Jul 10th, 2001 at 09:08:00 AM PST
Yes, you are right. I apologize for the smug tone of my post, but my nephew had just left after I wrote it. He is having some difficulties learning his colors, or more specifically, the color orange. He's got all the others down cold, but can't remember the name of the color orange.

Pride is certainly a great fault of mine, and I should be more careful. Perhaps I should have gone into further detail, explaining my background with children in various different teaching capacities, volunteer activities, and such. I also tried to make clear that I voiced simply my own opinions about the matter, and used personal experiences for the same reason. But again, you are correct, and I should be aware to preview my posts more carefully in the future.
I have no major social problems
The World has many problems
But they do not affect me.
Heh heh. Rather, in blatant parody of the Marines, I would say:
These are my problems.
The World has many problems
But these problems are Mine.
My problems include the fact that I love my family, and when I see people who seem to be insulting them, even slantly, I become angry. So when someone says that children have short attention spans, and prefer not to play certain games, I enjoy posting counter-examples. I try to avoid pride and smugness, but they are very insidious sins.


I'm sorry.... (none / 0) (#5)
by Anonymous Reader on Mon Jul 9th, 2001 at 04:47:03 PM PST
....But its just ridiculous to pin school shootings and the like on video games. If you're screwed up in the head, you're screwed up in the head; if you're a psychopath, its what you are. Doom doesn't make killers. Neither does Quake, neither does The Matrix, neither do He-Man action figures.

I spent six years of my life playing Super Mario Brothers. But you don't see me running around stepping on mushrooms and fixing toilets every chance I get.

How much faith do you really present in humanity if you think that people can be changed *that* drastically by 256 colors and a joystick? And if your perception of reality is so warped that you can't tell the difference between Alien Demons from Hell and kids that go to your school, well I'm sorry, but you have more problems than Senators Kohl and Lieberman are going to fix for you.

I'm not a plumber. I don't hit things with a sword. I don't build things out of oddly shaped blocks. I don't throw beer cans at dinosaurs. So don't give killers this excuse. Don't make it ok to kill people as long as a video game told you to do it.

For more examples, I suggest you read this article.

Btw, I'm not trolling, my login is extarbags, but it won't let me register :-P. And you get bonus points if you caught all the references in paragraph 4.

Not quite what they were saying.... (none / 0) (#6)
by fsh on Mon Jul 9th, 2001 at 05:23:45 PM PST
I think you might be slightly misreading the article. The suggestion is not to keep children from playing video games, but rather to prevent children from purchasing them, and to prevent game companies from marketing to them; there is a very big difference. I fully agree that most children have absolutely no problems with violent video games, but there are also children who become fascinated with them. This sort of legilastion keeps the game companies from marketing to children, who do not generally have all the sophistication necessary to ignore the blatant demands of marketing peer pressure. This legislation also allows parents who think their children might have problems handling such software (either due to maturity or psychological reasons) to control access to these games, to be able to be responsible for their children's upbringing.

Just as everyone was saying after Columbine, it's the parents' fault for not paying attention to what their children were doing. This way, the parents could at least be sure that their children didn't sneak in to Electronics Boutique while they were trying on clothes to purchase the latest version of Unreal Tournament. This places the purchasing responsibility on the parents, and encourages them to take an active role in their children's entertainment lives, at least to the point of knowing the names of the games their children play.

That being said, I fully disagree with the law. I am an anarchist, and do not believe that law is an effective replacement for morality. But I think that in the larger scale of things, this is not a bad law, since it seems to be encouraging parental responsibility. Of course, how it will be enforced is a completely different matter, and it is in the enforcement and interpretation that most laws are found wanting.


Re: Not quite what they were saying.... (none / 0) (#8)
by Anonymous Reader on Mon Jul 9th, 2001 at 05:41:43 PM PST
Again, kids that are going to grow up to be psychos are going to do so regardless of how many aliens they shoot on a computer screen, and yes, even regardless of how much parental control is exercised over them.

A key point that alot of people seem to be missing here is that anything can trigger a killer to kill; not just video games. It could be a warped sense of morality and a feeling of responsibility to enforce said morality, ala Jack the Ripper. Or, it could be a freaking dog. Would you propose any kind of limitation or restriction on our freedom to buy dogs because our neighbors might think that our dogs are telling them to kill people? -extarbags

strawman argument (none / 0) (#9)
by Anonymous Reader on Mon Jul 9th, 2001 at 05:53:03 PM PST
Dogs have numerous beneficial applications. They alleviate depression. They encourage people to exercise. They deliver nourishment to stranded skiiers in the alps. They promote happiness.

Video games, however, don't do any of these useful things. They'd be just another waste of time if it weren't for all the negative effects they produce. Therein lies the rub.

The remote chance that a dog might precipitate a violent episode is well outweighed by the benefits dogs provide. Video games produce horrible effects without providing any benefit. By equating the two, you're committing a logical fallacy of the worst kind.

Now hold it right there, Johnny. (none / 0) (#10)
by Anonymous Reader on Mon Jul 9th, 2001 at 05:57:19 PM PST
I'm sorry, but as a computer geek who couldn't play any sports when I was a kid, I'm going to have to disagree with you that video games don't have any benefit. Video games are maybe the one thing that I have ever had in common with anyone, aside from various other techno-geek stuff, and I'm sure alot of geeks out there can vouch for me on this one. When you're in the minority, you need something to at least unite you with other members of your minority.

I'd like to see a dog accomplish that.


You have nonviolent options (none / 0) (#12)
by Anonymous Reader on Mon Jul 9th, 2001 at 06:22:31 PM PST
As you allude to, you had other nonviolent options apart from video games. It's just as well you didn't go out for sports, since sports are one of the chief sources of mainstream violence in our culture. (Where do you suppose those baseballbat hooligans got the idea for hitting stuff with a bat?...)

Take up science fiction. Join a debate team. There's an entire world out there beyond the pale glow of your television set. Don't give in to the urge to sit there and vegetate. Making friends over video games is one of the worst things you can do, since such friends aren't friends at all but it lulls you into not having to try to make friends elsewhere.

Re: You have nonviolent options (none / 0) (#14)
by Anonymous Reader on Mon Jul 9th, 2001 at 10:01:10 PM PST
I beg to differ. "Making friends over video games" is no different from making friends because they're in the same class or club as you or because they share any other interests; its just a starting off point. I've not been a friend of every video game player I've met, its something to start with. Its some common ground, and if you don't happen to have access to and/or interest/skill in debate or science fiction, there's not that much out there for geeks.

I like your point about sports causing violence though. I don't see "Senators Kohl and Leiberman" trying to ban baseball, which has undoubtedly spawned more bat-related incidents of violence than Double Dragon has.


But Double Dragon promotes racism (none / 0) (#16)
by Anonymous Reader on Tue Jul 10th, 2001 at 12:43:19 AM PST
I don't see "Senators Kohl and Leiberman" trying to ban baseball, which has undoubtedly spawned more bat-related incidents of violence than Double Dragon has.
If they haven't yet, then they should, but for another reason: racism. Double Dragon, like so many Japanese imports in the 1980s, has done more to sully American/Japanese relations than any other media depiction. Japanese are presented as uniformly engaged in martial arts, when in reality, 70% couldn't pick a nunchaku out of a lineup of kitchen utensils if their life depended on it. Moreover, Americans, by assuming the role of the Japanese character within the game, are given the false impression that they know firsthand what it is like to be Japanese.

Combine this with the cross-cultural monstrosity of the Mario Brothers' Italian stereotype, and you'll see that video-game violence occurs not only within the loins of its victims but also within their minds.

I couldn't agree less... (none / 0) (#18)
by Anonymous Reader on Tue Jul 10th, 2001 at 08:03:09 AM PST
The grand majority of established sports are not inherently violent. They are made that way by the players and the way they are presented. Baseball is not a contact sport, and it is definitley against the rules to hit another player with a bat.

That said, I did not play sports as a child, I played video games. And thanks to good parenting, I grew up to be a very level-headed and non-violent person. Video games can influence violent behaviors, but those influences can easily be negated. All children (at least male ones) have innate violent tendencies, and it is the responsibilty of all adults to teach the acceptable parameters of violence within a society.

Video games proved to be a very constructive hobby for me. I gained many new friendships and strengthened existing ones through playing games. They helped to establish my existing interest in technology, and set me on the path of my future. They have been very good to me.

The biggest problem in video games is not the violent content (though it can get excessive) as much as much as the adversarial nature of them. Games should promote a cooperative experience between two people, not an adversarial one. This is a problem that I see getting worse.

As for racism in video games, your particular example was created in Japan, which I think pretty much negates your argument. Stereotypes exist for a reason. They are a distinct trait that does exist throughout a particular group of people. In any work of fiction, they can help the audience to form a relationship with a character that otherwise wouldn't exist. Stereotypes can also be positive, negative, or neutral. And while giving Mario a funny accent and making him a plumber isn't exactly a positive trait, it's not like they made him a mob boss...

Also... (none / 0) (#19)
by Anonymous Reader on Tue Jul 10th, 2001 at 08:52:15 AM PST
Experts now say that this country's stereotypical views of the Japanese date back largely to World War II propaganda spread by the United States government itself, which contradicts the previously held belief that all racism was begun by either Double Dragon or Super Mario Brothers and all that is wrong with the world was caused by either Sega, Nintendo, or Id.


I know what the account confirmation problem was (5.00 / 1) (#20)
by Anonymous Reader on Tue Jul 10th, 2001 at 08:56:54 AM PST
Take the 'area23' out of the confirmation url you were sent.

They had DNS issues for a while, but I think the confirmation url was changed after you signed. If you just take it out it should work.

Thanks! n/t. (5.00 / 2) (#22)
by extarbags on Tue Jul 10th, 2001 at 01:22:59 PM PST

When the site is the troll, the troll is the truth.

I Agree (none / 0) (#13)
by fsh on Mon Jul 9th, 2001 at 06:23:45 PM PST
I fully agree that this legislation will in no way prevent serial killers, but it also is not meant to. This legislation is merely an attempt to keep corporations from marketing straight to children. A corporation is cold-blooded, amoral, and thinks only of profits, so they can use any tactics that they want. Indeed, they particularly favor peer-pressure (Pokemon: Gotta Have 'Em All), and employ psychologists who advise them on how best to create desire in the hearts of children. The parents of the child can still purchase this game, and the children can still play the game, all that is being made illegal is the marketing of the game to children. I am heartily against any legislation that impinges on the rights of fully aware adults, but as long as the child is living with the parent (and the parent is legally liable for the actions of the child) the final responsibility should lie in the hands of the parents, not the cold marketing offices of an amoral corporation.

I disagree that any child is somehow destined to be a serial killer, if that is what you are suggesting. If a problem is detected early enough, physiological problems can be cured. But this is the whole nature vs. nurture argument....

That being said, I look forward to the day when I can play Quake VIII with my nephew (3yo). But I would prefer to play such a visceral game with him when I think he's ready, and would prefer to venture online with him myself at first to see how he responds to such an experience.


Re: I Agree (none / 0) (#15)
by Anonymous Reader on Mon Jul 9th, 2001 at 10:08:08 PM PST
the final responsibility should lie in the hands of the parents, not the cold marketing offices of an amoral corporation.

IMHO, any parent who would take the time to review a game and not just rubber-stamp it for use by their child is already doing so. Corporations don't physically abduct children and make them buy games; parents can and should monitor their children's activity on their own and not bitch about how the evil, cold, heartless corporations are stealing their children from them. Any parent worth a damn already pays attention to what their kids are doing, the ones who want this law passed are the same ones who don't watch their kids when they're playing these games, who aren't with their kids when they're buying these games. The solution isn't tougher legislation that makes it harder for non-psychotics to enjoy games; the solution is simply better parenting. Because if you aren't doing any parenting, its not fair for you to ask the government to do it for you.


Registration: (none / 0) (#11)
by Anonymous Reader on Mon Jul 9th, 2001 at 06:19:46 PM PST
Btw, I'm not trolling, my login is extarbags, but it won't let me register :-P

Did you follow the confirmation url you were sent after creating the account? You need to before you can log in with the password also sent to you.


wrong, wrong, wrong. (5.00 / 1) (#23)
by Anonymous Reader on Tue Jul 10th, 2001 at 02:21:34 PM PST
This article was full of assertions that were, to some degree or other, full of crap. The most obvious is the claim that video-game violence "causes" brain damage. The referenced article said nothing of the kind: it said that certian kinds of brain damage can lead to violent behavior. It briefly discusses the possibility that these brain-damaged people might be more influenced by media violence, but it certianly does not claim that the media violence CAUSES brain damage. That is like claiming that slurred speech causes people to drink too much alchohol. I have been saturated with media violence since I was a small child, and my brain is still functioning well enough to recognise a fallacy when I see one, thank you very much. Another claim that this article makes is that the bill only encourages "voluntary" participation in a rating system, but there is nothing voluntary about it: if this law is passed and someone violates it, they will have to pay a fine. They will not have the "option" to pay the fine, they will be FORCED to pay it whether they want to or not. Make no mistake, this proposed law would abridge our freedom of speech.


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