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Still Writing: Warnings on video games? Not this again

Published: March 23, 2012
Section: Opinions


Congressman Joe Baca, of the 43rd district of California, is once again pushing for warnings on video games. Hopefully he fails yet again. Like in 2009, and again in 2011, Congressman Baca wants all video games not rated EC—everything that isn’t for toddlers—to have a label linking video games to aggressive behavior. Even games like “LittleBigPlanet,” a puzzle game with an emphasis on playing, creating levels and sharing—without a violent nature—would bear the label.

Violence in video games has not been conclusively linked to violent behavior in people. Furthermore, some people may have a natural predisposition to aggression. I’m not saying that a violent video game doesn’t contribute to such a person’s behavior, just that it wouldn’t be much different from a violent movie. Furthermore, critics are still deciding what the relationship between video games and aggressive behavior looks like, if it’s even a noteworthy connection. After only a few minutes searching on the Internet, I was able to find that some studies suggest a link between violence and video games while some studies suggest no link. Additionally, as Andy Chalk, columnist for The Escapist notes, the rate of violent crime in the United States has actually decreased during the 20 years that have seen an increase in video-game popularity.

Additionally, the current video-game rating system is adequate. Baca contends that “the videogame industry has a responsibility to parents, families, and to consumers—to inform them of the potentially damaging content that is often found in their products,” and follows with a claim that playing video games can be a risk factor for disorders. The industry-rating system, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), has enough different ratings and details to accompany the ratings that inform parents of what they are buying—something Congressman Baca ignores. For example, on the case of “Mario Kart 7” next to the game’s rating of E (meaning for anyone ages six and older) they added “comic mischief.” Granted, plenty of games have notice of anything from “mild cartoon violence” all the way to “intense violence.” While there may be violence in video games, it is the buyer’s responsibility to check the labels and know what they are buying before they take it to the register. It doesn’t make sense to put an arbitrary label on anything not aimed at preschoolers.

I once spent a summer selling video games, and while for the most part it was easy, there occasionally would be a customer who was determined to find a game that had no mention of violence at all in the rating. It was never difficult to find something that met the customer’s needs. That being said, if all video games were labeled with a mention of violence, it puts an improper prejudice in the minds of a potential gamer. Anything more than mild violence is rated T (for teens) and anything more violent is given the rating of M (mature). Additionally, most retailers will not sell M-rated games to anyone under the age of 17, much like with an R-rated movie. Furthermore, the most intense rating, AO (adults only) is restricted to the point that most console developers will not allow such games on their consoles, and retailers will not sell them.

Additionally, Congressman Baca is ignoring studies that demonstrate the benefits of playing video games. There are studies suggesting that playing video games can improve hand-eye coordination, resistance to distraction, and sensitivity to information in their peripheral vision. Additionally, a study conducted a few years ago by Massachusetts General Hospital suggested that playing violent videogames can actually serve as an outlet for people to vent their stress and aggression; meaning that violent games in moderation can be good for overall well-being. In the book “Everything Bad is Good for You,” Steven Johnson argues that a player has to learn to navigate and master a highly complex system when playing video games. He further argues that in order to learn and play a game successfully, especially a demanding game, a player uses many different areas of cognition in order to play through such a game.

I may not play video games as much as I used to—the demands of classes and a social life leave me with much less personal time—but the idea that a congressman wants to put additional warnings on video games, ignoring the positives of gaming, is more frustrating than any video game I’ve ever played. Cigarettes deserve warning labels; their negative effects are well-known and there aren’t any positives to counter them. Video games have positive links as well as some questionable negative ones. The fact that there are no clear, concrete links between video games and violence, other than a few questionable incidents, does not show a necessity for warning labels on video games.