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The Designer's Notebook: The Moral Panic Isn't Over Yet
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The Designer's Notebook: The Moral Panic Isn't Over Yet


November 25, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3
 

What about Obama himself? He hasn't addressed the issue in detail. During the campaign he advertised inside video games, so he certainly understands their significance as a cultural force. Since children can't vote, he also recognizes that the majority of gamers are adults, and these are good signs.

In the context of a discussion about education, he remarked that children should "turn off the TV set and put away the video games" -- which I certainly agree with if he means while children are studying. I'm also all for parents exercising their authority to limit kids' access to games.

Parental abdication is part of the reason we're in this mess in the first place. If Obama agrees that the burden should be on the parents to keep inappropriate video games away from their kids, then he probably won't support efforts to censor us.

However, I don't entirely trust him on this issue. Obama is a centrist who believes in bringing parties together and trying to find compromises that both can live with. That's great when we're talking about the tax code or immigration policy.

It's not great when we're talking about the First Amendment. There's no such thing as "a little bit pregnant," and there's no such thing as "a little bit of censorship."

He's no hardcore apocalypticist who believes that the End Times are imminent and video games are a sign of man's depravity; nor is he such a bleeding heart that he thinks that game content must be federally-controlled for the sake of the children.

However, he will undoubtedly be lobbied by people who do believe such things. The question is, will he stand up to them and tell them to get stuffed? I'm not sure yet.

For the moment -- that is, the next year or so -- I don't think we need to be too worried. Both he and Congress have their plates full. The United States is fighting two wars and neither of them is going terribly well. We've lost the trust of our allies and destroyed our moral authority in the world with obscenities like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

The economy is in serious trouble. Health care is a national disaster. Our educational system is producing a generation of ignorant nincompoops like Sarah Palin, and is so underfunded that it has to sell advertising for junk food on kids' cafeteria trays. Pakistan, a nuclear nation and supposed ally, is in danger of meltdown, and Bin Laden is still out there.

There's nothing to be happy about in any of that bad news, but at least we can take some comfort in the fact that video games are not anybody's major concern at the moment. I don't think it's safe to relax, though. The economy will come back; Obama will end at least one war; and perhaps he and Congress will do something about education and health care.

In two years there will be another Congressional election, and both sides will be trying hard to prove that they serve the public better than those other guys. When that happens, video games may be back the firing line again. We'll have to be ready.

My greatest hope lies not with Obama or the Democratic Congress, but with the judges that Obama will appoint. He has the power to influence the judiciary for many years to come, and I strongly doubt that he will appoint anyone who is likely to whittle away at the First Amendment. Politicians are easily influenced by moral panics; judges less so. In theory.

Just yesterday I got a phone call from a Canadian reporter. She wanted to discuss the possibility that pro gaming leagues are encouraging video game addiction in young people. I don't have the slightest idea. They probably are, but then I think video game addiction is a non-problem in the first place -- see my earlier Designer's Notebook column, "Stop Calling Games 'Addictive!'"

Yes, a few players who can't get a grip on their lives get too involved in their hobby; but so do a few model railroaders and a few motorcyclists and a few chess players. Nobody is proposing that we should shut down model shops or professional motorcycle racing or chess clubs because some people can't handle that much fun.

But the phone call told me one thing: the moral panic isn't over. If it isn't violence, it's addiction. If it's not addiction, it'll be something else. Only when Congress is full of people who all grew up playing video games will the pressure ease, and that's still a ways off.

If you want to help fight to keep our creative freedom, join the IGDA at www.igda.org, and the ESA-backed Video Game Voters' Network at www.videogamevoters.org.


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