With the recent Supreme Court decision striking down California's controversial video game sales ban to minors, there has been a lot of griping from certain vocal groups about how damaging games are to kids.
Now, I am in no way advocating that children have access to every game, rather I am in favor of parents/guardians making informed decisions about games based on ratings like another form of media which also has a voluntary industry-derived ratings board. I am of course talking about the film industry. Its ratings are also voluntarily enforced by its member theatres and retailers.
This ruling not only protects gaming, it protects film as well, since a ruling in favor of the law would have created precedence for a future challenge of the film industry. Since a lot of major retailers said they would no longer carry M-rated titles if the law stood, the financial incentive for developers to create games for players over 18, who make up 82% of all gamers, would have been greatly diminished.
But when I think about my lifetime of playing video games and I weigh it against the other media I was exposed to around the same time, I can honestly say that movies, books and the like did far more psychological scarring to me than video games have.
Off the top of my head, here are just a few of the things from my childhood (and a couple from my adulthood) which have messed me up more than any video game.
The Burning Bed: There is a particular shot from this TV movie that came up every time they discussed the film on TV, and in every trailer for it. The scene I am talking about is a close up of Farrah Fawcett's face and you can see her husband's hand with a beer in it beside her head. And when he opens it, she flinches and he just backhands her. Granted, the whole movie is upsetting, and the fact that it was a tv movie meant that at random times, as a kid, I would just run into it as part of an afternoon matinee on a network television station or on a nightly movie in syndication.
Death Wish II: I happened to see this movie on tv when I was a kid, and even though it was edited for that medium, it still featured the rape and accidental suicide of Paul Kersey's daughter. And even though I watched a lot of horror movies with my sister, that particular set of incidents really affected me.
Gravity's Rainbow: The only thing I can really remember about this mammoth book now is the thing that made me have to put it down for a few minutes. What was that thing? A woman took a dump in a high ranking member of the American military's mouth (who was receptive to that). As far as I know, I don't think any mainstream game out there has that. I could be wrong, but I so hope I am not about that.
History: I have a history degree, so I had always had a healthy interest in the subject. But with that interest, you also find out about the more sinister elements of the subject. You know, details about the Spanish Inquisition, the Mayans, the Nazis, the Japanese Army during the Second World War, the witch trials etc which will mess with your mind. To quote an very accurate internet saying, what has been seen cannot be unseen.
24-hour News: Think about how many times you've seen the video of 9/11, or school shootings, bombings etc in days that followed each of those events, or on their anniversaries. Part of me thinks it is sort of sick that every September 11th, the media decide to show the video of people leaping to their deaths from windows and the roof. I remember... I think most people who were alive and cognizant of the world during that day remember it. But I think the fact that stuff like this messes people up should go without saying.
And then as I was writing this, it also occurred to me that the generations of children the initial law was passed to protect are the same generations of kids that have cell phones and laptops with internet access and outside of real life things I've seen/experienced, the internet has been the thing that I would say has exposed me to the most disturbing things I've ever seen or read.
I have a niece. I am not really afraid of the mainstream or even indie games she is going to play. I'm a lot more afraid of the movies she is going to see and especially the sites she is going to visit before she is 18, because the worst things in those two areas would instantly make a game Adults Only and thus, unavailable to the general shopping public. I don't foresee a game where 3 people become one huge digestive system, or a game with a brutal, 9 minute rape scene filmed in one long take, let alone anything resembling one of those shock videos online.