Sunday, 6 September 2015

Video Games, the work of the Devil or nothing more than the latest moral panic?

Why do some people view games as being somehow evil, as being some kind of force of nature which corrupts the young and mentally vulnerable? The truth in my opinion is that it probably has a lot to do with fear, in particular the fear of the unknown. There are many arguments that can be made for this fear but one thing that cannot be denied is that a lot of it is whipped up in to a frenzy by the media. I remember being young and the first Mortal Kombat coming out to a sea of negative press about how such a level of gore would pollute people’s minds, there was sensational outcries from this group and that group all of which amounted to the old chestnut ‘’Wont somebody think of the children?’’

This wasn’t a new thing though no when you take a step back and look at the big picture pretty much every generation has had what you can call a Moral Media Panic. Something has been claimed to be the cause of all of our ills. This can be seen with the situation that happened with the horror comics of the 1940’s and 1950’s. There were comics such as Tales from the Crypt, the Vault of Horror and countless others which contained scenes of gore, super natural monsters, and murder etcetera. I think they can best be described as scary camp fire tales turned into comic book form. These became the target of mounting criticism for their content and their potentially harmful effects on children, with claims that these comic books contributed to rising rates of juvenile delinquency.

Many cities in America tried to ban some of these publications but this was effectively overturned with a United States Supreme Court ruling in 1948 that there banning was unconstitutional.  Obviously those who wanted these books banned didn’t take this lying down various reports and articles were published and this whirlwind kept everything up in the air. In response to public pressure and the bad press they had received, an industry trade group, the Association of Comics Magazine Publishers was formed with the intent of persuading those within the industry to enter an agreement allowing them to police the situation itself.  Does this sound Familiar? If you’re a big fan of Video Games you might realise that this is somewhat echoed by the story behind the PEGI system for Video game classification.

A lot of what the political parties that are in power do is to listen to the voices of those they are responsible for and try to act in a way which will help them remain popular relevant and ultimately in power. You would think that this would mean to follow the wishes of the majority but often unfortunately this is not the case. A lot of decisions can be made based on the wants of a small loud minority, if a small minority of people see something as a problem and can whip it up into enough of a storm then politicians might either decide to take a look at the issue in question or look at how they can use it for their own gains.

In 1954, Dr. Fredric Wertham published a tome called Seduction of the Innocent, this claimed that horror, crime and other comics were a direct cause of juvenile delinquency. Wertham asserted, largely based on undocumented anecdotes, that reading violent comic books encouraged violent behaviour in children. He really painted the publishers of these comics as some kind of evil cult using these comics to corrupt children and this situation as an evil that had to be stood up to. It was not just violence he was concerned with though he was also convinced that comics stimulated deviant sexual behaviour. He noted female breasts in comics protruded in a provocative way and special attention was lavished upon the female genital region. This wasn’t everything though he also felt that comics promoted homosexuality. Famously he claimed that the Batman–Robin relationship was a homosexual wish dream of two men living together. You can see this sort of thinking echoed in the way that certain groups and institutions have chosen to focus on how the female form is depicted in Video Games.

So there we have it certain people believed that horror comics were going to turn all of the children of that time in to violent blood thirsty sexual deviants who also felt that being homosexual was an acceptable choice. The issue of horror comics was far more largely an American problem though. In the post-World War II period, horror comics arrived in Britain, largely based on reprints of American material. This led to protests similar to those in the States though. The response to these comics here was the introduction in 1955 of the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act.

From here we spring boarded into the whole Idea that the swinging music of the 60’s would cause us all to descend in to beasts who were only interested in there carnal cravings. Then we take another step forward and find ourselves met with the whole 1980’s Video nasties situation in which the government thought that explicit horror movies where the cause of all the evil in our world. I guess what this comes down to is the fact that next time someone goes on and on about the evil of gaming just remember we have been here before, something else used to be the loud minority’s whipping boy just like video games are now.

One day Video Game sex and violence will become less of a concern as people begin to worry about the next big thing which is floating on the horizon of existence. So what can you do about this as a gamer? The main answer is not a lot really. You can talk about your hobby in a sophisticated way and prove through your own life and success that not everyone who is a gamer is a blood thirsty savage but I guess the real big step is to make sure that as you slowly grow older and have children of your own, as you watch new fads come in and out you remember what people used to say about the things you were interested in. S0 when you find yourself with a child who won’t get of their hologram view screen 9000 and wash the darn pots, and when the news tries to tell you that this is because there new device, there new hobby and past time is the work of the devil before you jump on the bandwagon and blame everything on this or that you stop and take time and talk to your child. You try the things they are into with an open mind instead of taking the easy route and blaming something else.


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