By Chris Zuver, A&E Editor
During an on-air discussion on October 8, CNN commentator and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum blamed video games for contributing to violence in the real world. His discussion with other commentators began in regards to the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas and how the two political parties should work together to handle gun regulation. However, partway through the discussion, Santorum began to speak about Hollywood and the video game industry:
“Violence in television and the video games — there is a mountain of evidence out there, psychological evidence, about what we’re doing to our young people with these video games, violent video games, and you never hear the left trying to go after Hollywood or the gaming market. It is never involved in this discussion. Where is the solution? Here we are. Where is the solution?”
It is, in my opinion, that neither the left nor the right should worry about Hollywood or the gaming market.
First of all, the left has already tried enforcing entertainment censorship in the last few years with an online movement known as Gamergate. This social justice-fueled brigade, led by feminist pundit Anita Sarkeesian, has proven itself to be a failure.
If we look back in time a little further, however, we can again see that the left has addressed controversial entertainment in the past. In 1985, future Second Lady, Tipper Gore helped start the Parent’s Music Resource Center (PMRC). They were an organization aimed at enforcing censorship in music that they deemed too controversial. They created a list of 15 songs that they thought should be banned from the radio. This list came to be known as “The Filthy 15.” Many of these controversial musicians who were coming under fire, including Dee Snider and Frank Zappa, defended their freedom of speech, giving infamous testimonies. However, in the end, the PMRC claimed a victory, when their campaign forced musicians to put parental advisory stickers on albums that were too ‘edgy’ for the kids. Ironically, this helped push album sales since this tactic made it clear which albums had the taboo content.
Meanwhile, if we go a little bit forward from there into the early 90’s, we arrive at a time where video games were becoming much more graphically complex. Because of this, games had the technology to clearly show images and actions that weren’t limited to a handful of pixels like in the past. The Sega Genesis version of the fighting game Mortal Kombat was notorious for its graphic display of blood and guts. Meanwhile, Sega CD’s title Night Trap was pushing the envelope with sexually-suggestive and violent scenes, using live-action footage.
In early 1993, Sega inserted their own rating system, in response to heat they had been receiving from the media. However, these ratings were often ignored. Eventually, these games caught the attention of researchers, advocacy groups, and politicians from both the left and right. People were beginning to fear that this interactive medium was influencing violence in children.
It was Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) who eventually rose to challenge the violence in video games. In 1993, along with Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), Lieberman began a battle with the video game industry, declaring that they ought to either tighten down on enforcing their own rating system, or risk government intervention.
In March, 1994, it was announced by the Entertainment Software Association, that they would form the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), which Sega, Nintendo, and five other gaming companies agreed to comply with and use their new rating system. The companies and the ESRB agreed that the ratings would not simply appear on the game’s packaging, but also in advertisements, such as TV commercials. They also agreed to commit to a customer and retailer education campaign and to make the rating system easy enough for any consumer to understand. Furthermore, to address any game developers not in agreement with the ESRB, many major retailers agreed not to accept unrated games.
Senator Lieberman knew that violence in video games wasn’t going away, and that it seemed inevitable that the gore would only increase over time. During that same year, in a July hearing in congress, he discussed and showed footage of an upcoming first-person shooter known as Doom, to stress this point.
So, in regards to Rick Santorum’s criticism of violence in the media: firstly, it is apparent that he has no idea what he talking about when he criticizes the left for not taking action. And if you argue that my last example was from over two decades ago, we can go forward from 1994 to 2005, when Lieberman joined Hillary Clinton with goals to impose harsher sanctions in the industry, in a bill that was known as the Family Entertainment Protection Act. Under this bill, there would be a prohibition on selling games to minors, where retailers could be heavily fined for breaking the rules. There would also be an audit of retailers, including possible “secret shoppers” who would pose as regular customers to see if stores were enforcing the regulations. This bill ultimately failed to pass congress.
Meanwhile, the ESRB has not simply remained rigid since they first set the ground rules in 1994. Over the years, they have adapted with the times. In 2005, they created the E10+ category and today there are 30 unique content ratings. They have also created public awareness campaigns to inform parents. Around that same time, both Europe and Japan created their own rating systems with multiple rating factors.
There is nothing to be afraid of in the entertainment world, apart from Hollywood and their obsession with dull film remakes and constant political virtue signaling. Talking-head Santorum is only using an old strawman target that poses no threat.
People like to point out high school shootings such as Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and most notoriously, Columbine, and scapegoat these events as the result of violent media. After the 1999 Columbine shooting, people began blaming provocative entertainers such as Marilyn Manson for influencing the shooters to take action. However, upon further examination of shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, we see that they were constantly bullied in school. In one episode prior to the shooting, they had been confronted by members of the school football team, who sprayed them with ketchup and mustard while referring to them as “f*ggots” and “queers.”
In 2000, an analysis by the U.S. Secret Service of 37 premeditated school shootings discovered something shocking: it appeared that bullying played a significant motivational role in more than two-thirds of the attacks.
In a Gallup poll conducted in 2012, asking Americans if certain methods would help prevent school shootings, two answers remained prominent: 53 percent thought that increasing police presence at school would be effective, while 50 percent thought that increased government spending on mental health screening and treatment was the answer.
Look, I’m going to come clean: I am a fan of heavy metal bands Converge and Dillinger Escape Plan, both acts known for their history of being aggressive and provocative. I have also enjoyed playing first-person shooters and fighting games such as “Doom” and “Mortal Kombat.” If anything, I have enjoyed all of these without feeling revved-up to cause more violence afterwards. If anything, I walk away feeling relieved, after having let off some steam.
Video games, just like movies, sports, or many other hobbies, are a means of catharsis. Why do we not play a round of “Call of Duty” and then decide kill our neighbor? Probably because we were busy letting our energy out elsewhere, such as when we work out, watch an action movie, or write about violence in video games.
You may still argue that games like “Mortal Kombat” or “Dark Souls” stir up a bloodlust. I would argue that most of the aggression I have ever witnessed from a gamer disappointed is through fists slamming on a table and cries of anger.
Mr. Santorum, I will agree with you and the Republicans that placing sanctions on guns will not stop people from getting said guns. There will continue to be bump stocks on rifles regardless of what passes into law. However, I will argue the same in regards to enforcing further sanctions against entertainment. Ever since I first played “Super Mario Brothers” as a child and stomped on monsters, and ever since I first saw a spine ripped out from a man in “Mortal Kombat,” I have never felt the urge to hurt someone, and I continue to feel this way today, even after having killed several grown men in “Call of Duty,” and after having shot so many Nazis in “Wolfenstein 3D.” I can say the same for music and movies. I may feel the adrenaline, but not the bloodlust.
Sorry Rick, but if you want to find a witch to hang, you are barking up the wrong tree. Instead of considering what is coming out of the madhouse, why don’t you focus more on the madhouse itself?