California to Ban Violent Games, South Park Encourages Assaulting Red-heads


The State of California wants to ban violent video games. That’s the take-away many gamers are carrying around with them after entirely misunderstanding and misinterpreting the latest news about violence in gaming.

There’s an incredibly ugly and empty-headed collective knee-jerk reaction among gamers that you can provoke by stringing the words “violent” and “video games” together in a sentence. The moment you do that, comment threads and boards fill up with angry, reactive comments from gamers shouting down the argument, denying up and down that real-life anything is connected to the video game world … unless of course video games are shown to produce positive benefits like improved hand-eye co-ordination and visual-spatial skills.

Video games are fine as long as they turn us all into Wizards.

Relax, gamers: no one’s trying to take your video games away. California does not want to ban violent video games. If you’re the age of majority, you can purchase and play all the violent video games you like. You can smoke, drink, lease a house, rent a car, and crank your joystick to an alarming array of pornography until you pump yourself into a pulp on your rec room floor. If that’s how you want to live your life, go nuts. The world is your sleazy oyster.

[watch local news outfit CityTV interview me on a segment about aggression and gaming]

Wait Until You’re Older to Destroy Your Brain

California figures that perhaps allowing minors to purchase products that essentially have them chainsaw-murdering innocent bystanders and hookers for forty hours straight may not be such a hot idea. They’re looking to prohibit the sale of violent video games to minors. Prohibiting the sale of harmful materials to minors and outright banning it for all citizens are two very different things.

Are Violent Video Games Really Harmful?

But wait – are video games that have the player ripping characters’ heads off with their spinal columns still attached, setting other characters on fire and urinating on them, and dry-humping the corpses of their amputated enemies really harmful to impressionable minors whose brains are still forming?

Yes. Yes they are. Now let’s move on.

Sex Kills

i think what’s really interesting about what California’s trying to do is that for seemingly the first time in their blood-soaked history, Americans are waking up to the idea that maybe violence should be treated like sex? They prohibit the sale of Nasty Cumsluts 4: The Sluttening to little kids, because it’s harmful to minors. Maybe a game where you kill a guy bare-handed with a plastic bag, or one where you punch someone in the face so hard his head explodes, is similarly detrimental to our youngfolk?

In Canada, we have a history of restricting violent material more vigorously than sexual content. Growing up, any movie that had as much as a single boob in it would get an R rating in the USA. In Canada, a movie like Road Trip, where Amy Smart flashes her funbags for a solid five minutes, gets a 14A rating. (That means if you’re 14, and your name begins with the letter “A”, you’re good to go.) In the USA, Road Trip was rated Restricted. i think it’s because Canadians recognize that handguns and chainsaws are far more dangerous than a cute 20-year-old’s tits.

Put it away! We’ll all be killed!!

The Yanks haven’t quite reached that conclusion yet. In a country where a teenager was shot to death for egging a guy’s Mercedes on Hallowe’en, they’re still puzzling over the concept that racking up a high score by murdering pedestrians with your car may not be such a hot way for an 8-year-old to spend an afternoon.

Pubic Enemy

There are no bewbz in gaming. Game developers don’t draw nipples on their character models, because breasts are deadly weapons, and guns are sexy objects of adoration. Seems a bit backwards to me … in real life, breasts are life-giving, and guns are life-removing. Game developers are clearly terrified of landing an ESRB Adults Only rating for their title, which means that 8-year-olds can’t buy their game in Wal Mart or other major retailers, and their games won’t be made available on major consoles. They’re so afraid of that punitive rating that nipples are furtively doled out like notes being passed around in class. God of War has nipples, but the sex is off-screen. No on-screen simulated Skinemax-style gyrating for poor old Kratos. There are a few other exceedingly rare examples of nudity in other titles. i don’t know if i’ve ever heard of a dude’s wang on parade in a mainstream video game title. Anyone have an example? (Oh, wait – i just came up with one. And surprise – it’s in a Grand Theft Auto sequel.)

Hot Coffee Scandal

Stop – please. These skin-free polygonal puppets with bad motion capture are getting me all hot and bothered.

[read about how the FTC got their knickers in a bunch when they discovered ta-ta’s in virtual worlds]

You also rarely hear a video game developer say “we really had to tone down the violence, because we were worried about getting an AO rating.” It’s never the violence – always the boobs. Manhunt 2 is the only example i can really bring to mind where the team received an AO rating due to violent content. There was also a big stink over Bully. For the most part, it’s business as usual with swords and guns and dismemberment, but heaven help us if Lara Croft lets slip some sweater meat. And vagina? Vagina is right out. Don’t even ASK me about vagina.

(Note that both Bully and Manhunt 2 were by developer R*, creators of Grand Theft Auto. The Manhunt 2 AO debacle was likely due to the company’s Hot Coffee scandal in GTA: San Andreas which shook confidence in the industry’s ESRB self-rating system. What happened with Manhunt 2 was political – a response engineered specifically to restore confidence in the ESRB system, and to keep the ratings power within the industry. The industry doesn’t want the government involved in legislating content, because they will not be able to peddle as many copies if fewer people are able to buy games. It’s also worth noting that the Hot Coffee mini-game contained absolutely zero nudity – just low-poly character models grinding against each other like those puppets in Team America: World Police. More on the South Park guys later.)

[read about gory game sameness at Microsoft’s Christmas preview event]

Here’s the Part You Scrolled Down to Look At

Just to compare the film and video game industries with respect to their content ratings, here’s a screengrab from a movie that was released twenty six years ago that was rated PG in America:

Sheena: Queen of the Jungle (1984)

Spoiler alert: vagina.

i would have liked to have embedded a YouTube version of that scene from Sheena: Queen of the Jungle, but you won’t find any nudity on the American-owned YouTube. That shit gets banned. What you WILL find on YouTube, and in abundant supply, is stuff like this montage of gore from Fallout 3:

Show this video to almost any teenaged boy, and what reaction will you get? Smiles.

[read my condemnation of Fallout 3]

Currently, any kid in the second grade can walk into a video game store, plop down sixty bucks’ worth of birthday money and, if the store so chooses, that kid can walk out with a copy of Fallout 3. He can’t do the same with the Blu-Ray re-release of Ass-Eaters in the Sexth Dimension. He’s too young. The State of California wants to make it illegal for stores to sell this kid harmful content like Fallout 3. Any store that breaks the proposed law can be fined up to $1000. An ill-informed parent could still buy the game and give it to his child. That would still be legal.

I Reject Your Parental Responsibility Argument

Please, folks: before you pipe up and troll out the ancient argument that parents should be responsible for monitoring the content that their children blah blah blah, please look around you. i grew up in numerous poor neighbourhoods, and spent some time as a child in a women’s shelter. i am the son of a father who abandoned his family, the child of a physically abusive stepfather, and the product of single parent mom who worked for 25 years with the Children’s Aid Society (child social services), the clients of which saw far worse things than i ever did. It doesn’t take a rational thinking person very long to recall that there’s no such thing as a parents’ license, and that not all parents can be relied upon to raise their children responsibly. It takes a village. Often, in matters of public protection and the protection of minors, the government acts as our village.

[read about how kids wished their parents would play video games with them]

Excessive Violence is Beneficial for Teenaged Boys Only

The gamers who argue the most vehemently against perceived attacks like California’s proposed law, i suspect, are teenaged boys who really want to be able to play these games without restriction. They don’t want adults to know what really goes on in these games, because they won’t be allowed to play them any more, and instead they’ll be forced to play horrible bargain-basement titles like Super Mario Galaxy 2, Braid, Rock Band, Geometry Wars, Puzzle Quest, Portal, and any number of garbage games that aren’t worth their time or money. Their minds are fully formed, they argue! They’re not impressionable! They won’t be psychologically screwed up in any way, shape, or form if they play an overtly violent video game.

[read about a study that found gore does not make a game more enjoyable]

There was an episode of South Park called Ginger Kids in which Cartman decided he was prejudiced against “gingers” (red-headed kids), and spent the episode tormenting them. It was satire. It was funny. The aim of the episode was to lampoon racism and bigotry.

Hot tip, children: don’t aim the needle of your moral compass towards South Park.

After the episode aired, numerous schools across the country reported that red-headed kids had been physically assaulted on “Kick a Ginger Day”. The movement was led by a 14-year-old with a Facebook page, and it had 20 000 followers. Kick a Ginger Day was an idea that minors, their brains not yet fully-formed, cooked up after watching South Park. They didn’t get it. They couldn’t piece together that the show was satirical, and that the creators were hoping to effect the opposite behaviour.

No adults were reported to have participated in Kick a Ginger Day.

[read about how a violent video game cost one game development team its Sigourney Weaver voice over]

What Have We Learned?

In summation:

  • Certain gratuitous depictions of violence are as age-inappropriate for minors as certain gratuitous depictions of sex.
  • Love triggers AO ratings, not war.
  • According to vocal gamers on the Internet, video games are only allowed to affect people in positive ways. Spatial reasoning yes, murderous rage no.
  • Teenagers apparently can’t be trusted to understand satire, or to grasp the difference between a content ban and a prohibition to protect children like themselves.
  • It’s better to have a loaded penis aimed at your face than a loaded gun.

37 thoughts on “California to Ban Violent Games, South Park Encourages Assaulting Red-heads

  1. Bwakathaboom

    Kudos! I thought for sure your comments section would be overwhelmed with sputtering nerd rage by now.

    Basically, what legislators want is for retail video games to face a ratings system with some teeth, like the MPAA. The movie industry faces massive economic pressure around their ratings system. If you want to make an NC-17 film you can kiss wide theatrical distribution (and half your potential revenue) goodbye. So you cut the film and resubmit for a more favorable rating.

    Regardless of what happens, online is still going to be the wild west. The credit card transaction required for an electronic purchase implies an adult was part of the process, at least enough to cover your ass legally.

    All this panic is over the retail space which, with the exception of Walmart, is in a constant downward spiral. Physical media is dead and if I were in the AAA war porn business I don’t think I’d even bother with a rating and retail distribution.

    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      Hmm… seems the rage is starting to trickle in, but not in the doses i expected.

      It’s not just retail – remember that AO games are forbidden from the major consoles as well, whether the games are boxed or digitally distributed.

      This Film is Not Yet Rated is a really good flick that shows how ulterior motives and conflicts of interest can lead to an ultimately broken self-policing strategy.

  2. Joe Larson

    Know what? I’m with you on this one.

    I keep rewriting and deleting what I’m saying here. Basically, my thinking is “You’ve stated what’s on my mind better than I’ve been able to.” So thanks.

  3. Ben Olding

    I do agree that purchasing violent games should be reserved for those 18 and over, but I still feel you are overly worried about all of this, and it bothers me that you are always arguing that violent games are bad – i play violent games, and i enjoy them and I dont kill people, people like you are trying to take this pleasure away from me, and as someone who has made violent games, that teenages play, I feel like you are labelling me as irresponsible, or worse, someone who turns teenagers into violent beings.

    Killing someone in a game isnt the same as killing someone in real life, and this is something that everyone who plays these games knows. Fallout 3, i thought, was a work of art, the violent killings just hammered home that the game was set in a violent place and helped create the unique atmosphere that game had. Your comments about people being allowed to be evil just seem bizarre to me. Why cant someone enjoy a game about being evil in their own home? Why does that equal them being evil in real life? Players can be good in the game if they choose, they are not being forced to be evil, but if they want to fantasize about it for a while, then who are you to stop them? Your study that shows that gore doesnt make a game more enjoyable is irrelevant, people shouldnt make games based on studies, they should have a vision and make it, if that vision includes violence, then so be it. So many films have been toned down to fit PG13 ratings etc for viewers, and often have suffered for it. I would hate to see that happen with games.

    Ive seen no evidence that shows that teenage boys turn into evil killers on the back on videogames, and I havent seen it happen to anyone ive ever known. There are far more things in life that turn people into evil or violent people, it amazes me that people often focus on videogames, which so obviously dont cause that much harm.

    Why not instead of focussing on the negative, perhaps do some articles about what games people should be making that will appeal to everyone, yet will not be violent.

    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      Ben – you’re an adult. Play all the violent games you want. “People like you are trying to take this pleasure away from me” <- nope! People like me are trying to take this pleasure away from children.

      i never once claimed a link between playing violent video games and committing acts of violence in real life. Not once. That's an argument that other people make, or a straw man argument that video game enthusiasts cook up to make folks like me seem foolish. Watching pornography will not give you the ability to have sex with a rock hard boner for a half an hour in twenty different positions (unfortunately?) It also doesn't mean that you'll walk out your door and find yourself at an orgy, or with three women, or fighting off tentacles.

      But why do we need direct cause and effect? (ie i chainsaw 50 hookers to death in a game, and then chainsaw 50 hookers to death in real life) Studies show that porn can affect your brain in lots of unhealthy ways. Look up "spectator syndrome" for one. Most porn is also exceedingly disrespectful to women and needlessly aggressive toward them. So while i don't think that watching gangbang videos non-stop means a guy will necessarily seek out that situation (though he might), i do think that porn at the very least leads to objectifying women more, evaluating one's own sexual performance more, desiring things that are impractical, impossible or unsafe more …

      Ditto video games. Do we need thousands of violent murders to criticize video games? i don't think so. i think an appreciate of gory, anonymous killing manifests itself in other ways – anti-social behaviour, cynicism, diminished regard for human life and the thoughts and feelings of others, competition over co-operation in all things, attention deficit … the things with which we fill our heads manifest themselves through our behaviour, in direct proportion to the amount of time we spend focusing on those things.

      You're right that i focus on negativity too much. i'm working on that. (Must be a result of all the video games i play.)

      1. Ben Olding

        Well im not even really sure about your views on porn, I think it can have some negative effects in some situations, but I suspect thats normally just a symptom of another problem. But i dont think most people think porn is the same as real life, and I dont think they think women should be treated the same as in a porn movie. for a start, in porn women don#t tend to get a headache and go to bed early ;). You can find studies to support most viewpoints. But thats another disucssion…

        Video games and porn have eon very big difference, porn is filming something happening for real, whereas video games dont at all. It would only be the same if people were actually filming acts of violence and selling them. No matter how realistic a game is, people know it didnt really happen. And therefore in games, there is nothing that leads the player to think what is going on would be acceptable in real life, and it will not desensitize anyone against the actual horors of real life violence, and I would say that in the past, children playing with wooden swords etc would be more likely to actually get them used to the ideas of violence. Shooting virtual people with virtual weapons is much more removed, because there is no real pain or danger. I dont think most of the thigns you mention would even be because of violent games specifically: and are more arguments against video games in general

        If you are arguing that it has some effect on a young person are things like ADHD etc, then I wonder why you are so concerned about it? Are you really passionate about this issue because you think children are a bit unruly, or is it, as i suspect, just because you dont like violence in games? What other causes of misbehavior in children has you campaigned against? Do you consider any games to be good for children?

        For me, as a child I was into computer games, violent and otherwise, and because of that I gained all my IT knowledge which has been far more useful for me than anything I learned in school (i know im in a minority, and maybe its not the same with an xbox as it was with an amiga)

        People have always been blaming things for anti social behaviour etc, and computer games are an easy target in todays age. Before it was rap music, before that it was TV. Whereas I think its more likely being brought up in a bad environment etc that is likely to cause children to turn out like they sometimes do. If they then act out something they saw in a game/movie/rap video/porn video then its easy to blame the media, but really thats only inspired what they do, not caused it.

        I know your article was not trying to ban violent games for adults, but from your articles, I am pretty sure that if they were all banned, you would be more than happy.

        Dry humping amputated corpses in Oblivion? I dont remember that?? you couldnt even cut off limbs in oblivion – it would have been a much more satisfying game you you could. As it was you had to hit someone in the head with an axe about 30 times before they would fall over. I remember hitting an old lady with a sledgehammer in the game (must be that ADHD), she just turned around and started boxing lol

        1. Ryan Henson Creighton

          (Oblivion was originally rated T for Teen, and its rating was upgraded to M for Mature once the ESRB re-evaluated the degree of violence later in the game, and the fact that you could “do” things to the corpses. i think any game now that has ragdoll corpses receives a more restrictive rating because of people posting teabagging and odd corpse desecration videos on YouTube)

          Ben – i’m glad you’re such a nice, charming boy, and are completely innocent with regards to pornography and its harmful effects. :) Here’s a link for you:

          and another:

          This article isn’t about porn, but i find it funny that you said “porn is real.” Porn is not real. The situations aren’t real (we were doing it and my dad walked in on us and joined in), the most interesting parts of the women aren’t real, the forced smiles on the faces of the actresses, many of whom are essentially street kids, aren’t real, and often times even the footage itself isn’t real. The positions are not comfortable in real life – they’re engineered to show off dangly bits for the camera. The scenes are often put on a loop, giving the impression that the action went on for a lot longer than it actually did. Even the boners aren’t “real” … research the job of a fluffer some time.

          i don’t think violent games should be banned. When you want something to go away, the very worst thing you can do is ban it. Untold Entertainment has five stated corporate principles. Among them:

          Non-violence in gaming (barring the presence of zombies)
          Belief in the sanctity of childhood
          The use of games to improve, rather than degrade, the human condition

          i feel that the use of violence in many games today is irresponsible and cheap, and that it degrades the human condition.

          1. Ben Olding

            I know porn is fake, but the act on camera did take place. So, when I said “porn is not real”, “porn is real” i wasnt wrong, but maybe should have been clearer. As I said I do think porn can have a negative impact, but perceived problems can often be due to other causes. e.g. in your article it said that peopel that watch porn are more comfotable of the idea of hiring a prostitute, but maybe someone who is comfortable with hiring a prostitute is more comfortable with watching porn. Maybe people who objectify women are more likely to watch porn etc. That said im sure what you say is right, i just question the degree.

            I respect your views on violence in games, but i dont really agree. theres no way i would ever be able to change your mind, but I wont hesitate to put gore into any of my games, even if you do think its cheap or irresponsible. I might start a blog and do a post about why I think gratuitous violence in games can be good.

            Its interesting that you think zombies are ok. To me a video game zombie isnt any less human than a video game human, and if both are trying to kill you in game then both are equally both worth killing first

            I still think though, for someone like you who is trying to improve the human condition, there are bigger fish to fry.

          2. Ryan Henson Creighton

            re: improving the human condition … let’s start with Farmville. :)

            And for the record, i DO actually think that rap music is harmful. But my opinion about that doesn’t matter, because i’m a white guy.

          3. Rasmus Wriedt Larsen

            removing farmville is not going to solve the problem. Then people are just going to play farmtown (or whatever). That does not mean I thinks it super dandy that so many people are obsessed with playing it!

            @ rap:
            maybe I’m a nitpicker now, but rap is a WAY of singing, not the content. Surely, most rappers songs are all about junk, but some are not. In denmark, we have a rapper who produced some highly intellectual (and musically interesting) rap.

  4. Rasmus Wriedt Larsen

    While I think it’s some nice points you make, I would not agree with all of them!

    I think the sex vs. violence ratings points is very nice. We don’t want minors to see and/or practice sex, and we do not want minors to see and/or practice violence. That be in the physical or virtual world.
    But if we go along with those lines, watching a pornographic movie doesn’t mean you’re going to start acting differently. The same goes for playing a violent video game!

    That doesn’t mean I say it’s not going to effect us at all – everything does! But I don’t think it’s reasonable to put a lot of the blame, for the violent kids (mostly in US), on violent video games.

    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      Sorry, Rasmus – i put my porn comments in my response to Ben. Porn actually DOES change the way you think and act.

      We are very much the product of the stimulation that enters our brains through our five senses – more so than many people like to admit.

      1. Rasmus Wriedt Larsen

        No problem. yes I do agree that porn will affect you! My wording came out wrong.

        My point was actually that even though porn/violence is not going to affect you in a good way, it’s not going to be the root cause of major problems either. Maybe it’s only going to affect you so little that it’s not noticeable.

  5. Chris Harshman

    I really don’t have a problem with this.

    I do have a problem with lumping Games like Halo and GTA into the same category, and under this law they would be, when there are completely different.

  6. Andy

    Ryan, love the site but i cant help but feel you missed the point a bit. As a teenager I would hate if a game like Mass Effects were put in the same isle as Nasty Cumsluts 4: The Sluttening just as I would hate seeing the godfather treated as some kind of cheap snuff film.
    The problem people have is that we don’t want violent video games to be lumped in with pornography just as i don’t want any other art form to be degraded. I do believe art should face censorship but (in reference to an old Simpsons episode) we wouldn’t put jeans on Michaelangelo’s David because it is primarily a piece of art and the nudity is only a tertiary feature.
    I don’t think people have an issue with tasteless violence or pornography being policed but we need to allow art to flourish even though we may not ourselves enjoy it. What i do have an issue with is developers not being aloud to tell the narrative that they want because of odd censorship.

    I sincerely adore your site and your educational posts are a wonderful so thank you.

    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      No – i adore YOU!

      It’s odd how delicate everyone’s being about this. If you disagree, then disagree! i wrote a deliberately provocative post, and was expecting The Internatz to unleash Hell on me. Instead, i get very kind professions of adoration and polite suggestions that i “may have missed the point” :)

      California doesn’t want to lump games in with porn either. They want to put the same restrictions around vile, baseless and exploitative violence with no artistic merit, just as we restrict vile, baseless and exploitative sexual content. Restrict it from KIDS, mind you – adults can wallow in all the sick junk they want.

      i agree that Mass Effect has no place on a shelf with pornography. If California’s argument has one major flaw, it’s that the language is very vague when it comes to defining what has artistic merit and what doesn’t … but as was the guiding principle for judging smut back in the day, “i’ll know it when i see it” applies here too. Postal 2 is clearly on a different level than Mass Effect.

      The Godfather is a great film. It’s not a great film for kids.

      i appreciate that the envelope-pushing, gonzo and fringe aspects of art help develop the more moderate artistic core of any medium, and it’s fine for that testing of boundaries to continue. Just keep it away from kids. As an adult, you may love or hate Natural Born Killers (to dust off an old one), but there’s no reason for kids to enter the debate. Let’s be grown-ups and discuss whether or not Grand Theft Auto is artistically valid. There’s absolutely no reason for us to involve kids’ opinions in that discussion.

      1. Jon Remedios

        I think those are both extremely valid points. I don’t personally think that video games consist of a dichotomy of violent and non-violent games, as I assume none of you do. Context is extremely important when discussing this issue because jumping on a Goomba and gutting a prostitute are two very different things.

        Ryan, this is where I find your graciousness towards violence against zombies a little out of place. Out of all fantastic creatures, I feel that the more anthropomorphic the creatures get the more the less tolerant the rating should be. This is two-fold with zombies due to the “fact” that they indeed used to be human. Australia recognized and acted on this if anyone remembers way back to Left For Dead 2 days.

        Now whether or not GTA has any amount of artistic merit is kind of a moot point in my eyes. Just like the film industry only a small subset of the content is has any artistic validity (in my opinion). However, that’s not going to stop films like Saw from being made, nor is it going to stop games like GTA from hitting the marketplace.

        1. Ryan Henson Creighton

          On zombies … it’s probably informed by Christian philosophy, but when Jesus said to the thief on the cross “today you will be with me in Paradise”, many took that to mean that at death, the soul is stripped from the body. That means that what’s left behind is just a husk.

          There’s no possibility of redemption for a zombie if that’s the case – zombies are just creepily re-animated husks, so fire away. Of course, this all depends on how you spin your fiction. Day of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead and Fido (and probably many others) tried to throw a little empathy in there by building zombies that we could love. But for me, there’s no additional harm that you can do to a dead body. Dead is dead, so go nuts.

          i’m also soft on robot violence. But in any situation where i think “aw man … that [whatever] that just got chopped up could have had a family and hopes and dreams and plans for the weekend,” it upsets me. That’s one of the many reasons i abhor GTA – you can just wantonly slay moms and dads at shopping malls who are collateral damage in your rise through the crime ranks. Real “fun” … that actually happened here in Toronto not long ago when some idiot missed his mark during a drive-by at a donut store and paralyzed a mom for life. No thanks, video games.

          1. Jon Remedios

            That’s interesting. I agree with you in the overall context of video game violence, but when it comes to children do you really think that they would be able to make that connection at such a young age? From where I stand the difference of zombie slaying and people slaying to a child is minimal. I understand there are a lot of other factors involved for this particular example (i.e. whether or not they actually know what a zombie is, age, and so on and so forth) but I just have a hard time believing that a child could discern the difference of the two so easily.

          2. Ryan Henson Creighton

            Oh – no, sorry. i should clarify: that rule is not about what i consider appropriate for children. That’s a corporate rule governing our stance on video game violence and the projects we develop. So if we (Untold Entertainment) were ever to do a game containing wanton violence and gore, it would have to be a game about zombies.

  7. Jon "Uppercut" Remedios

    I’m going to do my best to write a semi-coherent comment without ending on “I agree!” or “Preach it brotha!” even though I do lean toward your point of view more than the opposition. The issue I have with this article is the assumption it makes about game playing youth, being that they are completely unaware of the entertainment that they consume and unable to discern the reality within the game and the reality of the world.

    As a child growing up in the 90’s with divorced absentee parents who moved out at 14 I had pretty much free reign over what I watched and played. This wasn’t limited to, but did include a decent amount of violent media. Did it destroy my childhood? No. Did this affect me? Probably. Was the effect negative? I don’t live in separate time streams simultaneously, but as far as I can tell I’m still awesome.

    While I do think that game makers should be held accountable for the content of their games, and I don’t believe that violence should hold a higher place in the “KID DONTCHU TOUCH THIS” podium, I do think that the effects can be somewhat sensationalized. I’m not a psychologist, I don’t know teddy grams about the human brain, I can only draw from observation from me, my brother, and my social circle all of whom are relatively well adjusted individuals.

    I also think your South Park example is kind of an unfounded point. Yes I believe teenagers are by and large stupid, however, in the grand scheme of things 20000 followers is a rather insignificant number of followers considering how many teens there are. Sure this particular sample set may not understand satire, but I know a fair amount of adults who also don’t understand it. I understand the difference is that the teenagers in this example acted on their misinterpretation, but stripping media away from them is not going to stop teenagers from doing stupid things. They’re still going to find a way to get drunk or high, they’re still going be fucking assholes. Negatively generalizing the age demographic doesn’t help mitigate the problem in the least, in fact I think it’s actually more harmful than beneficial. No but seriously, I can’t stand teenagers.

    Furthermore, I think the impact of the CA’s prohibition on violent games is weighted far less than the hubub it’s triggered. Children (specifically teens) are becoming more and more tech savvy and still have just as little money as they’ve always had. If they really want to play the games they’re going to find a way (SPOILER ALERT: THE INTERNETS ARE USED FOR STEALING). Sure the numbers will go down a bit for the truly lazy, but I know as a former teenager and digital cat burglar if they want something they’ll find a way to get it.

    So I guess what I’m trying to get at is, how is this step relevant? There are larger issues at play within this matter (mainly regarding developer accountability) and how are those addressed? Oh and people aren’t…that…stupid? That was hard to say.

  8. Hafiz Kassam

    While I have no problem with banning minors from playing violent video games (or any video game with mature content), I think we need to think twice when it comes to expecting anything to come out of it.

    “Currently, any kid in the second grade can walk into a video game store, plop down sixty bucks worth of birthday money and, if the store so chooses, that kid can walk out with a copy of Fallout 3. He can’t do the same with the Blu-Ray re-release of Ass-Eaters in the Sexth Dimension.”

    Lets be realistic. Banning a minor from purchasing mature rated games is not going to stop them from playing them. They will be exposed to these games through advertising on TV or online, and if they want to play them bad enough, they will download them illegally online or play them at a friend’s house whose parents actually bought the game for their kid despite any kind of ban. Pornography is even easier for a minor to view. There are countless free sites online that kids can gain access to and watch anything their underdeveloped minds desire.

    If a kid wants to buy a mature rated game, chances are they are not going to be able to afford said game unless their parents foot the bill (that includes allowance or birthday money, as you put it), or unless they are old enough to hold down a part-time job. I am almost 31, and while my wife and I don’t have kids yet, I do put most of the onus on parents to monitor what their kids are buying, playing, and watching. If the child sees something they aren’t supposed to see, their parents need to put it into context.

    I won’t be able to stop my kids from seeing or hearing things they shouldn’t, but communicating with them often and putting things into context is the only chance I’ll have to help them understand what they’re seeing. I know it is a lot harder than that, but at least it gives you a fighting chance.

    Bottom line – the internet has opened up channels and made information and content accessible for anyone and everyone, which is something a puny ban is not going to change, no matter how far reaching.

    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      Hafiz – California does not seek to ban minors from playing violent video games. California seeks to prohibit the sale of certain video games to minors.

      You’re saying that because minors can access the content anyway, they should be legally allowed to purchase it in a store. So because unsupervised kids can very easily search for and view pornographic content on the Internet, children should therefore be permitted by law to purchase pornographic DVDs from a store? That doesn’t make any sense to me.

      And again, the parental responsibility argument shoulders the entire burden of raising a child on the parents, who may themselves be irresponsible, busy, clueless, absent, or dead. There are many, many influences in a child’s life, and it’s entirely unfair to place the entire burden on parents (this will become abundantly clear to you if you start makin’ babies). Society should be responsible for children – that includes teachers, other kids’ parents, the government, Mr. Hooper down at the general store, and the media and its regulators.

      1. Hafiz Kassam

        Apologies – I understand that the ban relates to purchasing and not playing. Just mixed up my words there.

        Anyway, I was agreeing with you that this ban makes sense, but my point was that I doubt it will do any good. Regarding the responsibility of parents, if you re-read my post, I said MOST of the onus should be placed on the parents/guardians. Of course, the child will be exposed to several authority figures and other influential people in their young life, no argument there…but the child’s parents/guardians, assuming they are present, are ultimately the last line of defense when it comes to putting things in context.

        Lastly, I never suggested that because pornography is widely available, children should be legally allowed to purchase it. Again, my whole point is that while a ban on purchasing mature rated games is a good idea, it likely won’t do much to help the situation. Pornography is an example I used to show that banning minors from purchasing said content does not stop them from viewing said content.

  9. Warren Tang

    Wow! You are who I met yesterday! I discovered your blog last week and have been really impressed — insightful, engaging, and very funny. And actually funny, not just in the flippant way of tossing over LOLs like loose change – genuinely funny. Anyway… um.. keep it up, I guess. (The other cool thing is actually generating some intelligent discourse here – if this were my blog, I’d be proud!)

    But on topic, I would have to say that prior to reading this, I was probably slightly against this move by the State of California. I hadn’t though too much about it in depth, and I actually had a really fun time playing Fallout 3. (I hope that admission doesn’t irreparably damage your opinion of me.) But I actually found your article not terribly confrontational, but really convincing. Not only this one, but also the one you wrote specifically about Fallout. If you wanted to change some opinions or provoke some thought, consider me change-provoked.

    I agree that this is a real problem, it demands attention (especially right now), and it behooves government to be party to addressing it.

    I know that the concern over violence has been around for quite some time, but I think it’s even more pressing now that games with, arguably, no core gameplay aside from addictive properties, can marchVille their way to the top of the list of Most Popular Games of All Time. That is scary. It means that there is even a bigger disconnect between the content of games, and what they mean in a grander context. You can have limbs blowing off or other…types.. of blowing… with absolutely no connection to message, or story, or situation.

    In case any of the readers here haven’t had a chance to read it yet, there is a great article on Gamasutra by Ian Bogost ( which addresses a part of this issue. It’s not something that has come up in the discussion here yet, but lobbyists who are arguing against this proposed legislation say that it violates their freedom of expression. But the article goes on to argue that this very freedom of expression isn’t even actually being utilized. So we have games that are not attempting to broaden horizons, or expand people’s perspectives, we just have violence (or whatever) for violence’s (or whatever’s) sake.

    Now, I admit that I play games with ‘questionable content’. I think I’m a very well-adjusted person. I do believe that a balanced person can play out certain negative fantasies and be okay for it. Sometimes people like to flaunt the law, and sometimes people like to hear sad stories. I think these are all acceptable sides to the human condition (whatever that means).

    However, people are impressionable, and adolescents even more so. The experiences of our lives, virtual or not, build an individual’s impression of what the world is, including what acceptable behaviour is. So, I can watch Soprano’s and not genuinely want to be a gangster, I can watch porn and not objectify women, but at some point, if I keep exposing myself to these materials, my brain will make these my reality, instead of just a fantasy or exception.

    If anyone has read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, he gives a very scary example of how people, particularly younger people, get cues from their surroundings on what is acceptable behaviour – about what is the norm. He talks about how a rash of teen suicides in Micronesia was traced back to a single well-publicized suicide. That suicide legitimized it in the minds of some teenagers, and each subsequent suicide legitimized it even further. The circumstances surrounding some of these suicides were very tenuous, and the rate of incidence very high… all inspired by an unconscious “understanding” of “what the world is like”.

    I gotta jet, but final point—the one about government responsibility. Without getting into a lot discussion around government’s duty, I believe that government is supposed to handle the things in our lives that are too big for any of us to handle alone, and that it serves as the highest form of justice (ideally, anyway). I can’t build and maintain roads on my own, or own a police force. I also have no way of understanding, measuring, or enforcing food safety (another great parallel where San Francisco is effectively banning Happy Meals). I think that it’s the government’s responsibility to help establish and/or guide our impressions of what is safe, and what is not. And perpetuating some of these ideas in video games – ideas that are set upon in people’s minds in a way that is far more prevalent and constant than news reports – is something that ought to be managed.

    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      Such kind words, Warren! Thank you for the encouragement. This blog is becoming far more popular than i’d ever imagined … i am, indeed, very proud of it.

      Bogost makes a good point. But there’s one important thing for Canucks to note on the subject of freedom of expression: there’s no actual right to free speech here in Canada. That’s an American right, not one of ours.

      The Gladwell bit about suicides blew my mind when i originally read it. Just after reading The Tipping Point, i read an older book called Influence. The author mentions many of the same studies (makes me wonder if Malcolm hadn’t been … ahem … influnced by that book to a large degree.) The Influence author, Cialdini, says that he tries not to fly or take public transit at all for a few days after a notable suicide is reported in the newspaper, because the suicide rate goes up for those few days. There’s a higher incidence of commercial airline crashes following publicized suicides. That’s insane.

      So for everyone to be humming along saying “i play violent/sexy/deviant video games, and they don’t affect ME” is all fine and good, but the suicide thing is so surprising that i can’t help but wonder if we’re not all on as even a keel as we like to think we are.

      Your last bit about government is that classic big government vs. small government thing. i’m a proponent of big government … i think that all conservatives who argue against it should enjoy living under small government for a while. Once they get a taste of the utter dystopia and and Darwinism and lawlessness and people stealing their crap from them in the middle of the night, i think they’d gladly switch back.

      1. Rasmus Wriedt Larsen

        (read though all those new comments now)

        Wow, that suicide thing sounds … surprising (in a way that makes sense) and very sad. Maybe I should pick up one of those books.

        @ Government
        Yes, such an experiment could be really fun! Here in denmark the government takes care of a lot of things! (fx a healthcare system for EVERYONE). But sadly with the current people in power, it’s getting smaller and smaller.

        @ Freedom of speach
        What ? What do you have then? I mean, what things can’t you say?

        1. Warren Tang

          Yeah, so the whole freedom of speech thing didn’t sit well with me, so I talked to a lawyer buddy of mine. From my understanding, Canadians are protected essentially equally (to Americans) through freedom of expression as stated in the Canadian Charter of Rights.

          That bit about public transit is definitely scary, although I wonder how dramatic the increase is.

          Agreed re: government. In other news, Sarah Palin is saying that she could beat obama in 2012…

          1. Warren Tang

            Not to be confrontational, but I don’t follow/agree. You said that “there’s no actual right to free speech here in Canada”, but there is, as demonstrated in your link. The limitation clause that’s also mentioned perhaps deserves more investigation, but the cases provided show two reporters being acquitted of charges, and then some limitations/court rulings on clear examples of hate propaganda — Nazi-ism, KKK(uh…ism?), promoting genocide, etc.

            So it may still fall into a bit of a grey area, but in reference to the Bogost article, it seems reasonable that Canadian game producers could call foul against their protected freedom of expression in the same way, if they were being prevented from releasing an FPS which featured a playable Taliban… or whatever the Canadian equivalent of that is. The United States, maybe. Or Justin Bieber.

          2. Ryan Henson Creighton

            Freedom of expression is different than freedom of speech. Canadians are free to express themselves with limits. If Americans want to say racist or culturally insensitive (or even merely controversial) things, they are protected by their right to free speech. In Canada, freedom of expression can be challenged, as evidenced by the link i sent, and we have hate crime laws preventing people from saying certain things about certain other people. In America – and correct me if i’m wrong here – there are no such laws. Freedom of speech reigns supreme, and you can spew all the racist bile you like.

            When it comes to issues of copyright, Canada does not have the same protections over expression that Americans enjoy – notably the notion that speech is protected if it’s parody. We don’t have a parody provision … we have a list of “fair dealing” protections. The closest we have to parody protection is “review”, or possibly “criticism”, which is not nearly in the same spirit, because we have to cite the source. Again, in America, free speech reigns supreme, and they are shielded by that constitutional right.


  10. Joseph Cassano

    Before I get started, I just want to point out that I skimmed through some of this post and its comments; I’m in the middle of going through a large backlog of readings. As such, if it seems I’ve missed something, please forgive me.

    I think equating violent games with porn is a big misstep (at least in a legal sense). If anything, they should be on level with violent films and TV. A main reason why this California case is a big deal is not because whether or not kids should be playing these games (protip: ESRB has been telling us what ages are appropriate for YEARS), but because this ruling would put violent games on a different level than other violent media (films, etc). As my understanding goes, selling a violent movie to a kid is a matter of the judgement of the retailer, not the law. That is a BIG difference. You don’t think kids should be buying violent games? Fine. But if you want to make an actual law about it, then you have to put violent films, TV, and books on the chopping block too.

    Violent media is violent media. Whether they are games or movies or TV or books doesn’t matter. The same laws regarding violence must apply to all, not just to some.

    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      Agreed – same restrictions should apply to other media. But taking on video games is daunting enough. If this law is passed in California, consider it a foot in the door.

      1. Joseph Cassano

        I don’t know if I can agree with the “foot-in-the-door” mentality. If they were trying to tackle all violent media at once, then I’d probably be fine with this law. But singling out games (or any single medium) is what irks me. Yes, video games are a daunting topic, but they are also new. As such, the public is more likely to jump on them than something established, regardless of the argument. My biggest worry is that this law passes, but then the argument of not selling violence to kids doesn’t extend to other media just because they are established. And then we have games as something separate from other media, and that can lead to very dangerous thinking in regards to our medium’s future. We don’t want another Comics Code Authority on our hands.

  11. Bill S

    “But wait – are video games that have the player ripping characters’ heads off with their spinal columns still attached, setting other characters on fire and urinating on them, and dry-humping the corpses of their amputated enemies really harmful to impressionable minors whose brains are still forming?

    Yes. Yes they are. Now let’s move on.”

    Yes, quick, move on. Before someone can point out that all the studies into the effects of video game violence have failed to provide evidence for this viewpoint. Or before someone can point out that adult-rated games only become available to “impressionable minors” when their dumbass parents buy them for them.

    Oh, I see you’ve got a paragraph on parental responsibility too. Which says, “Aaaaaaaaaah, I don’t believe in parental responsibility and that’s my argument MOVING ON.”

    Let’s see … pornography is the work of the devil, “I’ve never played Grand Theft Auto but Fox News told me you can do this in it”, anyone who plays violent games is a sleazebag… I’m hitting the snooze button. If you want to actually get gamers riled up you’re going to have to be a bit less boring than this.

    1. Ryan Henson Creighton Post author

      > Me: “are video games … really harmful to impressionable minors whose brains are still forming?”

      > You: “all the studies into the effects of video game violence have failed to provide evidence for this viewpoint.”

      You’re talking about research that studies the link between video game violence and real-world violence. In that paragraph, i’m talking about content that is harmful to young people. And that harm may play out in different ways. Clearly, since the ratio of violent criminal acts to young people playing M-rated games is low, the harm may not manifest as a spree killing. But where are the studies involving playing video games and devaluing human life? Playing video games vs. treatment of, and attitudes towards, others? Video games vs. empathy? Those are the studies i’d like to see, and i believe they can turn up more interesting results than “Medal of Honour did not make Bobby kill.”

      (to your other points: thanks to YouTube, you no longer have to play a video game to experience its content. Also, people who take exception to sleazy video game content may not necessarily be enormous fans of sleazy Fox News content)


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