Grand Theft Autonomy: Hillary Clinton, stop the crusade
Dear Hillary: Listen, I?m rooting for Clinton-Obama in ?08 as much as the next guy, but first we?ve got to get a few things straight: The United States is not a child, and you?re not its nanny.
I am, of course, referring to your recent outrage over the discovery of a sex scene in the popular video game [ITAL]Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas/ITAL.
I?m sure you know the whole story ? how Rockstar Games originally intended the scene for the game, but then at the last minute decided against it, and instead of spending a great deal of time and money editing all the code, they simply blocked the scene from the game. But some clever, naughty Scandinavians discovered how to unlock the virtual reality romp and shared their discovery with the entire world via the Internet.
And now you?re doing the unthinkable. You?re teaming up with [ITAL]Rick Santorum[/ITAL] to propose media-related legislation. Rick
a-woman?s-place-is-in-the-home, sleeps-with-a-picture-of-Pat-Robertson-under-his-pillow Santorum. Look, I?m all for establishing alliances and building political bridges, but if you?re Gandalf, he?s Saruman. Is he really someone whose ideas about the media are sound? He told Jon Stewart that Victoria?s Secret ads are a grave threat to our nation. He?s a poster boy for hyper-conservatism and (sigh) happens to represent my beloved state, Pennsylvania, in the Senate.
Your bizarre partnership with Santorum notwithstanding, don?t you think you?re being a little legislatively trigger-happy? The majority of the outrage over [ITAL]Grand Theft Auto[/ITAL]?s computer-generated jiggling came from parents who bought the game for their children, not knowing what kind of adult themes the game contained. They should, perhaps, be more outraged over their own laughable stupidity. Video games are not cheap; what kind of person drops 60 bucks without knowing what he or she is buying? Also, is there not a gigantic warning label, one that notifies the buyer that the game contains adult themes of violence and sex?
At this stage in our society, it is naive to think that only children play video games. They?ve attained a level of difficulty, entertainment, and artistry that attracts an adult audience, and therefore some games contain adult themes ? violence, crime, pixelated penises, et cetera. All this means is that parents must now treat their children?s video games as they would a movie: look at the rating and decide whether it?s appropriate. Done deal, right?
These issues raise a very serious question in my mind. To what extent can we use legislation to protect people from themselves? You want to address harmful influences on our nation?s children ? what do you think they learn when they see adults shirk blame for their mistakes and go whining to legislators because they weren?t smart enough to read a warning label? I?m sure you heard about the grandmother who bought the game for her grandchild, then tried to sue Rockstar over the game?s content. I know this is America, but does ?land of opportunity? really mean ?make someone else pay for your mistakes?? What?s next, obese people trying to sue fast-food chains?
And how, exactly, can we be so sure that video games are wreaking such moral havoc on their young players? Steven Johnson, author of [ITAL]Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today?s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter[/ITAL], recently wrote in a [ITAL]Los Angeles Times[/ITAL] editorial: ?Most of today?s games force kids to learn complex rule systems, master challenging new interfaces, follow dozens of shifting variables in real time and prioritize between multiple objectives.? Gee, that sounds a lot like the skills required to survive at a premier university, or in the ominously looming ?real world.?
Moreover, isn?t the entire point of a video game to experience something that?s not feasible in the real world, to have a fantastic adventure? Why should we trust kids to suspend their disbelief when defending Earth from space aliens, exploring magical kingdoms, or quarterbacking a pro football team, but not when they?re fleeing from an army helicopter in a stolen car? Why are we so afraid that that disbelief won?t kick back in? After all, violence in children is at its lowest since 1975. Maybe we should blame disco.
You have a history, Madam Senator, of blaming the nation?s problems on popular media. Remember in [ITAL]Independence Day[/ITAL], when Will Smith punches the space alien in the face, and retorts ?Welcome to Earth!?? He then triumphantly pulls out a cigar. You were outraged, and you blamed Hollywood for glamorizing smoking and making it attractive to young people. Why won?t you risk offending a few of your constituents and just tell them the truth, that ultimately it is their responsibility to instill values in their children? It may take a village to educate a child, as you so adamantly believe, but the village is most educational when it includes lessons on how to be good alongside examples of what is bad.
In closing, Mrs. Clinton, I must agree with Rick Santorum on one point: ?The development of adolescents is largely dependent on the environmental influences that are present in a child?s daily life.? From now on, let?s urge parents to make sure that they are the dominant environmental influence on their adolescents, and not vulgar outside forces like [ITAL]Grand Theft Auto[/ITAL] or, worse yet, Rick Santorum.