Anti-video game activist Jack Thompson says he has been asked to draft a bill for Massachusetts banning the sale of violent or inappropriate video games to minors. Thompson bases his bill on porn statutes preventing minors from buying games that lack “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.” Thompson’s previous attempts in Utah and Louisiana have failed, the former dying in the legislature and the latter ruled as unconstitutional.
Without getting into a debate of the freedom of speech rights regarding porn, I simply want to look at how that porn definition is being applied to video games. For all the studies that attempt to link video games with antisocial and/or violent studies, other researchers are finding beneficial effects resulting from game play. Steven Johnson’s book “Everything Bad is Good For You,” examines the problem solving challenges in video games. Even the controversial Grand Theft Auto requires so much information to play, fans have written 50,000 word summaries on how to beat the game.
If video games do provide such educational benefits, then how can these laws be applied (should they get past the courts in the first place). The porn standard deems pornography as plainly recreational and even I would concede porn’s benefits are harder to defend without getting into a moral debate. But the benefits in video games can be quantified (unlike a correlation between video games and violence) from problem solving to hand-eye coordination to book and social intelligence. Grand Theft Auto forces you to budget money. You use that money to buy weapons and fronts for illegal businesses, but doesn’t that offer some political lessons? Maybe in the sequel you can bribe a politician (you can already bribe police).