Video games are the scapegoat of the moment, following in the proud tradition of television, Elvis’ thrusting hips, comic books, and pinball — all which were attacked by the god-fearing preservers of a patina-colored yesteryear that never really existed.
Public Agenda, a non-partisan research group often tapped by journalists, did a series of years-long studies published in 1999 and 2002, tracking how people in the U.S. feel about newer generations.
The results were hardly surprising. Everything, according to the survey, was better back in the Golden Age, before these young whipper-snappers came along and started perverting it all, people said.
Teens and children were described by respondents as “lazy” and “irresponsible,” (53 percent) with fewer than half of adults and one-third of teens saying the next generation will make America a better place.
A whopping 71 percent of people surveyed had negative labels for teens — and the number grew to 74 percent among parents polled.
Drugs and alcohol, according to 68 percent of those surveyed, are “very serious” problems among today’s kids — but the same percentage said violence and sex on TV and in movies were dangerous. Of those people, 33 percent said the biggest problem among kids is that they simply have no values.
The strange thing is that the two most recent generations — Generation X and the Bridger Generation — seem to be doing better than ever. A quick overview of the numbers shows that mythical concept of Andy Griffith America never really existed.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, violent crimes dipped significantly in the early 80s, climbed again toward the mid-90s, and since then have plummeted to all-time lows. That’s all-time — including the fanciful daydream of the 1950s.
The data measures all the things that Jack Thompson and his ilk want to convince us are endemic today and of which video games are the root: Assaults, robberies, thefts, burglaries, auto thefts, rapes, and sexual assaults (among U.S. residents ages 12 and up).
Even better is the improvement in generational property crime rates, which have fallen steeply since 1975, with only two slight rises in 1980 and 1990.
As for homicides, people seem to think that a nation awash in school shootings is more deadly than ever before. True, DOJ data does show that there was a major increase in killings in the 1970s and 1980s, but the homicide rate has recently returned to levels unseen since the 1960s.
Even at its peak in 1991, the homicide rate was 9.8 per 100,000 people or 1/100th of a percent of the population. Today, there are about 16,000 homicides a year as opposed to about 7,500 in 1950, according to the DOJ. But in that span, the population haas nearly doubled from 150 million to about 285 million — which means the homicide rate has only risen a small percentage.
Since 1993, however — the era where the most violent video games have been introduced, the murder rate among the prime vidjagame demographic (14- to 17-year-olds) is the same as it was in 1973-1976.
Forget for a moment about Manhunt 2 and Mortal Kombat, about Grand Theft Auto and Doom.
The truth is that long before Columbine, conservatives were claiming that many pop culture staples were responsible for perceived generational fire and brimstone. Parents crusaded against the corrupting influence of jazz as soon as the term was invented at a Chicago night club in 1915. They were angered in 1953 when Elvis had the indecency to sing “black music” and again when Chuck Berry played the devil’s music in the form of rock & roll.
Copies of Voltaire’s Candide were seized and destroyed by U.S. Customs agents in 1930, and The Canterbury Tales and The Arabian Nights were banned for decades. John Scopes was convicted of teaching Origin of Species in his high school classroom in 1925. The Grapes of Wrath was banned from several libraries in 1939 because of “vulgar language” and The Catcher In the Rye was banned in Columbus, Ohio schools in 1963 because of its “anti-white” message.
Pinball was the next to draw overzealous attention. In the 1940s, parents claimed that the machines themselves were immoral; they were even linked to gambling and the Mafia. New York City seized and destroyed about 3,000 pinball machines in the late 30s and early 40s, and a ban remained in effect until 1976. Even jukeboxes were held in suspicion because the newfangled gadgets had a strange draw for the youth of the day.
A book by Dr. Fredric Wertham convinced Congress in the 1950s to place the comic book industry under scrutiny — eventually leading to the instatement of the Comic Book Code as a means of self-policing. Wertham said Batman and Robin promoted homosexuality, claimed comics were laden with subliminal female nudity, caused children to emulate violence, glorified bondage, and traumatized young children with horrific and demonic villains.
In the 1970s and 1980s, American Protestant groups targeted another pop-culture iteration, saying Dungeons & Dragons was a game based on Satanic rituals. Church camps across the nation showed cheesy videos saying that the devil was behind fantasy books and games, waging “spiritual warfare” on the faithful.
The same groups had another battlefront with television and film, saying Looney Tunes was too violent, The Smurfs taught kids about witchcraft, E.T. was a sacrilegious perversion of the Christ story, pink Teletubbies promoted homosexuality, and South Park… well, they still don’t understand that Matt Stone and Trey Parker are fairly libertarian themselves.
All of those allegations against new forms of media and distribution are just non causa pro causa arguments that lack even the benefit of statistical validation. Video games are the latest to be attacked.