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Grand Theft of Family Values
Wither the family?...
David Michael Phelps] 7/26/05
Sen. Hillary Clinton
of New York is promising to introduce legislation that would set
a fine of $5,000 on retailers who sell violent
and sexually explicit video games to minors. At the same time,
she has called on the Federal Trade Commission to launch an immediate
investigation into how explicitly sexual material was hidden “to
adults anyway” in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San
Andreas. The game was the top seller in 2004 and is the third
in the wildly popular Grand Theft Auto series, one that has been
lambasted by critics for denigrating women, glorifying violent
crime, and encouraging the “gangsta” lifestyle.
hidden scenes in San Andreas were available to gamers via shared
information on the Internet and allowed them to engage
in onscreen “virtual sex.” Initially, Rockstar Games,
the producer of the Grand Theft series, claimed that hacker programmers
created a download with program coding changes that insert the
sex scenes into their game. The company has since admitted the
scene is the product of one of its own programmers. Enter Sen.
Clinton and a request for a government investigation.
these new scenes, the Grand Theft Auto games promote society-melting
vices about which all (including those in the
government) ought to be concerned. This of course begs the question:
how ought the availability of these games be curbed? The Entertainment
Software Rating Board (ESRB), an industry association of video
game companies that reviews video games and assigns ratings,
can only do so much considering the multi-layered, highly complex
nature of video games. Perhaps, say some, more regulation is
needed to ensure that material like that in San Andreas isn’t
is reviving the age-old debate about the role of government
in regulating vice. It is a worthy debate.
the hoopla surrounding the San Andreas story, I’ve heard
little mention of the most efficient and effective means of limiting
moral pollutants like sex-soaked video games: the family.
video game industry is no different from any other business in
that it responds to market pressures. If people want video
games with characters that pimp, steal, assault, rape, and murder,
then someone will develop and sell just such a game. Scarcity
is no excuse for immorality, but it is an economic truism that
where a market exists, a product emerges. While parents definitely
do not wholly determine the market viability of violent and sexually
explicit video games, they do (or ought to) wholly control their
children’s exposure to them.
This is not to say that the
government has no role in enforcing basic norms of public morality.
Indeed, this seems to be the
sort of thing Sen. Clinton is calling for. The debate is also
about how far the government should reach. The principle of subsidiarity,
drawn from Catholic social teaching, holds that nothing should
be done by a larger and more complex organization which can be
done as well by a smaller and simpler organization. In other
words, any activity which can be performed by a more decentralized
entity should be.
applies to standards of morality as well as it does to other
societal policies. If people want
to limit the
influence of games like San Andreas, the most effective and efficient
means is by relegating the task first to an organization smaller
and simpler than the federal government, such as the family.
Instead of jumping immediately to a discussion of governmental
fines for retailers, perhaps we first ought to ask ourselves
how the problems of games like San Andreas can be dealt with
by parents and families. Perhaps instead of operating in the
spirit of Sen. Clinton’s book, It Takes a Village (read:
State), we might do better to adopt the spirit of Sen. Rick Santorum’s
upcoming book, It Takes a Family.
There are those who suggest
that video games, films, music and other media are so pervasive
that even the children of attentive
parents are assaulted by immoral ideas. This is no doubt true.
But is also misses the point that the family is the first line
of defense against moral failure. The government does have
an important role in protecting children against psychologically
harmful materials, and worse. But it does not have the primary
role. Socially poisonous materials like San Andreas might have
a much shorter shelf life if we heard this important truth
little more often. tOR
2005 Acton Institute