There's this great page on PBS.org called "Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked". If you haven't read it, take a look and you might be surprised at what you read if you're not a gamer. It's nice to see an outlet generally recognized as intelligent and educational as PBS is stand up for the industry I work in when so many people want to tear it down. The article debunks the theories that youth aggression, violence, and desensitivity to violence increases by playing games, and even the myth that video games are aimed mainly at children (that hasn't been the case because those of us in our late 20's to 30's have grown up with gaming and are the primary audience that's introducing the younger generation to games).CBSNews.org recently ran an article titled "Where Is Our Frank Zappa?" The bulk of the article is really just the transcript of Zappa's hearings in the 1980's with Congress in regards to the PMRC (Parent's Music Resource Center). It's definitely worth reading since many of the issues can indeed be applied to games. But the article never answers the question is poses.
And it's a really good question. Why don't we have a Frank Zappa for the games industry? Someone in a forum I read speculated that the reason we don't have one is the age difference between music and video games. Zappa was in his 40s when he went before Congress. He was a seasoned veteran of the music industry. There was history and foundation there for him to work off of. But video games are only a couple of decades old, and that's if you include the harmless roots video games like Pac-Man and Pong. But the real history of video games as controversial mechanisms for fostering youth violence started with DOOM in the late 1990's. And this forum poster speculated that if you normalize the two histories, our Frank Zappa is probably a 26 year old without any clout to weild before Congress yet. It's a good theory and probably has merit. But I have another theory. I think it's because we lack a diverse enough gaming portfolio yet that we can use to defend games as a valid medium of expression. Music is art, and no one at this point can really argue otherwise. And controversy in art is somewhat easily defendable because it's part of what makes art what it is. But are games art? Not everyone thinks so, and game developers themselves don't completely agree on the answer. Within genres like rock and rap in music you can often find great examples to hold up that make the Moral Minority quiet down when you tell them, look, see? There's no reason to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Movies have the same defense strategy -- if you want to defend the issue of violence having a rightful place in all movies, then when people complain about Pulp Fiction you hold up Saving Private Ryan. It's the defense strategy that says something controversial is valid within an entire medium as long as the medium has plenty of "valid" uses of it. But games lack that when it comes to the pivotal issue of violence. It's hard to defend a game like Grand Theft Auto when we don't have anything else to hold up alongside it. We have no Saving Private Ryan in video games, no game that uses violence to show how horrible realistic violence really is.
I wish such a game existed. I wish a game developer would make a game that made a point of using what games do that no other medium does -- forcing the player to make decisions and experience the consequences -- and tie it into the issue of violence in such a way that we could make the player feel the negative consequences of actions that result in the realistic violence that we're capable of rendering in today's game engines. I don't wish this game existed because I have a problem with violence in games and want to attach morality to it -- I don't. (Hey, I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy running around in Grand Theft Auto beating up innocent people and stealing their cars. It isn't like I'm ever going to do that in real life, so why not enjoy doing it in a game?)
I wish it existed because it would force a discussion about broad-sweeping legislation of games that currently completely ignores any evaluation of the game content itself. We're on the verge of government legislating against any video game that contains material considered "violent" or "adult" based solely on the "M" rating on the box, and legislating it in ways that the movie and music industries have never seen, in ways that completely sidestep any discussion about whether or not the content in question provides discussion or educational value. Why? Because we currently don't have any games in which the violent or adult content actually does provide any value for discussion or education.
And we're doing all of this legislating because people are afraid of what they don't know anything about. Parents, the ESRB rating on the game box gives you just as much information about the game, if not more, than the movie rating gives you about the movie in its preview. If you're capable of making an informed decision about movies based on their rating without the government's help, then why aren't you capable of making the same decision about the games your child plays?