The Game Blame

Jesse Walker looks back on the history of moral panics about addictive, violent, or sexually explicit video games:

In December 1993, Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) convened a Senate hearing on violent video games. His opening statement described some high-profile crimes—a girl abducted from a slumber party, a mass shooting on a commuter train—then declared that “violence and violent images permeate more and more aspects of our lives, and I think it’s time to draw the line. I know that one place where parents want us to draw the line is with violence in video games.”

As the senator slid back and forth between describing real and virtual violence, he argued that these “so-called games” lead to real crimes: “Instead of enriching a child’s mind, these games teach a child to enjoy inflicting torture.” Lieberman and his colleagues singled out some specific releases by name. Denouncing the martial-arts title Mortal Kombat, the senator noted that the Sega version of the game featured splattered blood and decapitation; the Nintendo version did not include those elements, he conceded, but “it is still a violent game.” The politicians also attacked Night Trap, a previously obscure interactive horror movie that Sen. Byron Dorgan (R-N.D.) described as an “effort to trap and kill women.” In fact, the aim of the game was to rescue the women, not to attack them. (After the hearings, sales of Night Trap shot up.)