The following commentary was published in the March 2001 issue of RePlay Magazine.
And so the cycle begins again, this time with violent video games. You must know the cycle I mean. It's the one that starts when an industry markets a harmful product to children. Then, to protect itself from increasing criticism, the industry takes steps to 'protect' children from this harmful-but-lucrative product under the guise of warning labels. Let's get real, how many parents walk around a gameroom with their children. Half the time, parents aren't even with their children in these environments, whether the children are at a birthday party in a family entertainment center, on a school field trip at an entertainment facility, at a skating rink or in a mall gameroom. So golly, it turns out that the industry is still actively and intentionally marketing to kids by continuing to place games in all these venues.
When parents figure this out, they are often quite ticked off. Increasingly, parents and child advocates are successful in taking action against those they believe would harm children in the attempt to make a profit. Recently, for example, legislators in both Indianapolis and St. Louis passed legislation targeting gamerooms and FECs that offer violent content. The legislation prohibits children from playing violent video games there without adult OK or accompaniment.
The game operators associations - AMOA, AAMA, and IAMOA have already challenged the Indianapolis law in court. Many game coin-operators that supply games to FECs are crying the blues about this movement against video games that seems to be spreading throughout the country.
Not only is this incredibly disingenuous, we think they're missing the chance to make even more profits by moderating their behavior.
First of all, let's acknowledge that the public knows that corporate behavior is motivated by profit. They already figured out that Joe Camel and the Hamm's beer bear campaigns weren't aimed at Grandma. In the entertainment industry, the latest spotlight on the profit motive came this September, in a Federal Trade Commission report on marketing violent entertainment to children. The FTC selected 118 electronic games that were rated Mature for violence, and found that 70 percent of those targeted children under 17 years old. The marketing plans for 51 percent expressly included children under 17 in the target audience. As FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky said, "Companies in the entertainment industry routinely undercut their own rating restrictions by target marketing violent films, records, and video games to young audiences."
Families in America are increasingly concerned that their children are constantly exposed to violence, whether in the form of TV, movies, music or games. Many families want to get back in charge of the values their children develop.
The media and game industries argue that exposure to violence in their products does not make children violent. Common sense and research says that's just not true. Video games use the same point-and-shoot action as simulations used to train Army recruits and police officers, and boys shoot not at bull's-eyes or cardboard silhouettes, but at ultra-realistic human figures, including women. This doesn't promote violence? Today's per capita aggravated assault rate is seven times what it was 40 years ago. Increasingly, adults see violent video games as being designed to teach boys to kill.
Children acquire their values not just from their families, but from everything they are exposed to in their culture. This process is called culturalization. At a minimum, media and games violence teach or reinforce the value that fighting - even killing - is an acceptable way to resolve a conflict. When children grow up in a culture that celebrates fighting and violence as an acceptable way to win, they are highly likely to acquire that value.
To understand this culturalization concept, all you need do is look at some other cultures in the world where peaceful resolution of differences is still taught to children and where violence has no place. One such area of the world is the Arabian Gulf, where moderate Islamic culture is dominant. We have been working in the Gulf for almost three years. This is not the area of the Middle East with the extremist Muslims you see so often featured in the news, but countries like Qatar, the U.A.E., Kuwait and Oman. Violence is deplored in these cultures. Differences are resolved by negotiation, no matter how great the difference.
In many of these countries, Arabs will not even raise their voice in a debate. Crime and acts against another person are almost non-existent. The reason is that these societies believe strongly in peaceful resolution and teach it to their children. Until very recent history, with the advent of satellite television and Western movies, children had very limited or no exposure to violent Western culture, and the culturalization process has been able to perpetuate nonviolent values.
In cultures where children are not exposed to violence and where society does not celebrate violent resolution as an acceptable behavior, children are more likely to grow up capable of finding nonviolent means to resolve conflict.
What this means for game manufactures, suppliers and FEC and gameroom operators is this: You can have a positive effect on people's lives by what you choose to do about violent video games. And, if this is the deciding factor, it can even make you a profit.
Parents dislike violent video games and, according to a recent scientific study in the UK, parents alone make the decision 60% of the time regarding which children's centers and when to take their children. And the other 40% of the time, they make the decision along with the children. We've found that if you give the customers what they want, they will be happy and return.
Parents are speaking out about not exposing their children to violence. Rather than fight this trend, the games and family entertainment industries should join the bandwagon and start being socially responsible in the entertainment they are serving up to children.
Socially responsible games can be popular. Games like Skeeball and Cyclone, or the nonviolent video simulators are popular and fine for children. Games that are non-violent can and do make money. Gamerooms without violent games can and do make money. Many of our clients operate them.
You don't want to land on the wrong side of this debate. Give parents a break, give society a break, and make your gameroom one where you'd be proud to send your children or grandchildren. It's time for the location-based entertainment industry to step up to the plate and make a change which will be good for both society and themselves in the long run.
Randy White is the CEO of the White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group, a Kansas City, Missouri, USA firm that specializes in the production and design of family and children's leisure venues worldwide. Randy can be reached at voice: +1.816.931-1040, fax: 816-756-5058, by e-mail or on the web: www.whitehutchinson.com.