What Chris Christie Gets Right About Video Games
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is pushing for legislation to ban retailers from selling violent video games to minors without their parents’ permission—a plan that flies in the face of a 2011 Supreme Court decision that shot down a California law of similar context.
Following the Sandy Hook tragedy, while groups like the National Rifle Association were busy blaming games like “Bulletstorm” for the violence, Christie pointed out the possible dangers of video games during an MSNBC appearance.
“I don’t let games like ‘Call of Duty’ in my house for PS3 and Xbox. That’s a decision we’ve made,” Christie said. “You cannot tell me that a kid sitting in a basement for hours playing ‘Call of Duty’ and killing people over and over and over again does not desensitize that child to the real life effects of violence.”
While I’ll reserve judgment on the latter statement, Governor Christie has the right idea with the former: If, as a parent, you don’t want your kids exposed to violent video games, then simply don’t allow them in your house.
This is the strategy my mother employed when I was younger. Mom familiarized herself with the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) immediately after its inception in 1994. Today, major retailers won’t sell games that have not passed through an ESRB ratings process, and the trade group has gone to great lengths to make themselves visible to parents.
Of course, as an avid gamer, I despised this.
“Mom, please let me buy [x video game],” I’d beg. “I’m [x] years old, this is ridiculous!”
“It’s M-rated,” she’d counter.
“But there’s nothing wrong with it! And I’m not crazy, they don’t make me want to kill people! What, you don’t trust me?!”
“I do, but I don’t like it.”
This conversation would repeat itself many times until I was well into my teenage years. Of course, the immediate thought is that I could walk to GameStop and buy the game myself. I’d have to scrounge around for a cool 50 dollars, but then I’m seemingly home free.
Not so fast.
Turns out as much as lawmakers want to ban violent video games from children, the ESRB is doing just fine as a self-regulating body. A 2011 FTC study shows that only 13 percent of underage teenage shoppers were able to purchase M-rated video games, a decisive lead over movie tickets, DVDs and CDs.
Even when my mom finally agreed to let me buy an M-rated game—I was 16, and I drove to the store with a learner’s permit—I was carded and needed to make the long trek out to the parking lot to summon my mother to purchase the game for me.
Meanwhile, I bought piles of R-rated DVDs from Best Buy, along with some Eminem and Jay-Z for good measure. And there was that time my underage friend, ever so subtly wearing a Drexel sweatshirt, walked right into the movie theater to see Pineapple Express while I had to flash my drivers licenses to enter.
Admittedly, if a parent or older sibling purchases a violent game and brings it into the house, they will sit on the shelf, beckoning curious young children like an unlocked liquor cabinet.
But that’s where parental controls, built into all consoles, come in.
These allow parents to restrict games based on ESRB levels. For the Xbox 360 in particular, these options are highly customizable, such as a family timer and the ability to restrict individual games.
Calling for government regulation following mass tragedies is both tiring and embarrassing, especially when considering the highly efficient ESRB and the tools it provides to help parents make smart decisions about video games themselves. That and the whole first amendment thing kind of puts a wrench in Christie’s plan.