Hillary’s (Video) Gamesmanship

It’s been ten years since then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton published a book on government policy and children with a title that soon became her catch phrase: “It Takes a Village.” When she used this saying in the book and related speeches, it was clear that by “village,” she meant a plethora of government programs and mandates to make sure parents were raising their kids correctly.

Today, Clinton’s political title has changed, and she doesn’t use the phrase much anymore. But one of her recent big-government crusades shows that her fundamental distrust of both parents and the private sector remains the same.

Over the past two years, Clinton has become a sort of “cultural warrior” against video games she deems too violent. While barely saying a critical word about the politically powerful sectors of movies, television and music, she has blamed violence in video games for a host of society’s ills and supported legislation cracking down on video game makers and retailers.“We know that violent video games have an impact on children,” Clinton said in an interview with CBSNews.com. She added that “a 7 year old should not be able to walk into Wal-Mart and buy” a violent video game.

The distrust of both parents and the private sector in these statements is breathtaking, and also displays the ignorance of Clinton and other politicos of how video games and American families work. What family do you know that lets their seven-year-old go shopping at Wal-Mart alone?

And many parents utilize a private ratings system developed by the video game industry called the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) to determine what is appropriate for their children. According to a survey by the Hart Research polling firm, 85 percent of parents whose children play video games use the ESRB regularly to monitor their children’s games. And 90 percent are satisfied with the ratings system.

But unfortunately, Clinton isn’t the only politician who wants to substitute her judgment for that of American parents. Some on the right have joined the New York Senator in her “it takes a village” approach to families and video games. In November, GOP Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia joined Clinton and Democrat Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana in a letter to the ESRB griping about “ultra-violent” games and implicitly threatening government action.

Clinton and others have supported new legislation — on top of general anti-obscenity laws already on the books — that would single out video game retailers for punishment and result in government control over the ratings system.

To be sure, there are some games that feature gratuitous violence, and the video game ratings aren’t foolproof. Just as there are some “PG” movies that arguably should be rated “R”, there are some games with mature elements that may get a lesser rating than “M” — the rating that means that games have mature elements and may not be appropriate for children under 17. Parents should monitor their kids’ video game selections just as they should scrutinize all media their children are exposed to.

And conservatives — who are rightly skeptical of government’s ability to make things better — should be wary of increased government intervention in this area, particularly the involvement of the federal government. Many of the video game bills range from impractical to counterproductive. Moreover, depending on who is in charge of Congress or the presidency, government intervention in the private ratings system could result in the blackballing of games deemed to be “politically incorrect.”

A bill sponsored by Clinton and Bayh, for instance, would subject retailers of video games to big fines for selling M-rated games to children younger than 17, even if an employee made an honest mistake. Meanwhile, other venues that make inappropriate material available to minors, such as movie theaters that let kids into R-rated movies, would not be subject to these fines.

Under bills like these, the word “violence” could be defined so broadly that it could hinder the development of the growing number of video games celebrating the heroic deeds of the American military. In fact, the very vagueness of terms like “graphic violence” has caused federal judges to strike down several state and city laws similar to Clinton’s bill as infringements of the First Amendment’s right to free speech.

A recent campaign by liberals against games based on a popular Christian adventure series should serve as a cautionary tale about increased government involvement. Based on the best-selling Left Behind series of novels co-authored by social conservative activist Tim LaHaye, Left Behind: Eternal Forces has players join a paramilitary Christian organization to fight the Global Community Peacekeepers and convert bystanders along the way.

The game’s plot line inspired howls of protest from liberal groups. They demanded that stores like Wal-Mart not carry the game, and also pushed for an M rating because of what they claimed was excessive violence motivated by religion. “It pushes a message of religious intolerance,” said one critic leading the campaign against the game.

The game was eventually rated “T” for “teen,” a less severe rating than M, by the ESRB. But imagine if the government interfered with the ratings system and critics of the game were ultimately in charge.

Even among the M-rated games, there are selections that parents might think would be suitable and even valuable for older kids. The World War II-themed Company of Heroes and World War II Combat: Road to Berlin are violent and bloody, because war itself is violent and bloody. But just as parents might take their teenagers to see the R-rated “Saving Private Ryan,” they might let their kids play these M-rated games for the same reason: to teach them about the bravery of their grandfathers and great-grandfathers serving in the U.S. military, and that sometimes freedom has to be fought for.

Reagan-appointed federal appeals court judge Richard A Posner had some words to chew on in striking down an Indianapolis ordinance restricting youth access to games that contained “graphic violence.” Writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, Posner declared, “To shield children right up to the age of 18 from exposure to violent descriptions and images would not only be quixotic, but deforming; it would leave them unequipped to cope with the world as we know it.”

But if Hillary Clinton and other politicians get involved –and somehow the laws are upheld as constitutional — we could see history cleansed of violence by a new bureaucracy enforcing a code of political correctness. The sacrifices of average American men and women would be replaced by political elites “negotiating” wars — a virtual Yalta conference.

And with video games as a precedent, other forms of “politically incorrect” media could be next. Instead of reviving the “Fairness Doctrine,” opponents of conservative talk radio could conceivably say a program should be banned because “violent” topics are sometimes covered, and it is broadcast at times when children can listen.

That’s why we should oppose proposals creating a federal “village” to control video games, and realize that to guide children through all forms of media, it ultimately takes a family.