The Glorious History Of Video Game Panics

from the freak-out dept

We've talked in the past about the wonderful world of moral panics that typically show up anytime a new kind of entertainment and/or technology is introduced. Whether they revolve around Dungeons and Dragons, social media, now-accepted pagan holidays, or certain kinds of music, the hallmark of these moral whip-ups is that they rise suddenly with the introduction of the new whatever-we're-talking-about, reach a fever pitch, and then suddenly fall away once everyone realizes how stupid the whole panic thing was. That typically takes roughly a generation to cycle through, as the youth that enjoyed the horror of the new whatever-thing become adults and move on to demonizing something else. I guess it's something of a tradition, one whose history we've highlighted in the past.

Of course, the moral panic du jour for my lifetime has been video games, and that panic has been just as stupid and fact-deprived as the rest of them. If history is any indication, however, we should be entering the part of the cycle where the moral panic over video games starts to decline. As this somewhat comprehensive history of video game panics from Reason shows, adults have been at this for nearly half a century. It started with pinball arcades and, boy, does it offer some perspective on the current panics.

Video game arcades did not exist before the 1970s, but amusement arcades have been around for more than a century, giving people a place to play pinball and other coin-operated entertainments. They were tightly packed, anonymous environments filled with young people and working-class immigrants, a perfect recipe for middle-class anxieties. (There were even rumors of girls being kidnapped at arcades and sold into white slavery.) Throw in the fact that gambling was known to take place on the premises, and the venues' shady reputation was assured.
Look, which of us can honestly say we haven't been desperate for a few quarters and sold a couple of girls into white (?!!?) slavery (which I assume is somehow supposedly different than other kinds of slavery, but I don't want to know how). It should be noted that many cities, including New York, didn't lift the ban on pinball until the late seventies. From there, once video game arcades made their appearance in the eighties, the ground was already laid for how to freak out about them.

The article goes on to describe all the other game-related panics: Death Race supposedly teaching kids how to run over real people on highways in real life, Custer's Revenge and other crappy attempts to put nudity in games, the couch-potato claims that fell away once Dance Dance Revolution and the Wii made them untenable, Joe Lieberman (the man who was apparently less fit to be Vice President than Sarah Palin) being Joe Lieberman, how Doom was directly responsible for the Columbine massacre, and, of course, Grand Theft Auto, which brings this whole panicky nonsense full-circle.
The series, which started to appear in 1997 but came into its own with 2001's Grand Theft Auto III, was praised in the gaming community for its pioneering open-world environments, in which players roam freely and choose their own goals rather than following a linear, pre-set sequence of tasks. But pundits pilloried it for its morally shaky content: The gameplay could include not just car theft but murder, bank robbery, and—shades of Death Race—deliberately running down pedestrians.
And, with that, we're right back to games supposedly teaching roughly all the children to run over people in real life, despite the fact that that didn't happen the last time this nonsense was offered up as a prediction.

As always, there's good news and bad news here. The bad news is that we aren't out of the woods on the moral panic over games yet. The good news is that we probably will be soon. The bad news is that Jack Thompson is still making his noise about video games. The good news is that he was disbarred. The bad news is that the media still enjoys whipping up a panic amongst naive adults who will believe their squawks about the dangers of some of these games. The good news is that, every time they have in the past, it only resulted in higher sales for those games, which will only spur on the eventual decline of the panic. Then we can all move on to the next panic. It'll probably be, I don't know, sex robots or something.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    silverscarcat (profile), May 9th, 2014 @ 6:41pm

    Sex Robots, you say?

    You chumps and chumpettes can bite my shiny metal ass! - Bender

     

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  2.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), May 9th, 2014 @ 8:15pm

    Re: Sex Robots, you say?

    "Oh, dear, I should have shown him 'Electrogonorrhea: the noisy killer' instead."

     

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  3.  
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    vegetaman (profile), May 9th, 2014 @ 8:19pm

    I just got this new game Goat Simulator and I find myself outside eating grass and kicking the shit out of stuff everywhere and then randomly headbutting things as if I'm being controlled by an invisible third party hand.

     

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  4.  
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    Christopher Smith, May 9th, 2014 @ 8:47pm

    "White slavery"

    Come on, Helmet, I would have expected you to know or at least be able to find this one: "White" slavery was the standard euphemism for sexual slavery, to be distinguished from slavery for ordinary labor.

     

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  5.  
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    McCrea (profile), May 9th, 2014 @ 9:03pm

    Custard Ho'

    I can't tell you how many times in real life I've strapped a nude woman to a cactus and ran at her repeatedly with an erection while dodging arrows from natives.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 9th, 2014 @ 9:03pm

    Silly Article writer...

    Everyone knows that the only slaves that ever existed was black slavery.

    We never enslaved other whites, neither did we ever enslave the orientals, or even the natives...

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 9th, 2014 @ 9:04pm

    Re: "White slavery"

    because raping a chick was somehow better or worse?

    Slavery is just slavery... sure apply a color to it... makes some of it just seem... better somehow?

     

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  8.  
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    CK20XX (profile), May 9th, 2014 @ 9:32pm

    Wait wait wait, Jack Thompson is still active?

    I haven't heard anything out of him since he was permanently disbarred. He swore that wouldn't be the end for him, but it was just bluster, the only thing that's ever come out of his mouth. Has he actually done anything lately other than be defeated and irrelevant?

     

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  9.  
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    Techanon, May 9th, 2014 @ 11:29pm

    Re: Re: "White slavery"

    It's not better nor worse, just different labels.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 10th, 2014 @ 4:56am

    Mario jumps on turtles

    We must ban the Wii U and 3DS!!
    *goes outside to throw fireballs from my hands*

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 10th, 2014 @ 5:17am

    Re: Re: "White slavery"

    No. "White slavery" was a euphemism for prostitution, and did not necessarily indicate rape or even physical force. The compulsion could be drug addiction or even shame, threat of exposure, or verbal and emotional abuse. There is also a historic association of the phrase with opium and the Chinese (see the Julie Andrews movie "Thoroughly Modern Millie" for an example of the Chinese "white slavery" trope).

    The achiac middle-class model of the prostitute was of a woman somehow enthralled to work for a pimp or "trapped" in a brothel, wherein the fruits of her labor almost exclusively went to someone else, hence "slavery", with "white" affixed in the phrase to distinguish it from generic slavery in the euphemism.

    And yes, there really used to be a social need for a euphemism for prostitution.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 10th, 2014 @ 6:20am

    Re: Re: Re: "White slavery"

    Not sure you are following the logic here. There is a reason the term slave is appended.

    And for the record "enthralled" is not really much different from slavery. the "to captivate" part of its definition is someone captivated them against their will so they can pimp them out.

    Additionally keep in mind the context here. People were afraid their daughters could be kidnapped, in other words forcibly placed into the sex slave category. Saying White Slavery as a euphemism to cover that is incredibly... no down right cold hearted & ignorant.

    A female willingly submitting to prostitution should not be lumped in with females that are slaves to human trafficking.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 10th, 2014 @ 6:33am

    Yeah, the narrow minded and quick to judge are always going to be yammering on about the horrific consequences of their outrage du jour.

    Elvis was going to ruin society, rock 'n roll was the devil and these idiotic claims persist today.

    Probably the funniest video game freakout was the hot coffee mod. OMG it's the end of the world as we know it!

     

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  14.  
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    vegetaman (profile), May 10th, 2014 @ 7:41am

    I guess you could turn this same stupid argument around on them, like so:

    "I'm getting the new Wolfenstein game, because I want to fight NAZIs. You don't... You don't LIKE the NAZIs, do you? Why wouldn't you want me to fight them?"

    I'm not sure if their means to an end is "no violent video games" or "only politically correct video games".

    And that, my friends, is how art truly dies.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 10th, 2014 @ 10:12am

    I think the video game panic will remain viable for quite some time... there is always a newer/better/faster/different and some how magically worse and scarier video game being released...

     

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  16.  
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    DogBreath, May 10th, 2014 @ 10:33am

    Video games in moderation are OK

    Just don't become addicted like Alan, and you should be fine.

     

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  17.  
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    Who's That Now?, May 10th, 2014 @ 11:11am

    Tommy

    There were even rumors of girls being kidnapped at arcades and sold into white slavery.


    But he sure rapes a mean pinball.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 10th, 2014 @ 11:14am

    white (?!!?) slavery (which I assume is somehow supposedly different than other kinds of slavery


    I always assumed the name came from the idea (fact?) that white women were purchased for the purpose of sex and not for the purpose of picking cotton in a field.

     

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  19.  
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    darthskeptic, May 10th, 2014 @ 1:32pm

    Re: Wait wait wait, Jack Thompson is still active?

    He popped up in 2011 after the Entertainment Merchants Association decision. That's all I can think of.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 10th, 2014 @ 2:20pm

    Sadly

    We'll probably see more mindless moral panics over some minor difference from today's video game players. Just look at the chain of music villainization without a hint of irony. They'll find something for special pleading or just flat out ignore the hypocrisy.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous, May 10th, 2014 @ 4:31pm

    One of the claims frequently made against Custer's Revenge is that the Indian woman is "tied to a pole". Anyone who's ever played the game or seen a screenshot of it knows that isn't true. She's standing in front of a pole, there's a gap between her and the pole, nothing is holding her to it.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous, May 10th, 2014 @ 4:37pm

    Michael Knight goes GTA

    "I'm tired of being one of the good guys. I wanna go out and shoot some gangstas, sell some drugs, and beat up some hookers. Whaddaya say, KITT?"

    "I would not advise that, Michael."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    JJJoseph (profile), May 10th, 2014 @ 10:28pm

    Re: Silly Article writer...

    Yes, "we" didn't do it, but it still happened. "White" slavery involved the capture of Slav women in Ukraine & Crimea by Tatar slavers. The captured women were sold to Turkish brokers for resale as sex slaves in the Middle East. Nowadays, muslims capture any vulnerable young girls for resale, as happened recently in Nigeria.

     

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  24.  
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    JJJoseph (profile), May 10th, 2014 @ 10:32pm

    Re: white (?!!?) slavery

    You are right, but someone forgot to add that the "white women" were Slav women captured in Ukraine by muslim Tatars and sold to Turkish brokers for resale in the middle east. They're still doing it, believe it or not, because there's still good money to be made.

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 11th, 2014 @ 2:54am

    Re: Custard Ho'

    What a prick.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    Anonymous, May 11th, 2014 @ 5:34am

    Re: Re: Silly Article writer...

    Or is that just what we're being told?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 11th, 2014 @ 6:13am

    Doom was probably a contributing factor to the Columbine massacre. Dismissing it as having no influence into the deranged person's mind is just as bad as blaming the game.

    Just sayin.

    Of course video games are not reality and don't make people act out the game IRL. That doesn't mean that some "deranged" people wont be influenced by them and act them out IRL.

    Then again...I am bias. I used to play paperboy in the arcade. I was also a paperboy IRL... who on a few occasions threw the papers in the same way that I learned from the game.
    I was meant to put them through the letterbox

     

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  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 11th, 2014 @ 7:22am

    Re:

    "Doom was probably a contributing factor to the Columbine massacre"

    This claim has probably been debunked many times but I will not provide any references because that would be silly, just trust me on this on - k?


    "Then again...I am bias"

    Yes, you apparently are biased.

    If I play Frogger - a lot - will I be uncontrollably jaywalking in and out of traffic?

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 11th, 2014 @ 2:17pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: "White slavery"

    You're an idiot, "White Slave" is a standard euphemism that has existed in the lexicon for decades which you can easily look up using the power of the internet.

    http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/White-Slave+Traffic+Act

    Oh look, here's the definition right here. The one that defines what 'White Slave' means. Huh, look at that, he was correct all along. Why it goes back 100 years even to the mafia days of Chicago.

    Instead you chose to come here and tell us about how that phrasing 'offends' you instead of taking the four seconds it took to google it and find out why it's called that.

    Like we somehow care about how common words and phrases of old offend the thin-skinned people of the internet.

     

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  30.  
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    Jeff Woods (profile), May 11th, 2014 @ 2:59pm

    the media

    The bad news is that the media still enjoys whipping up a panic amongst naive adults who will believe their squawks about the dangers of some of these games.

    The period in that sentence belongs just after the word "panic".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 11th, 2014 @ 11:21pm

    Re:

    Kids have much better access to pornography than the hot coffee mod. Why it was ever taken out of the game just boggles the mind.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
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    Seegras (profile), May 12th, 2014 @ 4:05am

    Pacman

    A dark room with monotone music, with people eating pills?

    Sounds like a techno-party. And only Pacman is to blame!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 12th, 2014 @ 6:12am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: "White slavery"

    Wait...

    Words do mean something, do not diminish someone for trying to fight back against a bad euphemism.

    Think about it. How do you think black people felt when someone used a euphemism to describe their existence or when they were classified as non-human!

    I am willing to bet you would never publicly state that a black prostitute gang pressed into sex by a pimp is a "White Slave"

    Dare you...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
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    Michael, May 12th, 2014 @ 9:20am

    Re: Custard Ho'

    dolls don't count.

     

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  35.  
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    John85851 (profile), May 12th, 2014 @ 1:36pm

    Re:

    The hot coffee mod shows the hypocrisy towards sex in this country. Sure, a game can let the user run over people, shoot people with a shotgun, and even shoot down a helicopter and cause it to crash into things. But put some sex and nudity into an already M-rated game and there will be hell to pay!!!

    Wasn't there similar outrage about an unlockable sex scene in "God of War", which again, is already rated M for the blood and violence.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
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    Pragmatic, May 13th, 2014 @ 3:10am

    Re: Re: white (?!!?) slavery

    Trafficking is a form of slavery, and you don't have to be Muslim to do it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, May 13th, 2014 @ 3:58pm

    Re: Re: Custard Ho'

    Tell that to Miley.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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