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The More Things Change...:Moral Panic and Sony Repeating History

Written by MigsDC

Whether you’re in the West, Latin America, or Southeast Asia, the fear and disdain thrown against video games from yesteryear seems almost universal. The specifics, of course, vary depending on where one’s from, but a common thread binds these all together, which can be summed up in only one phrase: “Think of the children.”

Although there are “old guard” holdouts that persist to this day (such as Dave “Killology” Grossman), such narratives seemed to have fallout out of favor by the late-2000s. Or at least, that’s how I perceived it then. Fast-forward to 2019, and it’s another story.
In a statement given to the Wall Street Journal, according to Techradar and Cnet, Sony announced that it would be making changes to its “in-house standards” by implementing stricter rules on sexual and explicit content in PlayStation games. This decision, ostensibly “based on the rise of the #MeToo movement” and thus more indicative of progressive and feminist activism in the United States than legitimate concerns, effectively meant enforcing censorship on titles made for the company’s platform. While one can spend volumes ripping through this latter-day attempt to revive the Comics Code Authority, one key point deserves highlighting:

A spokesperson for Sony told the WSJ that its guidelines were in place "so that creators can offer well-balanced content on the platform", as well as to help ensure that playing video games "does not inhibit the sound growth and development" of young people.

If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone. As it’s yet another variation of “Think of the children,” and all the at best, dubious baggage that comes with it.

At a glance, this sounds strange. The perception of yesteryear’s moral panics, after all, tends to highlight how this stemmed largely from moral guardians, regardless if those guardians were secular, Catholic, or Protestant in origin. Contrary to the Religious Right or stereotypical old conservatives being solely at fault, however, the use of the youth as a convenient ploy transcends politics. In the U.S. for instance, members of the Democratic Party tried and failed to use legislation to censor video games. From Joe Lieberman in the wake of the first Mortal Kombat in the 1990s to Hillary Clinton in the aftermath of the infamous Hot Coffee scandal in the mid-2000s, politicians have tried to force you to “think of the children.” Out of their purported concern for the youth, be it due to violence or sexual content, it doesn’t take an expert to realize their true motive, control.

If anything, the present heirs to the Jack Thompsons of old are proving just how malleable and manipulative that deceptively appealing phrase, in all its variations, can be. Stifling free speech and imposing ideological straitjackets can be made to seem necessary or outright hidden when appealing to, or abusing in my belief, empathy towards the youth, women, minorities or what have you. However, it’s also a double-edged sword and after a while it gets a lot more difficult to mask the rot for what it is. Having seen this in myriad forms over the years, I’m certainly not buying into the latest rendition of “Think of the children” and thankfully it appears that gamers at large aren’t falling for it either.