In the TN back channel, Ren recently asked: Exactly what's the problem Americans have with legislation restricting access to video games? There's an age rating on the box, so what's the big deal with enforcing it? The British have been doing it for ages, so what's the big deal?
Why are Americans different about this?
"In contrast to the system in the US, in the UK video games that are particularly realistic, or feature sex or violence, must be classified by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) under the Video Recordings Act of 1984. The Act provides that it is an offence to supply such a game to anyone below the age limit, punishable by a fine of up to £5000 or up to six months in prison. For those games not covered by the Act the UK games industry applies its own voluntary age rating system set up by the Video Standards Council (VSC) and run by the Entertainment Leisure Software Publishers Association (ELSPA) (more details about ELSPA). In the region of 90% of all titles released on to the market are exempt from legal classification." (See out-law)
Here was my pot-shot answer, at least on why the US is different than the UK:
We (I'm American, although ironically a dual citizen of the UK and US) have the same tensions between our cultural conservatives and liberal advocates as the British, but our history inflects a stronger dose of libertarianism. The Magna Carta notwithstanding, our history is based more strongly on sticking it to the Man. So, despite the wiretapping and general lunacy of this particular administration, we have a good history of rebellion, dissent and being suspicious of our government. "Big Brother" strikes a real chord here.
Also, the rugged individual ethic of the Western frontier pioneer that inflects American thinking translates into people taking responsibility for their actions rather than relying on government to do it. "Can-do" means do it yourself, not wait for the State. I recall having a conversation with an English friend about health care and why it wasn't universal in the US. She was shocked that I wasn't for it by default. Who could not endorse universal health care? But I was raised to think that I'd better look out for myself because I couldn't trust or depend on the State, and that (at least in my very Republican household) meant that others should look after themselves as well. In truth, we simply came from different socialization.
I'd also toss into the mix that there is some subconscious unease about media and blaming producers. We Americans generally do a horrible job at caring for our youth (see the Laissez Faire do-it-yourself ethic above). There are 1.5 million incidents of child abuse or molestation reported annually (one shudders to think of the actual number). Plus, we're not grand on health and education for youth right now. The enemy is us.
I'd argue that those factors create guilt over the way we treat children in general. Thus, when some external factor can be assigned blame, people tend to fairly leap out of their seats to agree, simply because it alleviates some of our collective guilt. The cause of problems is far more often an abusive known relative than some GTA game or stalker in Second Life, but who's going to face up to the fact that Uncle Fred is a pedophile?
Anyway, those are my two pence, written up in a chapter in the new Vorderer and Bryant edited volume on games:
Williams, D. (2006). A (Brief) Social History of Gaming. In P. Vorderer & J. Bryant (Eds.), Video Games: Motivations and Consequences of Use. Mahwah, New Jersey: Erlbaum.
The guilt and tension arguments aren't mine, although I buy them and have adapted them for games. The original ideas can be found in:
Glassner, B. (1999). The culture of fear: Why Americans are afraid of the wrong things. New York: Basic Books.
Am I right or wrong? Are those the real cultural forces that keep our media restrictions in place, or is it something else? Or is it some accident of circumstance? How do other country's experiences compare? I'd love to hear from some Aussies in particular. My impression is that they react and legislate entirely differently.
Is it all just an outcome of our history--bizarre cultural path dependence that stretches from the Boston Tea Party to Ozzie Osborn, through GTA and on into the future virtual world?