It is fashionable these days to decry “violence in video games” as though it were some unique phenomenon. Yet “protecting our kids” – and that typically means young males – from what is perceived as “pernicious entertainment” has a long and dishonorable history, stretching back at least a hundred years.

It began with the “dime novels”. These were book-length adventures full of color and excitement. They dealt mainly, though not exclusively, with the romantic west: Cowboys and Indians. Outlaws. Sheriffs. Rustlers. Shootouts. They were fast-paced, action-packed, and imaginative.

They were also despised by parents, denounced from pulpits and denigrated in editorials. Dime novels were going to “ruin our kids”.

Efforts against these books didn’t get very far. A change in postal regulations made them too expensive to send by mail, which was their primary outlet. In a short time, dime novels passed from the scene.

They were quickly replaced by magazines we call today, “the pulps”. Printed on cheap wood pulp paper (hence the name), they quickly became popular and diversified into niche markets: western, mystery, detective, science fiction, horror, railroads, aviation, romance and many more.

They flourished especially during the Depression. Like their predecessors, the dime novels, they were fast-paced, action-packed, and imaginative.

Also like the dime novels, they were railed against as a corrupting influence on the young. Especially singled out was the mildly-sexual “Spicy” line (from the ironically-named Culture Publications), such as “Spicy Mystery”, “Spicy Detective” and the like. These, in fact, were banned in New York, through the efforts of then-Mayor Fiorello Laguardia. The U.S. Post Office got into the act, as well, and the “Spicy” pulps vanished into history.

The death knell for the pulps, however, came not from outraged moralists, but World War II. Paper shortages and writers called to military service dealt the magazines a severe blow. The pulps never recovered from that, and a new post-war market for inexpensive paperbacks spelled the end for them.

While the pulps were on the rise, so was radio. And that, too, did not escape the wrath of moral watchdogs. Some of the shows aimed at childern, such as “Jack Armstrong”, “Jungle Jim”, and “The Green Hornet”, were castigated as being “too violent for kids”. Not surprising, these programs tended to be fast-paced, action-packed, and imaginative.

Radio peaked in the 1940’s and declined rapidly as television came in. Once again, concerns arose over the quality of children’s programming, with the added worries of commercials and too much TV watching. Parents complained that their children seemed “glued to the tube.

At the same time, there was growing concern over “juvenile delinquency”, and the usual self-appointed guardians of moral welfare went looking for the cause. They found it in comic books, particularly the horror variety, such as “Tales From The Crypt” and “The Vault Of Horror”.

This time, with intense pressure from both the public and the government (in the form of the Kefauver Commission), the publishers knuckled under. They hastily formed the Comics Magazine Association of America, worked up a code, and put a small seal on their products to assure parents they were “wholesome” and not a vile, corrupting, influence. Horror comics, impossible under the new code, vanished from the stands.

We see here a distinct pattern. In each generation, there is something “the kids” like that the parents don’t. In all instances, that “something” has been a form of entertainment, be it written, spoken, or visual, that contains action, drama, imagination, and some degree of violence.

Now computer and video games are going through the cycle, under assault as a corrupting influence, as something that will “ruin our kids”. And as it has been with all the others, it is an unfair assault.

Sensationalism sells. It is the sensationalistic headlines that move the most copies of newspapers and magazines, that draw the crowds to websites.

However, the sensational is not always accurately portrayed. Whether from inept journalism, hidden agendas, misguided thinking, personal prejudices, or any combination of those, only the worst side is presented.

Do some games go too far? certainly. This has been true of all entertainment media, be they books, movies, TV shows or plays, right from the beginning. Someone is always out there testing the limits, pushing the boundaries. Computer games, in that respect, are no different.

The problem arises when a game is held up to exemplify an entire genre, in the poorest possible light. The impression is given that all games are similar, and have negative effects on those who play them, especially – as usual – young males.

With millions of gamers worldwide, we would expect to be hearing daily about hordes of raving maniacs wreaking death and destruction everywhere. Obviously, that is not the case.

We are a violent species, and to deny that is futile. Some have claimed that the 20th century was the most violent in history. I leave that for others to debate, but it is definitely true that the past hundred years have been full of great turmoil. That didn’t come from people playing computer games.

Our real concern should be with real-world violence. Over the years, as communications have expanded from the telegraph to the telephone, the radio, the television set, and now the Internet, we have become more inundated by more news than ever before. And much of that news is about violence of one kind or another.

What effect is “the real thing” having on children? For that matter, what effect does it have on adults? Are we becoming numb to violence, or is it that we’ve just given up and want someone, anyone, to give us a reason, a cause, a source, a target we can pinpoint and eliminate, so we might have the illusion that something positive has been accomplished?

It is, perhaps, human nature to look for the easy answer, the quick and dirty solution. But life is too complex for that, however we may wish otherwise. The comics code, for instance, had no effect whatever on “juvenile delinquency”.

Violence in computer games, or indeed, any medium, is only a reflection of the violence in the real world. “Cracking down” on these games would be of no avail. The problem of violence has been with us since the dawn of the human race, and it won’t be solved by pointing fingers at dime novels, radio programs, horror comics, or computer games.

We should be pointing at ourselves. Until we can learn not to despise or hate each other over trivial differences, violence will always be with us. That is the true issue we have to deal with.miniscorp