Video Gamer Challenges the National Institute on Media and the Family



Long time video gamer, David Polus, has challenged the National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMF) to explain some concerns he has with the group and to answer some questions he has brought up.  The NIMF is often cited by many lawmakers as a trustworthy group for justifying government regulation of video games, though this group allegedly claims they oppose government regulation.  Mr. Polus has noticed unusual, and sometimes, incoherent, statements coming from this group and felt they should be brought up and addressed.

Here is the actual e-mail Mr. Polus has sent the Institute.  (The Institute, at this point in time, has yet to respond):


To whom it may concern,

I am writing you in regards to your group's stance on video games. First and foremost, I do not work in the video game industry. I am currently a graduate student, and have developed my own video games (independent/personal projects) some of which have been for class projects that showcase certain elements found in games (artificial intelligence, physics, etc). I have been playing video games for almost 20 years, so I know a lot about games and game development. I sometimes visit your website, and have watched Dr. David Walsh on C-SPAN presenting the annual report card the last few years, grading the video game industry. I am deeply troubled by some of the things that the National Institute on Media and the Family has been claiming about video games and the video game industry and was hoping that my concerns can be addressed.

Firstly, I notice on your website that you have a petition to "Tell Take 2 Interactive Software: Killing Cops Isn't Entertainment" specifically regarding their "Grand Theft Auto" game/series. This brings up my first concern. Back in 2002, the NIMF gave the video game industry an overall grade of F, mainly for violence against women by showing video clips of "Grand Theft Auto" where the person that was playing the game when the footage was taped is attacking the female characters in the game (and conveniently skipping over and not attacking any of the male characters in the game). This was used to justify the F grade the industry received (and your group had a petition going that you claimed would be sent to the same company telling them not to create video games with violence against women, just as you do now, but this time for violence against police officers). Skip over to 2005, and you now portray this "misogynistic" game/series as a cop-killing game/series. Why did it take you 3 years to come out and tell us that this series features police officers that the player can (choose to/choose not to) attack? The entire series features violence against police officers, including the same 2002 version that "earned" the video game industry an F grade for violence against women, yet the NIMF made absolutely no mention about violence against police officers until now. To me, this seems like a scam. Plan A was to portray "Grand Theft Auto" as a misogynistic game, and if Plan A fails, go to Plan B. Plan B is to portray the game as a cop-killing game. Plan A failed because though there are female characters in the game, there are also male characters in the game as well that the player can choose to attack with a baseball bat or gun or whatever, so portraying the game as a misogynistic game is rather foolish. Even Senator Joseph Lieberman has made himself look silly echoing what the NIMF has stated, by claiming that "Grand Theft Auto" is violent and dangerous towards women and girls, and the industry shouldn't create games like that if they want boys to grow up and respect women and girls. He never mentioned that the game can be considered violent and dangerous towards men, towards police officers, towards pedestrians, towards motorists, etc so I wonder where he is getting this misguided information from? Hmmm. I can't wait to see what he will say once your group tries to now convince him that this misogynistic game/series is really a cop-killing game/series instead. (Let me make a "psychic" prediction by predicting your group will give the video game industry an overall grade of F later this year for violence against police)

Speaking of the report card grades, I would like to bring up my next concerns, which are related to the 2004 report card the NIMF released, starting at the top with your claims that parents are getting double messages. You state "Reviewers across the country are hailing this game as one of the greatest ever. Reviewers are lauding the game for its technical qualities while barely mentioning the game's immoral story line. 'A game with everything but morals,' is the equivalent of a four star restaurant review praising the eatery's ambience and service but then adding as an afterthought the fact that the food is laced with salmonella." Dr. Walsh has repeatedly stated that adults should have full and free access to this game and any other game, while children shouldn't. The reviewers that this report refers to are mainly (if not, all) adults anyway, so this report card shouldn't have a problem with adults hailing the game as one of the greatest, since no matter what the reviewers state, that doesn't reduce the value of the M 17+ rating that the game carries, which helps parents decide whether their children should play the game or not. Also, comparing the game to a restaurant serving food laced with salmonella is rather ridiculous when you take into consideration that Dr. Walsh says adults should play the game if they want to (would he say that it is ok for restaurants to serve salmonella to adults if they want to, as long as the restaurants aren't serving salmonella to children?) Plus, you don't have to go beyond literature to find "immoral story lines." I doubt the NIMF would say that a Shakespeare's play with an immoral story line is comparable to a restaurant serving salmonella.

The next portion of the report card titled "Why Do They Act That Way?" (suspiciously sounds like "cross advertising" since that is the same title as Dr. Walsh's book) says that "The latest brain research shows that violent games activate the anger center of the teenage brain while dampening the brain's 'conscience.'" Please tell everyone what part of the teenage brain is activated when the youth is engaged in other mediums. What part of the teenage brain is activated when children watch violent movies, watch violence on the evening news, look at violence found in newspapers, read violent books like literature, history, or religious texts? If the anger center of the teenage brain is activated when the teenager plays video games, then the same would hold true for every other medium, and refusing to study other mediums only shows that this would be true (if researchers felt so confident in their research and if they felt confident that ONLY video games produce this result, they shouldn't be reluctant to study other mediums to see what kind of results they would get). Just before your report was released back in 2004, the masterpiece movie "Saving Private Ryan" was shown on national television uncut, uncensored, unedited, yet your group never scolded ABC for airing the film during the time of day when most children are watching television. So violence in media is "harmful" to children and you tell parents to avoid violent media for their children because it activates the anger center of a teenager's brain, but the violence in "Saving Private Ryan" is fine and doesn't "harm" children and parents need not prevent their children from watching this masterpiece film because apparently it doesn't activate the anger center of the teenage brain. Who actually is the one coming up with the "double messages" that you claim confuses parents, the video game industry or the critics who scold violence in one item, but defend it in another?

Your statement "Whoever tells the stories defines the culture" is misguided. Art always reflects culture and life. Was Pablo Picasso's "Blue Period" responsible for him feeling depressed, or was his depression the reason for him to use more blue color to convey a somber mood during this period?

Your statement "The U.S. Army now uses video games as recruiting tools because the games capture the interest of teens, shape their attitudes and influence their behavior" is also misguided. I buy the "capture the interest of teens" part, but "shape their attitudes and influence their behavior" I don't buy. What you are saying is that all those years playing Pac-Man should've "shaped my attitude and influence my behavior" and caused me to eat "dots" everywhere I see them, but unfortunately for you, this didn't happen to me.

Though I don't necessarily disagree with the report when it says games like "The Guy Game" and "Leisure Suit Larry" should probably have received an AO (adults only) rating, the double standard that your group seems to convey is that nudity in games should come with the most restrictive rating, but this shouldn't be the case with other mediums. There are numerous (A LOT) of R rated movies out there that feature nudity (full frontal nudity often times) but the NIMF has never (not once) stated that these movies should be rated NC-17 instead of being rated R. So nudity in movies can be rated R and the NIMF is fine with that, but a video game that has nudity should not be rated M (equal to the R rating), but rated AO (equal to the NC-17 rating). It's funny how Dr. Walsh has always stated that a universal rating system is feasible and needed, but the double standards coming from your group proves why a universal rating system can't happen.

But by far, the silliest section on this past year's report card is on obesity. You state "Content aside, the amount of time kids spend playing games, even the good ones, is contributing to the obesity epidemic among American youth. For too many kids, the only parts of their body they are exercising are their thumbs. We are particularly concerned, therefore, about the launch of games this year aimed at children as young as two. We know that the industry wants to expand its customer base and that it is in their economic interest to hook babies on games. This trend, however, raises serious implications for our children's health" and you gave the video game industry an F grade for obesity ("Screen time related to overweight" to be exact). Now if video games get an F grade for obesity because only a child's thumbs get exercise, what grade would your group give the book industry? When children read books, not even their thumbs get exercise, so I'd imagine a grade worse than an F (expulsion maybe?) if you had a category called "Reading time related to overweight." (I suppose selling Dr. Seuss books and Harry Potter books shows us that the book industry "wants to expand its customer base and that it is in their economic interest to hook babies on" books. It may disappoint you to know I started reading books at a very young age, and that since then, I have been hooked on books and reading. Darn.) Before you make such irrational conclusions and issue the grades, I suggest you realize the implication of doing so in regards to other activities (like reading books) and how those other activities will be affected. I urge you to look at a game like "Dance Dance Revolution" as well as games designed for the Eye Toy before prematurely claiming video games raise obesity levels. If you try to convince the public that you are a group that knows a lot about video games and a lot about the current video game market, I have no idea how a game like "Dance Dance Revolution" and games for the Eye Toy never have made it on your top 10 list of games you recommend for children and teens (unless you purposely left out those games to justify the F grade for obesity; shame, shame.)

I'm also curious as to how your group is a "non-profit" organization, yet according to your website's "Store" section, you sell numerous items, including a video tape "SEX, MURDER, AND VIDEO GAMES" for $80 (which may violate copyright laws if the tape contains video game footage).

I realize that this e-mail is quite long, but I feel I have legitimate concerns. I hope that someone at the Institute can address the issues I brought up. Staying silent on these issues will only reaffirm my position that your group isn't very trustworthy and your group agrees with what I have stated. I will also send a copy of this e-mail to Senator Joseph Lieberman and Congresswoman Betty McCollum since they always attend the conference when the report card is released, and I will send them the e-mail again as a reminder later this year before the next report card is released.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to your response.

David Polus