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The Political Game: Don't worry, be happy


Each week Dennis McCauley contributes The Political Game, a column on the collision of politics and video games:

If you haven't caught this week's edition of Time Magazine, put down EGM or PC Gamer or whatever gaming mag you read and be sure to pick up a copy.

The cover story, "Why We Worry About the Wrong Things" isn't written about the raging controversy over video game content, but it easily could have been. As I read through Jeffrey Kluger's terrific article, I was reminded over and over again about the current political battle surrounding games.

How so?

Kluger is spot on when he writes that, as a society, we obsess over scary but extremely rare threats like avian flu, which hasn't killed a single American. Yet many of us fail to be inoculated against the common strain of influenza which wipes out more than 35,000 of us every year. Or, we fret about mad cow disease in our burgers, but not about the cholesterol in red meat that contributes to heart disease, which spells game over for 700,000 Americans annually.

As Kluger also points out, unfamiliar threats are more frightening than ones we know. So you may not fear dying in a car crash, but you'll probably think twice about eating at Taco Bell after this week's sudden E. coli outbreak. The unfamiliarity issue becomes important in the video game debate if you think for a moment about the ages of those leading the charge against games. Most are 50 or older. Their hands-on familiarity with games is likely to be minimal.

What's more, the Time article got me thinking about all of the political energy devoted to attacking video games, when there's exactly zero scientific proof that a game ever made anyone kill. There are, however, plenty of known causes of crime and violence among youth. Poverty, drugs, abuse, gangs and easy access to firearms are readily acknowledged as contributing factors to the 16,692 people murdered in the United States last year.

Why aren't video game critics addressing the known causes of youth violence, instead of wasting time on cartoon combat? Why aren't activists writing nasty letters to Smith & Wesson? Why isn't Congress intent on eliminating poverty in America? Or stopping the incredible availability of weapons in our cities? Are those problems too insurmountable to tackle?

Or are they just too politically risky?

Dennis McCauley is Editor of and writes about games for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Opinions expressed in The Political Game are his own. Reach him at

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