Dangerous games

As many state legislatures and national assemblies convened their regular schedules in January, a common theme seemed to be repeating itself. Many concerned lawmakers are looking for ways to curb the influence of violent video games, particularly on children and teenagers.

At least one congressman in the United States would like to make the sale of a mature or adult video game to a minor a federal offense.

These elected officials are doing more than just responding to pressure from interest groups. They are reacting to a scourge that has real consequences not only for the rising generation but for adults, as well.

The law may be weak in its ability to restrict personal entertainment choices. Latter-day Saints, however, have no excuse for not putting tight controls on the types of entertainment they allow into their homes. The scriptures, modern day prophets and a growing body of scientific evidence make it clear that both the body and the spirit can be seriously harmed when violence, pornography and similar matters are consumed as entertainment.

Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve put it succinctly when he said, "I believe the entertainment industry cannot portray on film people gunned down in cold blood, in living color, and not have it affect the attitudes and thoughts of some of the people who see it. I believe human sexuality cannot be continually portrayed as just another physical appetite that has to be satisfied — whenever and with whomever the urge strikes — without diminishing respect for God and His commandments. And I believe that the desensitizing effect of such media abuses on the hearts and souls of those who are exposed to them results in a partial fulfillment of the Savior's statement that 'because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold' " (Ensign, December 1996).

Contrast these debilitating effects with the injunction of the 13th Article of Faith to seek things that are "virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy." It is impossible, as the Savior said, to serve two masters (see Luke 16:13).

Researchers are drawing clear connections between the viewing of violence and violent behavior itself. This appears to be particularly true where violent video games are concerned because, unlike movies or television shows, video games are interactive. They require the player to pull a trigger or to initiate the act that will cause harm to another player. Even if this harm is done only to a fictional character on a screen, research shows such entertainment changes behavior patterns in the players themselves.

One popular game rewards players for killing police officers, and even allows players to grab innocent bystanders to use as human shields. Despite widespread protests against its release, reports are that it has sold well.

The Savior instructed that, "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:21).

Recently published research found that 30 percent of children from infants to 3 years old have televisions in their bedrooms, as do 43 percent of children aged 4 to 6 (Kaiser Family Foundation January 2005). It may be assumed that many children also have computers in their rooms with Internet connections, as well as game systems that work with their televisions.

Children and adults who expose themselves to hour after hour of degrading entertainment are defining where their treasures are. Parents who allow this should not be surprised when children weaned on violent entertainment turn their hearts away from the gospel.

Lawmakers may have few options for restricting consumers' entertainment choices, but families should exercise their freedoms by electing to fill their homes with entertainment that uplifts.

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