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American Culture Association

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“Wake up, Mom and Dad—this isn’t Pac-Man anymore”: The Moral Panic Over Video Games, 1993-1994

Kevin D Impellizeri (University of Delaware)

“Instead of enriching a child’s mind, these games teach a child to enjoy inflicting torture,” Sen. Joseph Lieberman declared at a December 9, 1993, Senate hearing on video game violence. During the hearing, the first of three, panelists denounced “violent video games,” alleging their negative effects on children. Threatened with federal regulation, the industry established a content-based ratings system.

This project analyzes the moral crusade against video games culminating in the hearings, placing the panic over video games within the context of larger ongoing discourses over the impact of media and leisure technology in the home. I utilize popular periodicals, publications by media critics, congressional hearings, material culture, and video game ephemera to illustrate this intense debate.

Most gaming histories take an insular approach, focusing on noteworthy companies and franchises. My project places video games within a greater historical context, showing how actors inside and outside the industry, including non-users, have shaped their development.

Media scholars have demonstrated new media have faced predictable conservative backlash throughout history. However, panics over film, music, and comic books serve as battlegrounds for greater social and cultural anxieties. For moral crusaders, video games epitomized fears over myriad issues, from concerns over violent crime; the emergence of new leisure technology, including CD-ROM, virtual reality, and the “information highway”; and the relationship between children and the media. To activists, these represented threats to traditional domestic values and the moral wellbeing of America’s children.

Presentation type: 
Scheduled on: 
Thursday, November 7, 11:00 am to 12:15 pm

About the presenter

Kevin D Impellizeri

I’m a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Delaware. By day I am a Tour Guide at Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site.; by night I read and write about video games and American culture.

My dissertation examines the cultural history of home video games in America from 1972 to 1994, focusing on the changing meaning of video game ownership and usage and how this discourse has been negotiated by producers, consumers, and nonusers. The project attempts to put video games within the context of greater debates over technology, leisure, and the media.

My weblog—PrimarySourceCode—addresses a variety of subjects, from past and current issues in video games to American culture to museums. I live in New Jersey with my wife—Ketherine Lynch—two cats and three guinea pigs.

Session information

Video Violence and Moral Panics

Thursday, November 7, 11:00 am to 12:15 pm (Bongo 2)


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