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Mid-Atlantic Popular &
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

Abstract: 

“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: 
Paper

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