Friday, January 25, 2013

Before They Blamed Video Games, They Blamed Pinball

I'm often surprised how our moral panics of years past sound quaint or even downright crazy years later. The Atlantic Cities had an interesting story on the 1940's crusade against pinball machines that resulted in a New York City ban against the machines that lasted well into the 1970's.
Bygone New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia thought otherwise. As he saw it, circa January 1942, "pinball machine pushers were 'slimy crews of tinhorns, well dressed and living in luxury on penny thievery' and the game was part of a broader 'craze' for gambling," June writes. "He ordered the city's police to make Prohibition-style pinball raids and seizures its 'top priority,' and was photographed with a sledgehammer, triumphantly smashing the seized machines."

Via The Atlantic Cities
 I wonder if our current hand wringing over video games will sound just as ridiculous in a decade or so?


  1. I don't think so, Scott. The objection to pinball was that it was a gateway to vice and gambling and other unsavory but usually non-violent behavior. The argument against violent video games is that there is neuroscience demonstrating that desensitization to violence leads to a greater propensity to cause violence (that is, desensitization lowers the traditional moral self-checks and safeguards of self-control towards committing acts of violence). And Grossman and others argue that the technical and logistical skills gained and practiced during violent video game play make the players more formidable attackers once they turn violent. As we know in law enforcement, we train, using simulators and range work and simunition exercises, to respond better to active shooter and other high-risk scenarios. This training makes us better; it is not such a far stretch to think that violent video games - which resemble strongly those computer-simulator based training programs we in LE start using in the police academy and continue to use throughout LE careers - train people to kill more efficiently. This is a far cry from pinball guttersnipes.

  2. Nick, I'm not a fan of the whole Grossman argument. If he is right, how come violent crime is down in the US while video game sales, including first person shooters are up? Shouldn't we have bloody massacres on every corner? While many folks like to trot out Grossman's argument, how many studies not hawking book sales confirm his theories?

    This piece looks at some of the video game myths out there:

  3. Good questions, Scott. I'll have to introduce you to my psychologist/neuroscientist friend to get the details of the studies she referred to - not Grossman stuff but actual science. But yes, good questions. I still FEEL like there's a difference between the pinball thing and the violent video game thing. And that there is the best I can articulate it :)

  4. Nick, I am suspicious when folks from an industry that is being criticized immediately try to point the criticism at video games. I have yet to see someone killed with a XBox controller. Call me a cynic.


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