There’s a bizarre sentiment in some game outlets that the closure of U.S. busy-body media-watching outfit The National Institute on Media and the Family, might somehow be detrimental to the game industry’s quest for moral acceptance.
One games journalist wrote, "We shouldn’t be too quick to cheer. NIMF …brought a sense of accountability to the business that may have helped legitimize it in the eyes of people who would otherwise write it off as too insular."
This is rot.
NIMF, headed up by psychologist David Walsh, sought to "educate parents and caregivers on our rapidly changing digital culture." Except it didn’t. It sought to impose its own world view on a public with genuine concerns about their children, and a real need for sensible advice. It sought to frighten people with tall tales about cannibalism and crappy buzzwords about the pornography of violence.
It distorted the reputation of ESRB, a flawed but fair system of rating games, by pretending that the absence of Adult Only games (generally reserved for sexually explicit content) somehow revealed a sinister conspiracy by the game industry to pollute the minds of young people with gore and murder. In fact, the ratings standards of the game industry are just fine, in tune with the movie industry. Every attempt to ‘sort out’ the ESRB – as opposed to simply demonizing it – has found that it does a perfectly good job.
NIMF’s annual report card on the game industry, unfortunately, was often picked up by the media as if it were presented by the UN or MIT, rather than an odd little organization based in Minneapolis.
The NIMF’s blog posts read like the hysterical ravings of people unhinged from the modern world. We are warned that "the violence and madness that most of our kids experience isn’t even in the real world, it’s on the flickering screen right in the center of our homes." Perhaps if this alleged "violence and madness’ were in the real world, we’d all be better off?
This language is not unlike the cranky work of notorious British meddler Mary Whitehouse, during the golden age of television. Morally rigid, out-of-touch, ill-informed, and ultimately unhelpful to reasonable, scientific, sensible research into how media affects normal kids, and how much they should or should not spend interacting with allegedly negative influences, like social media, television and video games.
NIMF’s manifesto claimed that "study after study shows that poor media habits undermine" children’s upbringing. Except, of course, those unmentioned studies that say that social media, and video games and a balanced media lifestyle are very good for children, and that games are a great way to learn and to teach and to share quality family time.
Walsh’s organization is closing down due to lack of funding. But he wants to continue his work. Let’s hope he doesn’t get quite so much automatic respect from the mainstream media, or even the games press.
We absolutely do need tough critics and well-informed watchdogs. But we don’t need cranks and busy-bodies. Farewell NIMF. Good bloody riddance.