ADDICTS scrounging for spare change so they can do it! Children too young too understand from their parents, spending their lunch money on it!
Kids isolated from society, their bodies (especially their wrists) tiring from constant abuse of it!
Truancy because of it!
Drugs? Sex? Rock 'n' roll?
No. Video games.
A few weeks ago, "Saturday Night Live" ran a public service announcement about video junkies who could be rehabilitated after a stay at Columbia House; rescued from the voracious quarter-gobblers, they'd then have money to go out and buy the new Juice Newton record. The spoof was supposedly run in behalf of an ailing record industry, but it did capture a bit of the hysteria that has accompanied the boom in video games.
If it sounds familiar, remember the days when parents, teachers and the law warned about rock 'n' roll . . . and pinball machines . . . and hula hoops . . . and television. New generations traditionally are resisted by old generations, old fashions fight a vain rear-guard action against new fashions. And the video games revolution is really the first populist movement that requires no special athletic skills or dress codes for participation; the only thing required is a body, any body, and some quarters.
Nothing epitomizes a new age more than new adaptions of enjoyment, and video games are the most accessible and personal tools in this era of computers and high technology. But many communities have responded with ordinances and zoning regulations aimed against the proliferation of video establishments, or increased taxation or licensing fees aimed (in an era of New Federalist belt-tightening) at getting a share of the allegedly easy money video games attract.
Most communities (including Washington) already have regulations banning kids under 17 from video parlors or arcades during school hours. Kids! Their minds will rot; they should be home watching television. Nobody seems to understand that arcades are the malt shops of the '80s, or the pool halls, if you take a dim view.
That attitude already has provoked one big court case, "Alladin's Castle vs. The City of Mesquite, Texas," pertaining to an ordinance that prohibited anyone under 17 entering any place with coin-operated amusement games unless accompanied by their parents. It went to the Texas Supreme Court (which held the ordinance was illegal), was appealed by the city to the 5th Circuit Court in New Orleans (which upheld the decision) and wound up at the Supreme Court (which sent it back to New Orleans, saying it could not determine if that court based its decision on federal or state law). And that's where it stands right now.
The anti-video movement has been especially evident in the last 12 months of explosive industry growth; there have been lots of new people in the business, lots of new locations, increased media attention. You can go into almost any business establishment or office building and find a video game somewhere. Some critics think the rise of video games spells the fall of the American way of life; they used to say that especially about rock 'n' roll, but the country seems to have survived the music better than it survived some political games such as Watergate and Vietnam.
Faced with blind but loud criticism, the industry has been fighting back through its trade organizations and increasingly active Washington lobbyists. The Amusement and Music Operators Association recently issued a pair of manuals, "A Community Relations Guide for the Coin Operated Amusement Games Industry" and "Coin Operated Amusement and Your Community," that seek to dispel such occasional, but common accusations as "Children are victims of industry! They put a quarter in and they're hooked! It's like gambling, they can't control it!" Nobody has statistics yet to back up the attacks or the denials, though the industry may back a research project titled "The Social Consequences of the Placement of Electronic Video Games in Communities and the Effect of Video Games on Adolescent Behavior." Most communities would undoubtedly drop legislation if they actually had to read such a work.
And while many communities are beginning to realize it's not up to state or local authorities to regulate games or whether a kid should be able to play -- a basic infringement on First Amendment rights -- some critics still operate on emotional grounds inspired by a fear of the unknown.
Locally, one Virginia community almost rejected an arcade license because the operator lived in Maryland and there had been "stories" about things that "might" have gone on in his Rockville arcade. In these matters, hearsay evidence has been the rule, and AMOA and the Washington-based Amusement Games Manufacturers Association have taken to sending representatives to hearings to present the industry side.
A lot of people who are voting on video arcades have no idea what the industry is like, have never been inside an arcade or played a game. Many establishments don't even like to be called arcades, opting for "family" or "entertainment" centers. And while there have been some sleazy operations, most have had to clean up their act to attract the players. Some of the generic accusations -- that drinking and drugs are prevalent -- are disputed by research that shows usage down, for several important reasons: Money once used for drugs and alcohol is being channeled into games, and to play the games well, a major consideration, it's necessary to think clearly and react quickly.
Then there's that old bugaboo from the rock era, the generation gap, which in this case may be more than a matter of years. The over-20 generations, psychologically prepped for 1984, have a generally negative attitude toward computers (or Big Brother), while younger people have grown up in an electronic, push-button classroom and society; they were practically raised on the video tube. Youth is at ease with the technology but elders are far from convinced. And they don't really like to see kids get a chance to do things they weren't able to do when they were kids, so they look down on the video revolution from the security of their homes.
Ironically, the home video game is prepping many adults for the arcades. The low-down truth is that most adults' mind-body coordination is decidedly inferior to most kids', and that there's nothing more embarrassing, or truly agonizing, than walking into an arcade, plunking a quarter into Donkey Kong or Ms. Pac-Man and getting knocked off the screen in 40 seconds without a score. But now kids have their parents playing Pac-Man at home, where they can practice in privacy; now when they go out, they know what it's all about, and they don't feel so intimidated playing in public.
And arcades have become clean, wholesome places for families. Some offer free games to kids who bring in report cards with A's; some have family nights when father, or even grandmother, gets to play for free (women have become a stronger presence in the last year). And it's cheap. Compare the cost of taking a family of four to the Kennedy Center Opera House ($100) or to the movies ($18) with a night at the arcade (25 cents a game).
Of course, the first generation to grow up with video games are parents now. And they understand. In their day, they had to face the music over rock 'n' roll.