Young people in China can no longer play video games – that is, unless it is a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday between 8 and 9 PM. The policy seems bizarre, but journalists have been quick to point out that moral panic about new technology is actually quite commonplace. Supposedly, Socrates himself was awfully suspicious of a developing technology called ‘writing’, believing that it made thinking less pure. Journalists have also been quick to discuss the real motivation for the policy, which is that the Chinese Communist Party fears the growing influence of technology companies. It is utterly shocking, then, that more than half of over 50s said they support banning video games in the UK, according to a recent YouGov poll.
It should go without saying that banning video games is a pretty awful idea. Some policies are unenforceable, some are economically damaging, and some are authoritarian. Impressively, a video game ban manages to be all three at once. To begin with, the economics: the video game industry is worth an enormous amount of money, and it continues to grow year on year. In 2019, the industry was worth $151.55 billion. A Statista study in the US estimated that 20% of gamers are under 18. Together, this means a video game ban on under 18s would wipe out 20% of the industry’s customer base, and an ensuing sum of over $30 billion. Moreover, the video game industry has been behind a number of important technological advances in recent years; it was the video game industry that first developed and produced Virtual Reality devices. Of all the industries a foolish government could target, then, video games are one of the most damaging.
The policy is also entirely unenforceable; it is near impossible to prevent people from accessing what they want to online, as people quickly find ways to circumvent restrictions. You need only look at the Conservatives 2015 attempt to restrict pornography in the UK to see that this is the case; for all the panic it caused amongst liberals, the government was totally unable to introduce an age-verification system for adult sites. Given that people with the technological know-how can still buy drugs and weapons online, it is inevitable that they will find ways to play video games. Perhaps more importantly, the policy is totally authoritarian. Video games are a source of harmless joy to millions of people. What right does any government have to restrict them? Who says video games are a worse hobby than any other?
In short, I think we should be very worried that so many people in their middle age or older support a policy which is both so disastrous, and so morally wrong. ‘The grey vote’ is, after all, incredibly influential in British politics. What does the YouGov poll say about this section of the electorate? Some would argue it’s pretty damning. They could point towards the psychology of ageing: numerous studies have shown that as people get older, their personality changes, and this has been linked to the conservative politics of the elderly. For instance, one review of 92 studies showed that as people age, their intellectual curiosity declines, as does their openness to experience. Another review of 88 studies showed that older people are less able to cope with ambiguity; they are more likely to impose rigid, black-and-white distinctions when they think about and judge the world. Perhaps older people want to ban video games because they lack the curiosity to learn about them, and in the absence of any real understanding of video games, impose a black-and-white value judgement; “I don’t ‘get’ video games, so video games are bad, so the government should ban them!”
Explaining the poll in this way is tempting, but it neglects the important factor of why older people undergo these psychological changes. If the changes are simply the result of altered physiology, then things are easy. Old people simply lose cognitive ability with age, and their opinions on things like video games can simply be dismissed as an effect of this process. But it is also possible that people’s psychology changes for valid reasons. Perhaps people’s openness to experience changes because as people experience more, they learn better what they like and dislike. Middle-aged people could be closed to certain experiences because they’ve tried them out, and know that they’re no fun! Similarly, by the time someone reaches middle age, they may simply have seen their opinions confirmed more times than someone younger has, making them rightly more certain in their black-and-white convictions. If this is the case, whilst we can explain elderly people’s opinions on video games in terms of their changing psychology, this gives us no reason to dismiss their opinions. Their psychology is different for intellectually valid reasons, so opinions resulting from this have to be taken seriously.
Questions about whether it is fair for the elderly to sway votes in the way that they do will never be seriously asked; the main parties are more interested in winning the grey vote than challenging it, and no traditional media outlet will risk angering the only demographic who buy newspapers. Nonetheless, Recent polls on a video game ban in the UK should be cause for concern: the policy would be disastrous, but the majority of elderly people supported it. Hopefully, a charitable explanation of elderly voting is true. If it isn’t, then the whole democratic process in the UK is thrown into question. 65% of over 65s voted for Brexit, and 67% of over 65s voted Conservative. But can they be trusted to have made an informed decision?