Port: If these book ban bills are really about protecting children, why don’t they mention violence?


MINOT, N.D. — I know I’ve been somewhat obsessive in my writing of late about censorship bills making their way through the Legislature, but you’ll have to bear with me, dear reader.

Government censorship is worthy of obsession. So here I go again, with another point to make.

In 2005, Hillary Clinton, then a U.S. senator representing New York, was at the forefront of a moral panic about video games.

One video game, in particular, drew her angst. It was called “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas,” and it contained sexually explicit scenes if players used a code that could be obtained on the internet. Clinton, a consummate political grandstander, demanded an investigation.

“Parents who rely on the ratings to make decisions to shield their children from influences that they believe could be harmful should be informed right away if the system is broken,” the future presidential candidate thundered , referring to the Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB, which was and still is the American video game industry’s content rating system.

The game was already rated “M,” meaning it was only for mature audiences. And while the explicit sexual content wasn’t precisely an advertised part of the game, its violence certainly was. The title of the game series refers to a felony crime. The premise of every game in that series — which remains one of the most popular gaming experiences in the world — is crime, violence, and mayhem.

Yet none of that was the crux problem for the panicking parents or the pandering politicians. It was the sex that pushed them over the edge. They were at peace with a game that allowed you to beat a prostitute to death with a bat, but not one that allowed you to have intercourse with one.

I brought up this anecdote during a podcast this week in which we were discussing two North Dakota bills — House Bill 1205 and Senate Bill 2306 — seeking to censor the offerings in North Dakota’s libraries, schools, and retail environments.

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