Monday, August 29, 2005


Videogames: Stealing the innocence of our children?

For the last year I have been working on a computer game. A game which involves shooting people. Not robots, dinosaurs or even space aliens but ordinary people. Well - digitally created people but people all the same. White, black, hispanic, young, middle-aged, old, men, women, shoppers, workers and especially cops. Despite all the recent fuss over violence in videogames - I feel absolutely fine about this. So what is all the fuss about? And shouldn't I be ashamed of helping to create such violent imagery which will corrupt any poor kid who may stumble over this game when it hits the shops?

Well, recently in the US, Senator Hilary Clinton introduced legislation to help keep 'inappropriate' video games out of the hands of kids. In particular she was upset that the popular title, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas contained a now notorious cheat 'Hot Coffee' which unlocked a hidden mini-game which had the player's character having SEX with his girlfriend. “The disturbing material in Grand Theft Auto and other games like it is stealing the innocence of our children and it’s making the difficult job of being a parent even harder,” said Senator Clinton.

Shock - horror! A game which is labeled as Mature and is only for 17+ year olds has a hidden sex scene. What's the problem here? So the US and the UK can send soldiers that age to die in Iraq or wherever happens to be the latest country to liberate/invade for oil resources...ahem... I mean democracy but we must protect little Johnny from poorly depicted videogame sex. Now two perceived wrongs don't make a right - so videogame makers should engage in this debate and defend their artistic right to portray violence and sex.

However, this does seem to me, to be a typical political distraction to win votes and the usual moral backlash against a relatively new medium. You don't have to go back that far over this last century to see a pattern of moral panic. Books, films, rock music, video nasties, rap music etc. From Lady Chatterley's Lover to Judas Priest's records apparently having secret Satanic messages if played backwards - there have been a significant minority who want to blame society's ill on a particular medium. It would be laughable it wasn’t sadly true.

Now Hilary wants titles like GTA to change it's rating from a Mature, which is deemed appropriate for 17 years and over to Adults Only which is 18 years and over. She claims that Mature titles are easy for children young as 7 to obtain. The problem, I believe, is not the age rating but the age of the critics who are on the whole are likely to have grown up before videogame industry was born over 25 years ago. They simply don’t understand videogames and see them only being for kids.

The average game player is 30 years old so it follows there should be games aimed at them. Giving these games an Adult Only rating is a kiss of death because many stores like Walmart will not stock such apparent outcasts. This is the videogame equivalent of making many R-rated movies into a now defunct X-rated or the NC-17-rated movie. Imagine if you weren’t allowed to see the Godfather, Pulp Fiction, Psycho, Goodfellas, The Silence of the Lambs, Se7en, Lèon, A Clockwork Orange, or Schlinder’s List because they were effectively banned as they were deemed too violent and there was possibility kids might get their hands on them?

I believe it is the parent’s responsibility to ensure that their kids do not play Mature rated games, in the same way they have to ensure they don’t watch adult DVD’s or surf for porn on the internet. Sure it might be difficult but it’s not impossible. Even if some kids do get hold of GTA, which I do not endorse, then I do not think it will screw their minds and turn them into car-jacking pimps who kill for kicks. It’s like a kid finding a porn mag in his parent’s bedroom suddenly wanting to take their clothes off and become an international porn star. Let’s get this into perspective.

Again the real problem is distorted. Often there are reported stories of kids playing videogames 8 hours every day and this is causing aggression and even violent behaviour. Yet driving cars, playing sport, listening to music, eating food, watching TV can affect our mood – shall we ban them? I’m sure doing anything for many hours at a time is unhealthy – even stuffing your face with only celery and carrots by the crate load for 8 hours is probably excessive and not healthy. Surely what are parents doing letting their kids play games for so many hours at a time?

A year ago in the UK, the Daily Mail newspapers screamed ‘Death by Playstation’ on its’ front page and blamed a murder caused by a teenager on another kid on the game Manhunt. Only later did it emerge that the motive for the murder was robbery and it was the victim that owned the game and not the murderer. Unfortunately that fact wasn’t splashed on the front-page. We cannot live in a world where everything which might inspire a nutter to commit murder has to be banned. Nothing would be left – there would be no George Bush, no Celine Dion and no math teachers. Okay that might seem attractive - but you would have also have no music, art, science, religion or decent people either.

Otherwise if Hilary wants to start a McCarthey's style witch-hunt against videogames, in her road back to the Whitehouse, then shouldn’t she include other mediums which might be corrupting the poor kids out there? First she should ban kids reading Shakespeare in school as his plays contains plenty of sex and violence. Titus Andronicus has heads severed off, murdered children baked into a stew & served to their father, rape, vengeance, mayhem, and insanity. Also I dare I say there are various religious holy books which again have plenty of sex and violence which gets taught to poor unsuspecting kids. Imagine a world without crusades, jihads and shaven headed people dressed in orange chanting various stuff.

Finally Hilary would have to ban herself and all other politicians from the face of planet earth. It has been the poor decisions, committed by politicans, that have done more to seriously damage the health of the kids than videogames have done in the last 25 years. To use a cheap-shot - I would rather see a videogame character get jiggy with his girlfriend than see the Whitehouse get gridlocked for over a year because a silly intern blowjob and I would rather kill terrorists in a game than watch flag covered coffins flown in from Iraq on TV. To put be it mildly I suspect I can sleep easier at night than any Presidential wannabe.

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