Gordon Brown & videogames: a rant

The Prime Minister has been talking about computer games and how dangerous they are. Here we go again...

Manhunt 2

‘I am very worried about video and computer games.’ So said Prime Minister Gordon Brown in a high-profile interview with The Sun newspaper (‘Brown Blitz on Blades’, 14th Jan 2008). He apparently wants ‘computer game designers to stop their characters using blades’, as part of a crackdown on Britain’s ‘knife crime epidemic’.

The assertion that violent games breed violent teenagers is an irritatingly prehistoric attitude, and one that harks back to gaming’s infancy, when games such as Space Invaders and, a few years later, Operation Wolf were dismissed as ‘mindless blasting’.

As I see it, the argument is based on two assumptions: one, that games are targeted and played solely by young people; and two, that violent games somehow erode a player’s grip on reality, and turn an otherwise decent human being into an amoral, murdering psychopath. It implies that ‘low culture’, such as films and videogames, somehow rot our moral compass, like leaving teeth in cola overnight.

It would appear that MPs have never heard of the terms ‘sublimation’ or ‘catharsis’.

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I wouldn’t be so irked by these remarks if I thought that Gordon Brown actually knew what he was talking about; if he’d worked in Gamestation or edited Your Sinclair before his rise to power, perhaps I’d give his views more credence. If asked, could the Prime Minister actually cite some examples of these corrupting games? Possibly, but somehow I doubt it.

I can’t even think of many games that prominently feature knives – most violent games are full of guns and big explosions. The only recent game infamous for its usage of knives is Manhunt 2, and that’s been denied a certificate by the BBFC, so its corrupting influence will be limited to say the least. In the world of videogames, swords are infinitely more common than knives. Does this mean, I wonder, that Gordon Brown would remove such games as Red Steel, Zelda and Lego Star Wars from the country’s shelves?

Despite my ranting, I’m not a huge fan of explicitly violent games; I once bought a copy of the original Manhunt, and found it both repetitive and depressing, and if I was a father, I certainly wouldn’t let my young children play it any more than I would let them see the film Hostel, or any other piece of entertainment inappropriate for their age.

Attacking modern culture – whether it’s rap music, cinema or gaming – smacks of lazy, woolly thinking. When tabloid newspapers demonize a certain aspect of culture for society’s ills (as the Daily Mail once did, bizarrely, with anime back in the nineties), it’s mildly annoying. When the Prime Minister makes knee-jerk accusations, it’s downright disturbing.

Games, film and music are an easy target – it’s far easier to level the blame at them rather than address the real issues that lie beneath.

Knife crime is a very real and worrying problem, and I wouldn’t dare trivialize this fact, but forcing game programmers to replace all the weapons in Assassin’s Creed with fish fingers, or only allowing the public to play Nintendogs for all eternity will do little to help the problem – blaming videogames for rising knife crime is like blaming Cooking Mama for rising obesity levels.

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