Videogames don't kill people, people kill people. - 23/06/2008

'Somebody please think of the children'! It's a phrase made famous by The Simpson's Mrs Lovejoy in response to those diabolical liberals, poisoning the cultural waters with profanity, nudity, and violence. But are videogames really teaching us to stab, kill, stab?

Rather ironically, recent videogames have received swift boots to the kidneys in ludicrous news reports. Take the United Press's referral to parts of the game 'in which players score points while running over prostitutes while drunk'. Or the ridiculous quotes that were apparently 'absolutely not fabricated or embellished' in The Morning Star: 'we need to thrash this threat immediately, or London's slags could soon feel the stab of a new generation of Jack the Rippers'. Right....Because of such bad press, GTA IV and other such reportedly immoral games have been forced to remove material deemed 'too much' by censors.

What is 'too much'? Do we really need 'The Man' to protect us from the mind-melting evil locked away in videogames? The much-publicised war between creators of GTA, Rockstar, and attorney/videogame activist Jack Thompson has highlighted a number of issues. Firstly, the scrutability of games as they lightly wield hefty moral issues (drug smuggling alongside delivering ice cream in GTA: Vice City?) Secondly, Thompson's sidestepping of the point. Although he has a right to be offended by a prostitutes head bouncing off a windshield, attempting sale restrictions by highlighting their apparent influence in numerous murders dating back to 2003 is totally unfounded. Sending SWAT team's after us for being an arse teaches us to respect moral boundaries in games, not break them.

Harmful violence or just a bit of fun?

A technological barrier divides most adults from teenagers and children. In her recent independent study on videogame risks, Tanya Byron reported 'many adults feel out of their depth and so don't engage or become so anxious that they over control their child's behaviour'. Indeed, recent bold-typed FOX headline 'FULL SEX ON SEXBOX', describing innocent sci-fi adventure Mass Effect, doesn't help things. (After actually playing the game, the FOX reporter admitted the love scene 'was nothing you wouldn't see in Lost'.)

However, not all this panic mongering originated in the noughties. In the decade that brought us blood-fests such as Rambo and Robocop, seeing a poorly rendered 2D breast in a game had the ability to make mothers turn into miniature Mary Whitehouse's. Nintendo Editor on, Brett Elston reminisces: 'a friend of mine was playing, not paying any attention to Medusa's breasts. The stone attacks were of graver concern. Then his mom walks in and shouts at the top of her lungs 'SHE'S NAAAAAKED'! And now that naked Medusa became taboo and therefore much more desirable to see, ensuring a healthy interest in free-chested snake women at an early age.

This is about as sexy as it gets.

However, as more and more families are picking up controllers and turning Mii into Wii, alarmist headlines should shrink in response to our increasingly technologically savvy understanding of all things digital.

But what about the mental effects of videogame violence on gamers old enough to legally experience them? From a psychological position, there has been no proof that playing a gun-toting maniac will make your trigger finger itchy. Actually, the release of violent tensions into a world filled with shrieking pixels is claimed to empty your anger metre, like being emotionally drained rather than testosteronely pumped after Die Hard.

If these things invaded I'm sure people would be glad of some fearless videogamers to fight them.

Typifying gamers by the type of maniac that uses GTA to 'train' for real life hell-raising makes as much sense as thinking all board gamers are smiling families aged 8-80. Who's ever lost Monopoly with a smile on their face?

Ultimately, because we can't really know what these forms of entertainment are doing to us, it's the consumer's responsibility to be aware of what they are purchasing. Currently, the BBFC is in talks to apply its new voluntary movie ratings system to videogames, giving UK consumers more confidence about buying games and playing online. The information is in place, and if after a blind buy we still hold videogames responsible for any kind of moral or psychological decline, we do not belong in the consumer world.

So, are people thinking of the children? Clearly, they are.

- Ben P. Griffin