Go on away on holiday for a week and all hell breaks loose. It seems that video games have become a hot political issue in the UK, or perhaps Conservative leader David Cameron is opting for a bit of headline grabbing sensationalism. As both labour and the Tories place anti-social behaviour and children at the centre of their election campaigns, it was only a matter of time before somebody dragged the bloodied carcass of the games industry through the mud again.
Last week, David Cameron launched The Conservative Party's new ‘mini-manifesto' on law and order. As part of the Tory leader's new plans to tackle anti-social behaviour, he hinted at potential bans on interactive entertainment.
"We are never going to deal with crime unless we look at the broader context and say 'Yes, tough laws, strong action on the police, but also action to strengthen our society'," said Cameron.
"And that includes, I think, video games and things like that where we do need to think of the context in which people are growing up."
The fact that he gets a bit vague when he mentions ‘games and things,' highlights that perhaps games are being used to get him more column inches. I mean, can any politician seriously see the curbing of video games as a way to solving social issues such as teenage stabbings, drinking and general lawlessness?
Cameron explained, "Today's document sets out our view on popular culture – that the companies which make music videos, films and computer games have a social responsibility not to promote casual violence, the gang culture and the degradation of women."
Anyone heard the term ‘sweeping generalisation'? The manifesto, entitled It's Time to Fight Back calls for an examination of the BBFC's regulatory framework in order to ‘ensure that violence and misogyny are not directly promoted to young people'. This is the bit when the gamers' collective unconscious sighs and cries, ‘age ratings are there for a reason.'
One wonders if David Cameron's even been in his local Gamestation and looked at the cover of a game. Even the Wii (the most child-friendly console) shows adults in its advertising campaigns.
What ole Dave really needs to look at are the parents who insist on flouting the BBFC's age ratings and buying 18 games for their children, in spite of withering looks from shop assistants. What else can we do as an industry when parents think they know best or just don't care because, after all ‘it's only a game?' And then little Jordan stabs someone, so the parents sue Sony for making a game.
Luckily the BBFC stepped in to say this to trade publication, MCV, "BBFC classification is based on what the public deems acceptable. We feel confident that we have public consent on how we deal with issues such as gun and knife crime."
A Labour Government spokesman also told MCV, "We have a strict enforcement code for people who supply ’18' or ’15' rated games to children. Adults can make their own decisions which games to play, as they can which films to watch."
Ironically the next headline to send games forums into a frenzy was news of Gordon Brown getting tough on violent games. Huh!? But I thought Labour just said? Yes, but nothing grabs headlines during the silly season better than a bit of mud slinging at the games industry.
However, on closer inspection, Brown has announced plans to review rules for the advertising and the sale of games to minors. This seems to be a much more informed stance than the games are bad and so is rap music, rhetoric of Conservative Cameron.
This week, Brown has ruled out plans to impose further censorship on the games industry. Instead he has unveiled proposals for a common agreement between parents, entertainment creators and internet providers to protect children from violent or pornographic material. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) will be central to the new plans to investigate how adult rated video games fall into the hands of children. In fact, Labour is the only one to mention the P-word, saying they need to, "look at how we can better help parents manage their children's access to unsuitable games."
Cameron needs better briefing on the games industry and how interactive media has no proven link with increased violence among young people. Every time he opens his mouth it's like going back to the 80s, when video nasties were melding our minds and rotting the very foundations of western civilisation.
I think it's possible to listen to Snoop Dogg's latest album without embarking on a life of dope dealing, whoring and casual gun crime. Similarly, an evening with GTA Vice City won't urge even the most well-rounded individual to wear loud, polyester shirts open to the waist, hi-jack cars at any given opportunity and develop an angel dust dependency.
If all our social ills were solved by simply banning a small enclave of interactive entertainment, I'm sure we'd all give it some serious thought. Hey, anything for that Gene Roddenberry Utopia right? However, we all know Saw II and an endless stream of Manhunt titles will not corrupt our children, especially if parents stick to the rating system.
It's really not rocket science people. But remember kids – games are bad mmmkay!
Most played: the trying to sleep on a plane game
Most wanted: Halo 3