We all know the format; a new game gets released, the Morality Police mobilise
This month saw the long-awaited release of Grand Theft Auto V, the latest installment in the long-running video game franchise. Typically, this release has been met with both wild enthusiasm from the gaming community and with outrage from politicians and elements of the media.
Grand Theft Auto is an exceptionally violent game and the latest installment in the series is no exception. It is held up as an example by those who wish to see such games banned and is blamed for everything from playground bullying to mass shootings in the United States. “Won’t somebody please think of the CHILDREN!?!” as Maude Flanders would say. Peter Hitchens in the Daily Mail went as far as to suggest that “If the Devil had to invent a game, it would be this one” before linking the recent shooting in Washington to Call of Duty and cannabis. The trouble with this kind of hysterical moralising is that it has very little basis in reality.
Do video games in of themselves cause people to become violent? I don’t think so. Video games are not powerful, mind-altering entity that corrupt the minds of young people and force them to steal cars, mug old ladies and murder their families. They are games, a form of entertainment. They provide people with an escape, allowing them to do things that they wouldn’t dream of doing in reality. For some, games like Grand Theft Auto provide a vital release for stress, allowing them to vent their frustrations in a virtual world rather than the real world.
It is true that violent games can affect young children. Children who are still learning about their environment will imitate what they see around them, and studies have shown that children who grow up in violent or abusive homes often grow up with behavioural issues from what they have seen during their childhood. Giving these children games like Grand Theft Auto is bound to have a negative impact on their behaviour, but the fact is that these games are not aimed at children. Rent-a-Quote MPs like Keith Vaz crusade against these games on the basis that they are harmful to children, ignoring the fact that they are clearly aimed at adults. Parents buy them for their children and claim that they didn’t know about the content, but this is utter rubbish. The photo below shows the last eight Grand Theft Auto releases on PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3. See if you can spot the one thing (other than the title) that all eight of them have in common:
The answer is that each and every one of them has a prominent 18 rating, clearly showing that they are not suitable for children. Even a cursory glance at the box should be enough to give even the stupidest parent a clue about the content of the game. For parents to buy these games despite the big 18 ratings and the clear indications of violent content and then blame the games when little Timmy attacks his friends in the playground demonstrates an abdication of personal responsibility that is symptomatic of society today and is the most disturbing aspect of this moral crusade.
When someone steals a car they are responsible. When someone commits a murder, they are responsible. Blaming video games removes that responsibility. It’s not their fault that they stabbed the old lady and stole her wallet; the games made them do it. Excusing the actions of a criminal by blaming it on video games removes the accountability of people for their actions, and I can think of nothing more harmful to the rehabilitation of criminals than excusing their actions by blaming a video game.
Worse still, is that the culture of blaming video games for violent behaviour often detracts from other, more serious contributing factors, namely mental illness. Violent video games have been blamed for almost all the recent mass shootings in the United States, but this ignores the fact that in the majority of these cases the perpetrators of these atrocities were suffering from serious mental illnesses. The shooter in the recent tragedy in Washington had a history of mental illness that went unnoticed by the authorities until it was too late. The perpetrator of the Sandy Hook massacre suffered from a number of series personality disorders. James Holmes, the man who opened fire in an Aurora cinema during a screening of Batman was in psychiatric care but had stopped going to his counselling sessions. Jared Loughner, the man who shot Rep Gabriel Giffords, had been suspended from his Community College for erratic behaviour. Seung Hui Cho, the student who shot and killed 32 people at Virginia Tech – the worst mass shooting in US history – had a history of serious mental illness. By blaming video games, all of this gets ignored. All the people who failed to spot the warning signs and who failed to help those people get a free pass because of those pesky video games.
Clearly it would be wrong to state categorically that violent video games have no effect on people, as it is clear that under circumstances they do. In of themselves they do not cause violence, however when combined with other factors such as pre-existing mental illness or being wrongly bought for children it is possible for them to have an effect. For the majority of gamers though they are simply an escape. A game, just like any other, that provides a few hours’ entertainment after a hard day at work. Those moralisers who would see them banned would be better to focus their attention on dealing with issues such as mental illness than seeking to spoil the fun of the majority.
Born in Yeovil, Bob Foster moved to the West Midlands, and following a brief spell in Dublin after university now lives in the North West. When pushed he describes himself as socially liberal, fiscally conservative, pro-military and anti-Government. His passions are American history, military history and defence policy, and when he doesn’t have his nose in a book on air power or a political memoir he can be found building model aircraft and warships. He works in the defence industry, but speaks for himself. He tweets as @Bobski1984
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