Age Ratings; Less Legislation, More Responsibility.

It’s a deeply curious thing to me that some politicians still try to play the controversy card.

So it has surfaced again, with an Early Motion from Keith Vaz proclaiming that Moderm Warfare 3 is unsuitable for sale, “in which players engage in gratuitous acts of violence against members of the public”. He also trots out the same tired old argument that “there is increasing evidence of a link between perpetrators of violent crime and violent video games users”.

It is true that some of the story in Modern Warfare 3 is a little distasteful. But surely, as a game rated as 18, we should accept those legally able to buy it are sufficiently intelligent enough to know this is fiction, and be capable of distancing themselves from some of the more excessively daft scenarios?

It’s also sad to see Mr. Vaz once again repeat the same old line – “links between real-life violent crime and video games”. There have been plenty of studies on the subject – some come back positive, others not. Truth is there has been no concrete evidence to suggest people who play video games are in any way more violent than others – and for the internet, one can argue simply that it is the anonymity provided by a fictional avatar and false name that can bring out the worst in anyone.

However, Mr. Vas has always gone on record as saying, “I’ve never been against games. I’ve been against violent games that are able to fall into the hands of young people who are perhaps not able to understand the implications of what they’re doing.”

I can sort of buy this. I have a nephew who is 14 now; I certainly don’t like the implications of my stepsister buying him Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. He’s a bit of a troubled kid anyway; but bless my sister – she buys it for him anyway. And then laments about his behaviour. Her argument is simply; “If I don’t buy it, he’ll be playing it round his mates anyway. And it makes me look bad.”

I mean, really?

Let’s break this down. The BBFC, for the most part, do a damn fine job of rating games. Unlike the US and some other countries, the UK legally requires an age rating before a game can be released; this means it is subject to the same conditions that movies are. If things are considered too excessive, or in especially poor taste, they simply don’t give it an age rating – which effectively means it is banned from sale in this country until it is resubmitted with appropriate cuts and changes.

Tom Watson, who provided an amendment to the Early Day Motion, states that “adults should be free to choose their own entertainment in the absence of legal issues or material which raises a risk or harm”. I completely agree. We have to accept that there is very little we can do with legislation anymore – unless the content is especially damaging, harmful or insulting, it’s the right of the individual whether or not to play their money for a product.

However, when my step-sister thinks it will make her look bad, I wonder… isn’t this a cop-out?

It is true that my nephew would probably be able to play it round his mates house. I equally buy the argument that children should be given the benefit of the doubt; since there has been no scientific conclusion either way to the effects, it should be down to the parents to decide if their child is suitable for a movie or game beyond their age limit. Heck, my grandparents let me watch horror movies rated 18 for years; they equally made sure I balanced that out with other forms of entertainment. I.e. if I wanted to thump about my room with loud pop music, they’d make sure once a week I was brought down to earth with a bump listening to their old LPs of artists I barely knew, who were way before my time.

But there were limits. My grandfather refused point blank to buy me Mortal Kombat 2; he really didn’t see the need for it. And looking back, I think he was right. It was a game that was gratuitous for the sake of it; the early Mortal Kombat games were neither balanced nor especially good; if you wanted to play a fighting game at the time that was balanced and fun, you stuck with Street Fighter. For me, it was a sensible restriction – even though years later the two of us laughed at the ridiculousness of it all, back in the mid-90s when I was a teenager, I think he was right. As two grown adults, we were able to appreciated the frank lunacy of Mortal Kombat. The gore was suddenly too garish, too cartoony, it felt all too ridiculous.

Equally, I refuse to buy relatives anything like that if I don’t think it suits them. I resist pressure to buy the latest violent game for my nephew because, for one, I think it’s my responsibility to be a stronger role-model. If my step-sister feels the need to buy it for him, then that is her prerogative; it’s her kid at the end of the day, and I for one can only advise. I don’t have to agree.

But if she feels like it would make her look bad – you can’t then blame the games you are buying for their bad behaviour. Because who bought the kid the game – oh right, the parents did. And this is the nub of the issue for me.

Responsibility is such a dirty word these days. It seems that the world is built upon the foundations of, “It’s not my fault”. But it is, it is, it so is. If you don’t want your kids to play violent games – get clued up. Pay attention to the age ratings, or the advisory rating on the back of the box. The internet is also a friend – read up on it, check the BBFC – who often clarify why they give the ratings they do in individual cases. There is such a wealth of information out there – so many great sources to draw upon if you need help making a decision.

At the end of the day, if a child is troubled and playing violent games – the question for me is, “Why is the kid troubled at all?”. Culturally, kids are losing their way at a much younger age. Teenage alcohol abuse is on the rise, as is those taking up smoking. Teenage pregnancy has always been an issue; and gang culture is as rife here in the UK as it is in the US. There are clear social and cultural trends and changes that are robbing children of their right to childhood, destroying their innocence. Why is this? Why has our society gotten to this point?

It’s when we can answer those questions that we may be able to put right the numerous wrongs that children and teenagers suffer and do every day. Video games may be a symptom of a much larger issue – but they’re not the cause. They simply give the consumer what they want; and it seems the consumer WANTS Modern Warfare 3. They like the fantasy World War 3 scenario. They seem to revel in the militarisation of it all, and the excessive violence and huge guns that come with it.

If we want to understand why games like this are made, it’s examining society. Because people from all walks of life, all ages and genders, are buying and playing it. This is no longer the young angry adult male demographic – it’s nineteen year old trainee nurses to sixty year old grandfathers, all buying it – all playing it. And mostly all acting like right tossers online over it too.

You can’t legislate against this sort of thing. But the one thing we can do is make sure if crimes are committed, any legal defense of “The game made me do it, guv!” is promptly laughed out of court.

It is, quite simply, time to start taking responsibility for your own actions. We’ve become addicted to blaming soft targets rather than accept that there may be something wrong with the individual doing it.

It has to stop. But we can’t legislate forever…

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