British MP Keith Vaz has requested that MP’s should hold a Parliamentary debate into the “harmful effects” of video games.
“At a time when parents are thinking of purchasing video games for Christmas, does the right hon. Gentleman not think that it is important to hold a debate on this matter?” He is recorded as saying, adding further, “This is not about censorship – it is about protecting our children.”
Now, Kieth Vaz isn’t exactly what you would call our most sensible politician – or cleanest, as Wikipedia denotes.
But that doesn’t mean I am going to immediately rubbish his argument. As a thirty year old writer, I do have some sympathies and understanding of his position – I, personally, agree that certain content shouldn’t be sold to minors. And I do believe in a sense that parents need to be held more accountable for buying these games for their children – there’s too often an absolution of responsibility when it comes to this subject, and stores are woefully inadequate of checking the age of their customers, or whom the game may end up in the hands of.
But – the problem is, this is already law. A game cannot be sold unless it is given a certification by the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification). And it is a criminal offence for a store to sell a game – directly or indirectly – to a minor under the legally assigned age rating. Although we don’t tend to apply the “indirectly” to the parents buying it for their children, oddly enough. We think that’s parental responsibility, not a legal qualm – adults can within most boundries enjoy what they like in the comfort of their own homes, and that applies to their children as well.
Kieth Vaz, for all his wanton rage against the gaming machine, is preaching to the converted. Sure, some loopholes could do with some tidying up – but a debate on games, at a time when the Euro is in crisis and we’re on the verge of an economic storm that is set to get progressively worse? Is this REALLY a good use of parliamentary time?
My guess is – no.
But for all his past discretions, Mr Vaz shouldn’t be shouted down. He is one of many individuals who are worried about the effects of games on “impressionable youths” – even though most of the studies they use to justify their positions are heavily biased to favour their position, we must not become reactionary. To do so merely adds fuel to their fire, and makes their argument more valid.
No independantly-funded study has been able to prove a solid, concrete link between video games and the moral collapse of society today – even the study Mr. Vaz quoted can only go so far as to say games can activate and stimulate certain parts of the brain, if not physically change the neural connections. This does not automatically mean that games make people violent – there are a growing number of people like me who grew up with games, sometimes violent ones and gory ones, who are well-adjusted human beings with no criminal record and no violent tendencies whatsoever (and I’ve also been at the mercy of some of the worst excesses of human behaviour).
Surely if there was any actual link, we’d have found it by now? Games designed to stimulate, provoke reaction and tax intelligence can affect how the brain works. Shock horror, hold the front page for the Daily Mail, it’s a national scandal!
That said, much like the Red Cross who said war games must do more to adhere to international war treaties and codes of conduct, I do think very often games are provocative for the sake of it. They’re naughty. And for people like me, who were allowed some access to it, it’s kind of… boring, actually.
My stance is this – once it’s actually legal, it stops being fun. Getting into an 18-rated movie at 15 was exhilarating, naughty me I know. But three years later, walking into an 18-rated movie as an 18 year old, it wasn’t as exciting. The thrill for the younger generation is the same now as it has always been – it’s the fact they’re being naughty, doing something wrong. It’s a thrill. It excites them. We’ve all been there, we’ve all done it.
Parents who give them the games must know the reason their kids want it isn’t because the game is new, or heavily promoted – it’s that the age certificate is usually considerably higher than their actual age. It’s something to boast about. To brag about. To show off.
For the majority of adults, this is a different experience. There is no shame or stigma attached to the purchase of age-restricted material or goods anymore. Buying large quantities of alcohol is perfectly normal. Buying cigarettes is normal, and sadly on the increase according to national reports. Buying a porno magazine is normal – although one can argue there’s better on the internet for free.
It’s normal because it isn’t naughty for us. It’s legal.
And this is so often a topic that politicians drift around, trying to make a point and skidding wildly away from it. The problem isn’t that games are getting more violent – if anything, I think they’re getting tamer, or at least, made better with a more intelligent edge. It’s simply a crux, something to hold onto and not let go of – something to debate and discuss ad nauseum until we all get bored and go home.
We should always be wary of approaching a discussion with such a notably biased edge, of course – but even if we think we’re right, or know we’re right, we must at all times remember the best course of action is a reasoned discussion. Otherwise we’re not exactly showing ourselves off in our best light.
And besides, if Kieth Vaz really wanted to tackle nasty stuff in gaming, he should try the Raid Finder in World of Warcraft right now. To say that thing sheds a poor light on the state of humanity today is the understatement of all time…