Giving Games a Bad Name

Last night I was about to head to bed pretty relaxed and in a good mood, when fellow serious gamer Dave Heywood, posted a link to his Facebook page. It was a clip from the Alan Titchmarsh Show. The panel consisted of Computer and Videogames.com editor Tim Ingham, Julie Peasgood, and Kelvin McKenzie. Now my suspicions were piqued just there, when Tim Ingham was the only person on the panel to be linked to the games industry, not even a mention of who the other two were. But we’ll come back to that in a bit.

So there have been many debates recently about the ethics of the video games industry and the violence in many modern titles, and yes, scenes are becoming more realistic, but the games industry generally welcomes debate. The serious games industry is often affected by what people think of the mainstream games industry, so I sat back to watch and within about 30 seconds was sorely disappointed. Below is a breakdown of what I witnessed.

The guests were introduced by Alan, where he listed many of the games up for a BAFTA this year. He turned to Tim to outline the concerns of parents who are worried about the level of violence and compared them to the TV westerns of his generation (oh the good old days).

Tim responded with a comparison between recent games and movies such as the Hurt locker or Tarantino’s Inglorious which both picked up Oscars this year despite the enormous level of realistic violence depicted.

Alan then displays his level of knowledge of the industry by arguing that movies have age restrictions in the form of certificates! (Eyes roll). Video games also have these same restrictions as defended by Tim.

Alan went on to say that as video games are played at home, age restrictions really don’t matter as you have no control over what kids do. Tim’s face was a picture here. Alan stated that ‘you can’t stop children getting in to a house but you can stop them getting into a cinema’. However Alan’s researchers have obviously missed the fact that retailers are not legally allowed to sell games to underage children and that parents are breaching the law if they purchase a game for their children who are below the age rating.

Now at this stage, Tim has come under quite a bit of fire from Alan, and he has argued his points very well. To take the debate back to the core message Tim outlines that only 1 in 20 videogames are classified as Adult Content, so 19 out of every 20 games are suitable for the family. Now let’s compare that to movies; According to the Motion Picture Association of America between 1968 and 2000 the ratios were as follows;

  • 55% rated R
  • 24% rated PG
  • 10% rated PG-13 (created in 1984)
  • 8% rated G

So there is much more violent content in the movie industry it seems….

Tim raises another good point here, that parents need to understand what their kids are playing, just like they do with movies. Who could have a problem with that?

Well the other panellists have been very quiet up until now…I wonder what they will have to say…?

Julie chimes in with the fact that video games are interactive (well researched) addictive, promote hatred, racism, sexism and reward violence (I wonder how many of these games she has played herself?). Here’s where it gets cringe worthy, the audience begin to cheer her comments. She goes on to talk confidently about a proven link between violence and videogames. She quotes a recent ‘study’ but is unable to name the source.

However Tim responds with the results of our own Governments Byron Report, finding absolutely no evidence of a link between violence in video games and increased violence in children. Now at this point it gets even worse…the audience actually boo Tim for pointing this out!

Tim again tries to bring the argument back to the main point that these games should not be getting into the hands of children but again this falls on deaf ears.

Kelvin pitches in now, with a good point that the research is not clear, but as games become more realistic the effects may change, and that in 10 years time we will have a pretty good idea of whether or not our children are being damaged by it. However his argument goes completely off course when he blames the murder of Jamie Bulger on video games noting that Venables was effected by ‘it’. Kelvin asked Tim to guarantee there wouldn’t be a Tsunami of violence in the home because of the games. Again applause from the audience – were they shipped straight from a filming of Jeremy Kyle?

Again, Tim tries to reiterate that these games should not be getting into the hands of children in the first place and he explains that Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo all have given parents the power to set restrictions on the consoles.

However the other two panellists just dismiss this and ask if he would let his kids play violet games. Tim obviously says no, but goes onto to say that he would let his kids play the likes of Mario, Sing Star, LittleBigPlanet etc. At this point Kelvin turns away in what looks like disgust.

Now the debate turns to one of the most controversial scenes in videogames of recent times, the airport scene in Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2. Julie states and I quote… ‘I am categorically against violence for entertainment, it is just wrong’. A little digging and it seems our Julie voiced a character in a violent video game back in 2000. But her statement seems to get a rounding applause from the audience which seems to be her main goal from being on the show).

Well that’s it folks, it seems video games are bad, and no amount of logical argument can fight it…

Unfortunately, there is a serious message here, and that’s not that games are inherently bad, that if we play even the smallest amount we will all turn into immoral animals (as suggested by the panellists) but that the games industry, and the serious games industry need to do a hell of a lot more to educate Britain about what we do.

There are far too many moral panics and misunderstandings about games, and pre-scripted pot shots like this one do nothing but hold us back. Let’s start sharing the good news!

If you would like to watch the clip you can find it by following this link.

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