A prominent opinion piece in today’s
has slammed Gordon Brown for employing Dr. Tanya Byron to carry out her investigation into the availability of violent video games.
Telegraph writer Jim White largely defends the industry in his editorial – albeit with some questionable assumptions (‘[games] are overwhelmingly the preserve of adolescent boys… thrilled with the idea that they have managed to purloin an 18 certificate’).
The article, which carries the headline, ‘Tanya Byron, splatting aliens and sociopaths’, reads:
Tanya Byron, described as a television psychologist, is the latest of Gordon Brown’s battalion of advisers to add to the incipient condition of panic gripping our daily lives.
It is not entirely clear what a television psychologist is; maybe they help small portables not to feel inadequate about the fact that they don’t have a 42-inch flat screen. But to this particular television psychologist has fallen the task of advising the Brown government on its policy towards home computer games, particularly those of a violent nature.
I may not be a television psychologist, but it seems to me the issue here is a pretty simple one: legislate fiercely to ensure that the uglier, nastier, sadistic end of the games market cannot gain distribution and then step back and stop worrying about the rest.
Ms Byron’s report has not yet been released, but it seems from pre-publication leaks that she takes a different approach, one that will involve nannying ourselves into a state of sustained alarm about the nature of these games.
Her suggestion is that – in addition to a cinema-style classification system – parents should ensure their child’s safety by putting consoles in family rooms, with the screen facing outwards so that what is being played can be easily monitored at all times.
The idea that either of these two measures would make any difference at all is completely to misunderstand who plays computer games.
They are overwhelmingly the preserve of adolescent boys who, thrilled with the idea that they have managed to purloin an 18 certificate, will simply find a way to sidestep the family screen, and slip off to the privacy of their darkened room in order to fiddle with their joystick.
Besides, as yet no one has conclusively proved that playing games damages your health. Since we occasionally hear of some maniac shooting up his high school in middle America after a marathon session on some gory game, the assumption is they are entirely corrupting.
But in such cases it is more the easy availability of real guns, rather than their virtual counterparts, that lies at the heart of the problem.
Sure, you would imagine that spending hours hunched over a control, staring at a screen, splatting aliens and blowing up enemy ammunition supply dumps is not going to expand the average 12-year-old mind very far. But is it any worse than what boys got up to long before the invention of the PlayStation?
I remember passing whole afternoons playing with small plastic soldiers, whose deaths I would expedite with increasing relish. Behaving a bit like that character in Toy Story, I’d bite their heads off, subject them to brisk torture with a lighted match, before finishing them off in a jar of paint thinner.
Meanwhile, my mate round the corner used to lead military expeditions into his back garden, where, armed with a magnifying glass, he would incinerate colonies of ants and turn woodlice nests into charnel houses.
If "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare" or "Assassin’s Creed" had been around in our day, you bet we’d have wanted to get our hands on them. And if we’d succeeded in mastering their heroically complex methodology, probably the only difference it would have made is that much of the local insect population would have been able to go about its business unmolested.
This is what young boys have always done: rage against their powerlessness by splatting things smaller than them. Nowadays they can do it virtually. It doesn’t mean they are any more likely to grow into sociopaths. After all, my ant-slaughtering friend went on to become a leading lawyer, which many might consider the same thing.
If Ms Byron had studied events in our household, she would have noted that the junior male members became very excited a couple of years back about a game called ‘The Getaway’. In it, they would drive very fast round London’s streets, occasionally stopping to shoot someone who had earlier called them a slag.
As a pastime, I admit, it doesn’t sound particularly elevated. But then neither was putting cat nips in among ranks of carefully lined-up small soldiers, encouraging the cat into the room and then, when she knocked them over in her keenness to get at her snacks, shouting "die Britisher pig-dogs".
And the point is, the boys didn’t actually steal the family car and head off to Spitalfields armed with a swan-off shotgun in order to replicate what they had seen on the screen. In fact, after about six months, they stopped playing it altogether, largely when girls entered their personal radar.
Ms Byron really should not panic herself or us. That’s usually what happens with kids and computer games: they grow out of them.”