Video games have a bad reputation. We’re told they’re responsible for a nation of fat, indolent children, that they condone – nay encourage – violent behaviour and are responsible for some of the most heinous crimes committed. As much as I enjoyed them, I absolutely would not let my children play Resident Evil 4, Red Dead Redemption or Bioshock. I wouldn’t object to them playing video games per se, much in the same way that I wouldn’t object to them watching films, but in both cases I’d just want to ensure that what they watched or played was suitable for them.
The same logic applies to those cases where a mentally unstable individual goes on a killing spree. Inevitably their homes are trawled, a copy of Splatterhouse is found and immediately the root cause for the individual’s murder spree is identified; it’s violent video games wot done it.
All it takes is for them to do something – even vaguely – similar to what occurs in a game and lo and behold we have a headline.
For reinforcement of this message you need look no further than a 2010 debate on Alan Titchmarsh’s show (sadly no longer available on YouTube unadulterated) with Titchmarsh, Tim Ingham, Kelvin MacKenzie and Julie Peasgood.
Peasgood acts like a buffoon, simply ignoring Ingham’s rational arguments about certification, the need for parental responsibility and the inherent lack of some games’ suitability for children, choosing instead to focus on bogus research and unsubstantiated, vague, populist statements about the damaging nature of video games. There are no particularly rational or reasoned arguments.
At one point MacKenzie intimates that one of Jamie Bulger’s killers had played video games. It wasn’t made clear whether it was Super Mario Kart or Mortal Kombat, but it was definitely a video game. Case closed, right? It’s as vague as blaming a mugger’s actions on reading books.
When I think back to when I was twelve I remember loving video games, obsessively loving video games, spending hours a day playing games and when I wasn’t playing them I was reading about them. The games then were nothing like they are today though, there was no full motion video, 3D was rudimentary and games had to be written to fit inside 64 kilobytes of memory or indeed less.
Gaming back in 1986 was more akin to reading a book than watching a movie. It took a lot of imagination to believe that the blob with 001 written on it really was a robot and that the overhead view of the spaceship you were steering said robot around really was a spaceship.
When The Last Ninja came out in 1987 it was a revelation. The graphics were astounding, the music was phenomenal, the gameplay a sensation. Yet looking at it today – which you can still do, if you know how – it looks very, very dated. The graphics, while pretty, really aren’t all that astounding in comparison to today’s, in fact they’re downright primitive. Comparing it to Breath of the Wild highlights an almost immeasurable gulf.
Computer power has advanced so much in the past thirty years, that in game effects are now almost indistinguishable from those displayed in movies. Consequently this means that when a character has their head chopped off in a game, kids are seeing something very graphic. It is unlikely they will have the ability relate that to the horror of a real event and understand its real life consequences.
It is this that leads to an eventual desensitisation to violence.
It’s a parents responsibility to shield their child from the parts of life that are unsuitable and damaging, and this is exactly what certain video games are. Damaging.
Don’t blame video games for the nation of overweight, aggressive children that we allegedly have, look closer to home. Good parenting and difficult conversations are the only things that are required.