Popped in to the Beeb this morning for another little comment spot on violent computer games. This was all spurred by the launch of the FPS Vest, a new peripheral that looks like a flak jacket and replicates the feeling of being shot for players of first person shooter games. They wanted to know if this accessory was a step too far.
There’s no proven link between violence in games, films, books or music and violence in real life. There will always be a tiny minority of people who are already unstable and are affected by such things, but legislating for that minority would quickly limit the scope of any creative endeavour.
The accusation that violence in games desensitises people, and particularly children, is the most commonly wheeled out when the tabloids decide that ‘Something Must Be Done’. But however engaging games may become, particularly with the addition of accessories like the FPS vest, there are very few people who won’t recognise a massive difference between wielding a mouse and wielding a real weapon. The visceral reality of real-life violence is hard to replicate in any medium.
But despite this I do think that age controls on games — and their enforcement by parents — are important. For a start there is the simple preservation of innocence. People have plenty of time in life to experience some of the darker plots and themes explored in fiction of all forms. It becomes progressively less socially acceptable for people — particularly boys — to engage in the softer side of fiction and fantasy as they get older. In my opinion, the longer they can hold on to innocent dreams, the better.
There’s also the issue of learning rules and boundaries. Although I think children of even a very young age can differentiate between fantasy and reality (my wife’s godson loves Ben 10 but doesn’t expect to be able to transform in to a monster), there’s no need to taint their learning with violent games before the boundaries of acceptable behaviour have been established in their heads. An age limit at least increases the chance that they will have been taught right and wrong sufficiently well before exploring those boundaries in fantasy. (Any child psychologists reading, I’d appreciate your views.)
Finally there is the simple issue of sleeping at night. I am a grown bloke and I find games lake Doom 3 genuinely terrifying. OK I’m a softy who doesn’t watch horror movies, but the terror of giant demonic monsters leaping out of the shadows is enough to give anyone bad dreams. Replace the monster with more realistic violence in a modern day setting, and the impact is potentially greater.
The FPS Vest is going to be controversial whether sold in black or pink (yes, they do it in pink, ‘for girls’ I am assuming). And the idea of it may be a little unpalatable for some. But it really doesn’t change the age-old habit of playing war games, whether that be by kids in the playground with fingers for guns; or by adults with paintball guns running around in the woods.
(Thanks to Eamonn and Diane for having me on. Thanks particularly to Diane for the complement on my suit, from Long, Berry, and Wild, a fantastic local tailors who I can’t recommend highly enough. Less thanks go to Eamonn to baulking at my suggestion that I was in my late twenties. I am, still, just about…)