Keith Vaz MP has a history of (anti)violence. In 2004, Vaz asked for an investigation into the link between violence and video games, after claiming the parents of a murdered boy believed that the killer had been influenced by the game Manhunt. Police dismissed the claim, but Vaz objected again when a sequel, Manhunt 2 was set for release in 2007. The game would become the first to be banned by the BBFC in over a decade. He has objected to other games over the years, but recently criticised Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. He has raised a motion citing that the game features “gratuitous acts of violence against members of the public” and “the harrowing scenes in which a London Underground train is bombed by terrorists, bearing a remarkable resemblance to the tragic events of 7 July 2005”.
While it is true that part of the game takes place in London, the clue is in the title when it comes to who the violence is against. While it may be the case in a game such as Grand Theft Auto IV that you can be violent towards members of the public, the Modern Warfare series is exactly what it says, war. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that The Daily Mail had objected to London featuring in an early trailer for the game, claiming to have been contacted by victims of the 7/7 attacks and their families who were ‘distressed’ by the images.
But the biggest leap comes later in Early Day Motion 2427, when it claims that “there is increasing evidence of a link between perpetrators of violent crime and violent video games users”. Of course, a respected MP like Keith Vaz would of course have evidence of this….well, he would have if it was true. That it’s not true should be clear to anyone. The idea that playing violent video games leads to violent crime is as absurd as the idea that Columbine happened because those involved listened to Marilyn Manson, or that violent movies turn ordinary citizens into Rambo-esque vigilantes.
Aside from Vaz just making things up to suit his argument, it’s important to remember that video games do actually have a rating system, just like movies or DVDs, and Modern Warfare 3 is an 18 certificate. What’s ironic is that many war movies, including the likes of Saving Private Ryan, Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now have 15 certificates, so it’s actually easier for teenagers to watch violent movies than it is to play violent games.
Video games have always been treated differently to television and film as art forms, mainly because people seem to think they are designed solely for children. But the majority of the best games released are adult in nature, and as the games become more advanced, so do the plots and characters, making them more and more realistic. Although Modern Warfare is a thrilling game to play, you don’t finish it and think ‘I’d bloody love to be in a war’, any more than you would having watched Saving Private Ryan.
Thankfully there has been some sense from MPs, as Labour’s Tom Watson suggested this amendment to Vaz’ motion: “This House notes that the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) gave the video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 an 18 classification, noting that `the game neither draws upon nor resembles real terrorist attacks on the underground’; further believes that the game has an excellent user interface and challenges the gamers’ dexterity as well as collaborative skills in an outline setting; and encourages the BBFC to uphold the opinion of the public that whilst the content of video games may be unsettling or upsetting to some, adults should be free to choose their own entertainment in the absence of legal issues or material which raises a risk or harm.”
Vaz has tabled a motion decrying Modern Warfare 3 for mimicking real-life events, yet there have been any number of movies made in the last decade about the military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, and movies made about 9/11. These are never challenged by MPs, never criticised for violent content or how they might possibly upset people who have lost family members in these conflicts.
Video games are multi-million pound industry, with Modern Warfare 2 making more money than Avatar, but it seems like they will always be a target for self-appointed moral guardians, people who will happily bend the truth to suit their agenda. Perhaps Keith Vaz should actually try playing Modern Warfare 3, although I dare say he might not enjoy being called a noob every 30 seconds.