Thursday, December 27, 2007

All your children are belong to us

I note that James is on a brief hiatus and as such I thought that I'd leap in with one of my rare posts—only my second, in fact—in order to fill the gap.

I would like to say a few words about ManHunt 2, a computer game that is causing some controversy, as it essentially involves the gamer playing the part of a character who hunts down assorted people and kills them in inventive ways.

After deliberation, it had been given a release in this country but now that is going to be fought in court.
British censors have won the right to fight the UK release of video game Manhunt 2 in the High Court.

A judge accepted the British Board of Film Classification's argument that the game had been approved for release on a misinterpretation of the law.

The game was banned in June but the Video Appeals Committee said the game could be classified and released.

The BBFC said that the VAC had been guilty of "a very serious misdirection of law" on the question of harm.

The judge said: "I have taken into account the high public interest in the possibility of harm to children."

Mr Justice Wyn Williams ruled the Board had an arguable case that should go to a full hearing.

Both sides agreed that the game was not suitable for children, but the BBFC argued that if given a certificate for release, it could still end up in the hands of minors.

The first point is, if these media releases—be it video games or films—are going to "end up in the hands of minors" anyway, then what point is there is giving them a classification in the first place?

And how will they end up in the hands of minors? Either through shops selling them to minors—in which case the shops are breaking the law and they should be prosecuted at every opportunity—or the parents are going to buy the game for their children.

In this second scenario, the parents have made a deliberate decision to flout the law and the warnings that come with the classification. Whatever the reason, we have to accept that parents have ultimate legal rights over their children; their wishes should trump both the classification board and the government. To deny that is to accept that the parents do not own their children and are not responsible for them: the state is, and the state should have preference over the parents as to what is suitable for the children. And that is an utterly unacceptable scenario—unless, of course, you are someone like Polly Toynbee, for whom such a situation would be the first step on the road to socialist Utopia.

The final thing to consider is whether or not violent computer games are responsible for violent behaviour. And the answer is that it is unlikely and, assuming that it follows the same projection as porn, we can actually say how unlikely it is. Or, rather, Strange Stuff can.
The available data is quite explicit. The availability of porn does not lead to sexual violence, it actually decreases the incidence of it.
The incidence of rape in the United States has declined 85% in the past 25 years while access to pornography has become freely available to teenagers and adults.

Not good enough? How about in the land of tentacle sex?
Within Japan itself, the dramatic increase in available pornography and sexually explicit materials is apparent to even a casual observer. This is concomitant with a general liberalization of restrictions on other sexual outlets as well. Also readily apparent from the information presented is that, over this period of change, sex crimes in every category, from rape to public indecency, sexual offenses from both ends of the criminal spectrum, significantly decreased in incidence.

Most significantly, despite the wide increase in availability of pornography to children, not only was there a decrease in sex crimes with juveniles as victims but the number of juvenile offenders also decreased significantly.

In short, in the case of porn, easy availability leads to a decrease in sexual attacks because, fundamentally, porn acts as a substitute for the act itself. As far as we can tell, violent computer games act in much the same way: they allow people to play out a fantasy and they are less likely to ape the acts that they see portrayed.

Therefore, whilst various campaigners may hail this court challenge to Manhunt 2 as a triumph for decency and common sense it is, in fact, anything but. But these special interest groups don't like to get in the way of a good moralising, because that is why they exist.

However, make no mistake: if this game's release is banned, the subtext here is that the state knows better than you how you should raise your children. And from there, it's only a short step to the state podding hutches of Polly Toynbee's dreams.

Cross-posted at Devil's Kitchen.


  1. It's certainly counter-intuitive. I'm concerned at the type of game freely (i.e. no charge) available on the Internet, e.g. many of these:

    Children I've taught aged 5 to 10 (a) love 'em and (b) actually do throw chairs and tables at each other, hit each other with plastic cricket bats and tree branches etc - in class, in the playground and in the dining hall. Sometimes it's been like one of those film scenes of rioting in a Wild West saloon.

    Following your line, one could argue that closing down the Buddhist temples and killing the monks as in Burma, will cause a build-up of frustrated benevolence that will find an outlet in the streets.

    And the pornography that fills prime-time TV and teenage magazines will have resulted in our young women behaving more chastely and soberly. Um...

    Maybe there's other factors at work? Have we wrongly assumed "post hoc, ergo propter hoc"?

    And maybe, in some cases, the statistics need reviewing? E.g. Peter Hitchens points out that what would otherwise be the (perhaps tenfold) increase in the UK murder rate has been masked by advances in medical treatment of intentional injuries.

  2. Both my children have regularly played computer games way out of their age group n the past and on discussion they were neither disturbed nor upset but rather amused by these games. Age limits and bans made the games more attractive not less and the internet does mean that they are easily available to download regardless of the BBFC anyhoo. The name is like a blast from the victorian past... better to spend time and energy with your children to help them deal with this reality. Banning anything is just a stop gap I think... children need time and attention not bans..

  3. I agree, Mutley, up to a point. Alcohol does not create the alcoholic, but it destroys him. Commercially-produced, interactive violent fantasy may add the deadly extra shove to children who are already suffering from a bad upbringing. Is it worth accepting a limit on some of our freedoms so that others can be saved from themselves?

  4. Sackerson,

    No, it is not. As Benjamin Franklin said famously: "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security."

    Or, if you'd like to look at it from another angle, when is it justified that you punish the many for the sins of the few?


  5. I'm aware of that argument, DK, and am no particular friend of the bossy-bootses; but your quotation does say an *essential* liberty.

    Is there really to be no discrimination between any types of prohibition or restriction? Should the laughable nine o' clock "watershed" go, together with even the slightest concession to censorship? Are the minds of the young to be left open to all influences, while we fuss over what they eat and drink?

  6. Hmmmm. I have an article coming up on Paris which addresses the issue of freedom raised here. Thanks, DK.

  7. Regards the figures on porn what that doesn't tell you is how the availability of soft porn has led to an increase in the violent nature of more mainstream porn over the last 25 years. In recent studies the measure of this in mainstream porn was held up alongside the measures the police use to assess violent sexual abuse and was virtually parallel. You simply cannot argue that this is somehow a 'positive' for society or good in how this affects relationships between men and women and how those develop. The idea that this contributes to less rape is a nonsense also. It fails to distinguish between types of rape where date rape has become much more prolific. Im aware some would like to dismiss this as all down to women's behaviour of course.

    It very much does affect attitudes and behaviours on a simpler level. Of course we should have some forms of control over what simply leaks out generally into civilised society, be those some forms of censorship, watersheds. Just because some people like to sit hunched over their PCs masturbating to gonzo doesnt mean their right to do this makes it normal shoulder shrugging behaviour that should have no limits where young people and kids are concerned. Desensitising minds to everything normalises it, and in turn the stakes are upped to make it harder and meaner. At some point i think even you will have to concede there are limits DK. Unless you want to argue that child porn or violent rape fantasties or something similar are OK for a computer game and something we all have to simply live with too?


Your thoughts on this?