The article, written by Jenny McCartney, suggests there is a problem with the sort of games that are being allowed to reach retail’s shelves – and the lack of action taken in the Byron Review to increase censorship.
The piece is the second Telegraph opinion article to attack the Byron Review this year. Last month, Sky Sports football pundit Jim White questioned whether the report was an empty Governmental stunt.
Jenny McCartney’s full opinion reads:
‘The report issued last week by Dr Tanya Byron on the effects of violent computer games upon young people was a typical well-meaning New Labour project: it made decent recommendations of dubious effectiveness. Dr Byron, a former television psychologist with experience of troubled children, said games should be rated by the user's age, and urged fines, even jail, for those selling them to underage children.
‘Dr Byron seems a sensible woman, and no doubt she has done her best to contain the spread of some of the more obnoxious material on offer without incurring the ire of the games lobby. But one of her remarks in an interview last week struck me as particularly, and depressingly, modern. "My review is not about making any kind of moral pronouncements," she said, "although I do think that it is important to look at the desensitisation to violence.”
‘The f-word might be everywhere now, from playgrounds to the titles of BBC documentaries, but it's the m-word that can render people really twitchy. Opinion-formers will squirm to avoid an argument that is seen to be based on moral considerations: they will grope instead for the comfort-blanket of scientific data, and "pragmatic approaches", and "natural concerns".
‘The word "moral" still has deeply unfashionable associations with Mary Whitehouse, and the "moral majority" protesting against the "tide of filth" in books and television in the US. How tame and inoffensive that tide looks now.
‘Yet the truth, surely, is that the majority of us would indeed recoil from the idea that our teenage son or daughter was upstairs playing Manhunt 2, a recently licensed game in which the protagonist, an escaper from an experimental asylum, tortures and murders other players in the most graphic ways.
‘It might well be true, as we are so often told, that most children who immerse themselves daily in violent video games will not go on to commit real murder. For that, I suppose, we must all be grateful.
‘But the instinctive objection remains, and it is indeed rooted in morality: the sense that it is wrong for anyone, child or adult, to spend long hours electronically rehearsing the prolonged agony and detailed humiliation of other human beings for their own amusement. It is insidiously corrupting to their view of themselves and other people.
‘No one is saying that all video games are damaging, even if they depict fighting. I am not under the illusion that we can, or should, attempt to confine older children to a play world made up entirely of group hugs and communal co-operation. A significant vogue in video-games, however, is to put the player not in the role of a character who combats wrongdoing, but of the wrongdoers themselves: the mass murderer, the torturer, the street thug, drug dealer or pimp.
‘The selection of protagonist is no doubt ironic, with these strutting miscreants representing the fantasies of nerdy little middle-class boys, but when one considers the prevalence of gangs, drug dealers and teenage violence on the streets the irony doesn't seem quite so amusing.
‘The authorities have found themselves powerless to oppose the nastiest examples of such "entertainment". Consider Manhunt 2, a game so repellent that the British Board of Film Classifications sought to ban it. The BBFC is certainly no bastion of old-fashioned censorship -the Guardian recently said it was more like a "progressive young uncle" than a "strict matron".
‘But even the progressive young uncle was shocked by Manhunt 2. David Cooke, the BBFC's director, banned the game for its "unrelenting focus on stalking and brutal slaying", adding that it was distinguished by its encouragement of "sustained and cumulative casual sadism". The fact that, in America, the makers cut a castration-with-pliers scene for its Wii version gives you some idea of its content.
‘The BBFC's ruling was repeatedly overturned by the Video Appeals Committee, and the game was licensed for sale in Britain this month. It has an "18" certificate, but it would only require an 18-year-old player with younger siblings to leave it lying around at home, for it to be freely available to underage players.
‘This is a curious country, in which it is socially acceptable to be outraged by bottled water and plastic bags, but embarrassingly de trop to get worked up about sickening depictions of violence as entertainment.
‘Perhaps if more people, including teenagers, were prepared to voice moral objections to this toxic stuff, it would no longer be possible to lampoon them for caring.’