Why banning violent video games isn’t the answer


British MP Keith Vaz, who has a history of criticizing violent games, is calling for a “closer scrutiny” of first-person shooters. Photo courtesy UK Parliament.

In the wake of Norway terrorist Anders Breivik’s claims that Modern Warfare helped him train for a real-live massacre, British MP Keith Vaz says it’s time for Britain to take a closer look at violent first-person shooter video games.

Vaz’s motion says British parliament “is concerned that PEGI [Europe's video-game rating board] as a classification system can only provide an age-rating and not restrict ultra-violent content.” Although the motion has only picked up a handful of supporters since it was introduced, he continues to push the measure, even though Britain is already planning tighten video-game rules and make illegal to supply titles to people who aren’t old enough for the age rating.

Vaz has a history with violent video games. After a 14-year-old was murdered in 2004, the victim’s parents claimed they thought Manhunt inspired the killer. Vaz called for closer scrutiny of such games. Police dismissed the claim after it was discovered the victim, not the killer, was a fan of the game. (Britain later banned Manhunt 2, the country’s first such restriction.)

Vaz is also no fan of Bully or Counter-Strike, the latter of which was associated with race-related shootings in Malmö, Sweden.

Here’s the problem with such actions, which have been attempted in the United States as well, and usually are found in violation of the First Amendment: When someone like Breivik claims that video games are partly responsible for his killing spree, he’s letting himself off the hook. It wasn’t me that did it; it was the video games. Plenty of people have trouble owning up to their transgressions, especially criminals. Taking them at their word when they blame an outside “influence” legitimizes the idea that the crime isn’t their fault. Making laws based on such statements is even worse — it tells society that lawbreakers aren’t to blame for their own actions.

Is that what we really believe? If not, why do so many people support such laws?

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