Friday February 29th saw a heated debate in the House of Commons regarding the second reading of Julian Brazier's (Canterbury, Conservative) private member's bill to introduce yet another level of censorship to the United Kingdom. Of course, this used video games as a major wedge.
Brazier's bill, supported by Keith Vaz (Leicester East, Labour), seeks to introduce an official body that can challenge BBFC rulings. Effectively enabling people to delay the release of intellectual properties because those films, DVDs or video games have not been rated harshly enough.
The debate ranged over such inflammatory claims as the fact that people playing video games - in the words of Mr Vaz:
"They can shoot people; they can kill people. As the honourable gentleman said, they can rape women."
The honourable gentleman in question was Julian Brazier. To give Vaz's quote its full context, here it is with more of its well-researched detail, "People who are watching a film at the cinema cannot participate in what is happening on the screen, or if they do they are removed from the cinema.
"However, someone sitting at a computer playing a video game, or someone with one of those small devices that young people have these days, the name of which I forget— [Interruption.] PlayStations or PSPs, something of that kind. [Interruption.]
"Well, whatever they are called, when people play these things, they can interact. They can shoot people; they can kill people. As the honourable Gentleman said, they can rape women."
Later in the debate, Conservative MP Edward Vaizey (Wantage) was able to bring a smidgeon of fact to Mr Vaz's statement. Vaizey pointed out that, "...the right honourable Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who chairs the Home Affairs Committee, mentioned that some video games allow the participant to engage in a rape act..."
"I checked the point with the BBFC and found it to be completely unaware of any such video game.
"Is the honourable Gentleman aware of any video game that has as its intention the carrying out of rape or that allows the game player to carry out such an act? The BBFC and I are unaware of any such game."
Mr Vaz was unable to respond directly, as he'd left the building at this point. Mr Brazier, on the other hand, was able to contribute with yet more lack of knowledge supported by hearsay.
"I cannot comment on the rape in games issue, but I can tell the House what Stefan Pakeerah's father said after Warren Leblanc had murdered his son. He said that "Manhunt
" is a game
"'using weapons like hammers and knives...The object of Manhunt
is not just to go out and kill people. It's a point-scoring game where you increase your score depending on how violent the killing is. That explains why Stefan's murder was as horrific as it was."
Of course, that game was passed by the BBFC."
This time it was Margaret Hodge (Minister of State (Culture, Creative Industries and Tourism), Department for Culture, Media & Sport) to introduce a correction:
"Let us consider the Stefan Pakeerah murder. That was an horrific, terrible crime, involving a horrible way to die. Stefan was subjected to a hammer and knife attack by a 17-year-old, who has since been given a life sentence.
"Stefan's mother and father suggested that the actions of Warren Leblanc—the man who was found guilty of murdering their son—had been influenced by his alleged obsession with the video game Manhunt
"They may have made that statement, but the rationale for the statement is less clear. The game was discovered not in Warren Leblanc's possession but in the victim's possession.
"It does not feature the use of a hammer, and it was not considered by the police to be a contributory factor.
"No such connection was ever suggested in court. Indeed, the prosecution and defence barristers insisted in court that the video game had played no part in the killing.
"It was reported that Leblanc was motivated by fear of a gang to which he owed money."
So, even in the House of Commons, it would appear that some grasp of fact is available - and possibly even bodes well for the Byron review which is due out this month.
But is that enough to stop Mr Vaz from expanding his crusade? That is doubtful - it's also a shame given that a sensible viewpoint taken on hyper-violent games of no merit would be useful to everybody.
It's doubtful given Mr Vaz's stated view of the industry and of the apparent conspiracy between that industry and the press. Here's what Mr Vaz had to say on the subject on Friday:
"The industry is one of the strongest and most powerful in the media today, and London is the centre of that industry.
"Whenever those of us who raise the issue of video games have done so positively in relation to concerns about violence, we have been pilloried in the press that is sponsored by the video games industry for trying in some way to destroy it."
Strange that one of the strongest and most powerful industries in media today should have been cast as "small business" in a government report
... last week.
As for the assertion that the press is sponsored by the video games industry - Mr Vaz is correct that the gaming media - including ourselves here at SPOnG - takes advertising money from the video games industry.
But to say that this is the reason
to openly and freely criticise his often factually flawed statements? Well, we've contacted his office to request a formal interview. We were phoned back this morning by one of his staff - very politely we might add - and we're now awaiting the opportunity to speak face-to-face with the member of Parliament regarding his views.
All questions for Mr Vaz - politely - to the Forum please.
Also, you can read the full debate - without SPOnG's viewpoint - right here.