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Opinions, Truthiness and Violence in Video Games

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Here’s a quote from Blake’s 7:

VILA: “I’m entitled to my opinion.”
AVON: “It is your assumption that we are entitled to it as well that is irritating.”

And here is a quote from acclaimed sci-fi author Harlan Ellison:

“We are all told from the moment we open our eyes, that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. Well, that’s horsepuckey, of course. We are not entitled to our opinions; we are entitled to our informed opinions. Without research, without background, without understanding, it’s nothing. It’s just bibble-babble. It’s like a fart in a wind tunnel, folks.”

All of which is by way of an introduction to the subject of this post – violence in video games. Yep, that old chestnut.

Despite the fact that studies suggest that the average age of a gamer is now anything from 25 to 35, some people still find it shocking that some games are made for adults and not kids.

This is because some people are opinionated, ill-informed idiots. They are ignorant of the state of the video game industry, the policing of that industry and the failure of any credible study to find any significant link between violence in games and violence in real life. Yet these people know that, despite a lack of evidence, video games corrupt our kids and turn them into sadistic, racist killers.

Which brings us to this clip from an edition of The Alan Titchmarsh Show that aired last week on ITV1. Timed to coincide with an event celebrating the artistic and technical merits of gaming, the BAFTA Video Games awards, the show used that positive representation of gaming as its jumping-off point to lambast the industry for corrupting children.

It starts off with the host criticising videogames for not having a rating system similar to movies – they do – and goes rapidly downhill from there, as Computer & Video Games editor Tim Ingham finds himself under attack from Titchmarsh and his regular guest Julie Peasgood, both of whom are armed to the teeth with opinions and spurious, unsubstantiated “facts”. Watch and weep:

Both Titchmarsh and Peasgood state a number of “facts” about videogames that are what satirical US comedian Stephen Colbert would label as “truthiness“. Truthiness refers satirically to “facts” that are intuitively correct without support of logic or reason. Truthiness refers to the kind of facts you look up in your gut, not in books. To quote Colbert:

Anybody who knows me knows I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books – they’re elitist, constantly telling us what is or isn’t true or what did or didn’t happen. Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I want to say it was happened in 1941, that’s my right.
I don’t trust books. They’re all fact, no heart. And that’s exactly what’s pulling our country apart today. ‘Cause face it, folks: we are a divided nation. Not between Democrats and Republicans, or Conservatives and liberals, or tops and bottoms. No. We are divided between those who think with their head, and those who know with their heart.

‘Cause that’s where the truth comes from ladies and gentlemen. The gut.
Do you know you have more nerve endings in your stomach than in your head? Look it up. Now somebody’s gonna say, “I did look that up and it’s wrong.” Well mister, that’s cause you looked it up in a book. Next time, try looking it up in your gut. I did. And my gut tells me that’s how our nervous system works.

Back to the Titchmarsh interview and according to Peasgood, videogames are “addictive”, “promote hatred, racism, sexism”, make kids “less caring” and “cause low self-esteem and depression”. She also states that “there is a proven link between behavioural violence and video game violence”.

That’s truthiness in its purist form, right there.

Surprisingly perhaps, the normally reactionary Kelvin MacKenzie, former editor of The Sun newspaper, was less opinionated, albeit expressing concern about the realism of the violence portrayed in videogames and where it was going. He did, however, falsely state that videogames had influenced one of the killers of toddler James Bulger in 1993. To be fair, rather than employing truthiness, he may have simply been confusing videogames with “video nasties” – the tabloid media at the time persistantly suggested that the horror film Child’s Play 3 had influenced the Bulger killers, despite the fact that any link between the case and video nasties was dismissed by both the home office and the police.

Getting back to Peasgood, I have to admit that I had never heard of her until yesterday. She is an actress-cum-TV presenter who regularly appears on the Titchmarsh show as his resident “sexpert”.

We could perhaps excuse the pair’s ill-informed ranting and rampant truthiness if we assumed it was motivated by a genuine concern and heartfelt belief that our kids are being corrupted by objectionable content in videogames, films and the media in general.

However, that is a little hard to reconcile with this clip of the wholesome family entertainment served up by the pair during a show that airs on one of the UK’s two main TV channels at 5pm in the afternoon (that’s except for viewers in Scotland, who’ve got their own programs):

What’s that you say? The Alan Titchmarsh Show isn’t intended for children? Well, neither are violent video games with an 18 certificate. Parents have a responsibility to monitor and prevent their kids watching unsuitable TV content? The same surely applies to parents taking responsibility for monitoring and controlling their kids’ videogaming.

The above clip shows a very petty and fairly trivial sort of hypocrisy from Titchmarsh and Peasgood. Their sex toys feature is “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” stuff. It’s hardly soft porn and it’s certainly not going to corrupt or damage anyone – though, given the time it aired, it might have led to embarrassment and some uncomfortable questions for parents of kids who happened to see it.

Actually, having said it’s not damaging, the sight of Alan Titchmarsh playfully putting a dildo up to his ear may well have an undesirable effect on you libido… or at the very least, given the show’s timeslot, put you off your tea.

More seriously, though, a worse, more distasteful form of hypocrisy was uncovered by the Twitterverse and reported by C&VG yesterday. During the debate, Peasgood self-righteously states:

I am categorically against violence as entertainment. It is just wrong.

Which is fair enough. She’s entitled to that belief – even if it does seem to dismiss many classic movies, TV shows and novels in one fell swoop.

However, such a strident, uncompromising moral statement is hard to swallow from an actress who was happy to lend her voice to a 2000 survival horror video game called Martian Gothic: Unification, a game whose storyline revolves around humans living on Mars who are transformed into flesh-eating zombies and see the player as their next meal.

Here are a couple of screen shots from the game (don’t panic, kids – this was the year 2000 and although we thought graphics like this were cool and state of the art, we know better now…):

It seems that Julie is morally outraged by and categorically against violence as entertainment… unless she is getting aid to take part in it.

For the final word, I draw your attention to Ms Peasgood’s Wikipedia entry, as it stood last night, which revealed a hidden, if very apt, talent (click on the top image for a full-size version):

To that, I would only add that she is also clearly exceptionally good at farting in wind tunnels, folks…

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Filed under Current and recent TV shows, Stuff, Video games