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Mon, 27 Feb 2006

Mums, video games, and gangsta yobs

While the United States of America has Jack Thompson on hand to provide whatever cack-handed, uninformed moralising is required over mature content in videogames, the UK's tabloid press has yet to find such a consistent champion - but it's not for want of trying. While UK legislators have to date been much more receptive to the messages of the interactive entertainment industry and significantly less prepared to listen to the largely groundless demonisation of the medium by its detractors than their US counterparts, that doesn't stop our radically right-wing tabloid publications from taking a pop every time they get a chance.

The latest publication to jump on the bandwagon is "Take A Break", a UK women's magazine which has launched a campaign against anti-social behaviour, titled "Mums' Army", and plans to run candidates in future British elections on a platform whose proposals include the banning of violent videogames. Games, the campaign's supporters claim, are part of a wide range of social problems including drug and alcohol abuse, gang membership and, of course, that other current bugbear of the conservative media, gangsta rap, all of which are contributing to a "yob culture" in modern Britain.

Ultimately, it's not exactly the kind of thing that makes videogame publisher executives break out in cold sweats or wake up screaming; despite the magazine's large readership, it's hard to see a political movement launched on the same pages which detail the story of a woman "crippled by 40 to 60 orgasms a day" gaining much ground in Westminster, after all. However, it's still interesting to consider that there are clearly people in Britain today who honestly believe that videogames belong alongside drug and alcohol abuse in terms of the seriousness of their impact on "yob culture".

Completely aside from the obvious question marks over the lack of scientific research backing up these claims, what's perhaps most telling about this whole affair is that those behind the campaigns clearly feel that videogames are something that happens "out there", beyond their control - despite the fact that, as the campaign name suggests, it's aimed directly at parents.

What comes across from the statements of people involved in "Mums' Army" is that they know that there are videogames which "glorify pimping, drug dealing and street murders", but that they don't make the logical connection to trying to control what their children are playing. While there is, of course, always more that can be done to educate the public about age ratings and videogame content, there comes a point where the industry has to throw its hands up and say that it has done its best; a point where decent parenting has to take over.

The sad fact is that that isn't happening, and the ill-conceived 'Mum's Army" campaign illustrates that. It's intriguing that films, which are still far more likely to contain violence, sex, or glamorisation of the criminal lifestyle or drug abuse, don't appear anywhere in the list of gripes expressed by Take A Break and its campaign. Do parents feel that they can control films, where they cannot control games? Or do they simply not care about films any more?

Either way, what lies at the heart of this problem is not the availability of adult content, it is the unwillingness of parents to actually live up to the responsibility of raising their children. Every game sold in Britain has an age rating on the box, as well as indicators regarding content; and by the sounds of it, many, if not most, parents are aware that some games, like some films, contain content that is unsuitable for minors. Modern games consoles even have parental lock-out controls. The ball is firmly in the court of parents like the ones behind the "Mums' Army" campaign. They have been given the information and the tools required to moderate the content their children have access to; it's now up to them to prove that their parenting is not as lazy, inattentive and irresponsible as it would appear, rather than to rail against the production of adult content for a medium enjoyed by millions of adults.

(gamesindustry.biz)

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