Monday, January 09, 2006

Won’t somebody please think of the children!

The (London) Times today brings up an old chestnut:

VIOLENT computer games trigger a mechanism in the brain that makes people more likely to behave aggressively, research suggests.

A study of the effects of popular games such as Doom, Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto, which involve brutal killings, high-powered weaponry and street crime, indicates that avid users become desensitised to shocking acts of aggression. Psychologists found that this brain alteration, in turn, appeared to prime regular users of such games to act more violently.

Many studies have concluded that people who play violent games are more aggressive, more likely to commit violent crimes, and less likely to help others. But critics argue that these correlations prove only that violent people gravitate towards violent games, not that games can change behaviour.

The debate about whether violent computer games lead to actual violence reached a peak after the Columbine massacre, but seems to have largely died away. Of course, the argument pre-dates computer games: remember the fuss over Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange? That film now seems pretty tame by today’s standards. It’s clear enough that most people can play games and watch movies without feeling the urge to act them out.

However, there is one area of popular culture that I have to admit disturbs me. LA ‘Gangsta’ culture is ruthlessly marketed and is extremely popular among youths across the world, and Britain is certainly no exception. My sister teaches in a multi-racial comprehensive in London, and she reliably informs me that the rapper 50 Cent is worshipped by boys of all races, but especially blacks and Asians.

And now it seems these kids are playing a video game in which you live out 50 Cent’s (real or imagined?) gangsta lifestyle, including such tasteful activities as shooting rival gang members and looting bodies to buy 50 Cent records and videos.

Maybe it’s all as harmless as the (I suppose, extremely bloody) games of outlaws and pirates that we used to play as children. But those make-believe outlaws and pirates belonged to an obviously imaginary world distinct from the rather mundane real one. This game, called ’50 Cent: Bulletproof’, takes a real pop star and glamorises an apparently highly lucrative and exciting lifestyle of guns and crime.

I've found that it is very easy to underestimate the common sense of youths. They're usually much more sophisticated and morally aware than you think, and plenty of them turn out to see such old-fashioned family fun as Wallace and Gromit, Narnia or Harry Potter.

Nonetheless, I can't help thinking that the existence of '50 Cent: Bulletproof' means we have to chalk one up for the hell-in-a-handcart brigade.


Blogger Duck said...

Gangsta culture is thoroughly troubling, but outlaws have always had an appeal in "respectable" society, from western gunslingers to Prohibition era speakeasies, and the quasi-gangster appeal of Frank Sinatra. They often set the trend for what is cool and "dangerous", because giving off an aura of danger has always defined "cool" for young men.

If it didn't scare adults, it wouldn't be cool.

January 09, 2006 9:27 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

[T]he existence of '50 Cent: Bulletproof' means we have to chalk one up for the hell-in-a-handcart brigade.

Yes, I think so.

Violent imagery DOES promote violent behavior - just not widely or intensely.

As you note, playing "cowboys & Amerindians", or reading Treasure Island, also promotes rough play, but they're clearly fantasy to almost all, whereas 50 Cent is a real and contemporaneous person with a really violent past, so the line between fantasy and reality blurs a bit more for some.

Bottom line: A vulgar annoyance, but not the end of the world.

January 09, 2006 8:39 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Well, if bad stuff doesn't have bad effects, then good stuff couldn't have good effects and we shouldn't bother inculcating desired behaviors in the young, because they . . . uh . . . won't . . . uh . . . listen . . .

. . . oh, never mind.

January 10, 2006 8:16 PM  

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