The other night, my computer game designer son sent me a link to a You Tube video of a television chat show, during which Tim Ingham, editor of Computer and Video Games magazine, was subject to a barrage of suspect statistics and ill founded accusations about the game industry. This programme was, I gather, shown in March of last year and caused a certain stir in the world of video games.
Ingham pointed out calmly, clearly and with a certain amount of good humoured grace, that the vast majority of computer games are neither violent nor sexist nor racist nor unsuitable for children. That games are given guidance certificates in the same way as films. That parents need to take a little responsibility and refuse to give in to infant nagging, without first informing themselves of the nature of what is being nagged about. Unfortunately, it's the handful of ultra violent games that tend to get the tabloid publicity.
I don't much care for gratuitiously violent movies myself. And I'm not an avid gamer, although I'm fascinated by games, and their creative possibilities. So I probably wouldn't care for gratuitously violent games either. As far as violent movies go, I get squeamish and then I get bored.
But the programme's earnest disapproval of all 'violence as entertainment ' smacks of hypocrisy and must limit the participants' options a bit. Let's face it, Star Wars could be described as violence as entertainment, and where does that leave us with masterpieces such as Pulp Fiction and American Beauty, all the Bond movies, all the Alien movies, every Western ever made, Speed, the Matrix, most of Shakespeare, all of Marlowe, just about every opera ever written, hell, even my all time favourites, Some Like It Hot and Carousel.
It strikes me that, as the present generation of gamers grow older and become parents, this is an issue which will, to some extent, resolve itself. We're in an interim period here, where many parents of teenagers are largely ignorant about the world of games.
But another, perhaps more interesting aspect of this struck me while I was watching the clip, and cringing a little.There was a certain familiarity about it. Looking at it as a novelist I could catch in the solemn listing of spurious statistics and illogical arguments, an echo of other complaints: a long list of activities which have been condemned by an older generation, frightened by something they didn't understand. These included reading for pleasure, which was condemned selectively by the upper classes who loathed the very idea of the lower orders bettering themselves and paradoxically, by some members of those same working and middle classes who felt horribly disturbed by their children wasting valuable work time on books. Read the wonderful Diary of a Nobody for a brilliant depiction of parental disapproval of youthful obsessions, in this case amateur theatricals, from 1892. Then came film, television - still seen as a Bad Thing by some people - all kinds of music, and a long list of other activities about which people become happily obsessive while others look on with disapproval.
The truth is that the world of computer games is huge and diverse, wildly creative and utterly enthralling. It is, besides, as wonderfully varied as the human beings who create the games. And for the vast majority, games are in no sense a solitary obsession. But most of us know that, already, don't we?