I am a gamer.

That is, I spend much of my spare time (as much – if not more – as I spend Writing, Coding and reading) playing computer games. At the moment, I am playing Unreal 2003, Medieval: Total War, Warcraft III and Age of Mythology. Over Christmas I will probably go back to Battlefield 1942 and cycle back in GTA3. I understand the jokes in Penny Arcade, I am a FilePlanet subscriber, I even work at a company that develops mobile games.

So, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am 21 years old, and I am a gamer.

That doesn’t just mean computer games, of course. I’ve been a DM (Always was a better GM than player, it’s the world creation stuff I adore), I play Fluxx often, and have an obsession with playing cards which is scary. I know most of the rules of the Game We Cannot Name, and have spent hours locked in a fierce game of Mornington Crescent. Games – whether they be computer, card, role-play or meta – are what I do, and I really should let more of that into this site. Lets start now.

The worst thing to hit gaming for as long as I’ve been doing it is probably the Columbine thing, when two social outcast kids walked into their school wearing trenchcoats and carrying automatic weapons and opened fire on fellow students and also teachers. The parents sued the people who made the games they played, blamed the Internet for hypnotising them, blamed the videos they watched for forcing them into violence and generally decided it was the media’s fault for making these evil things.

I disagree.

The shooters were members of a close-knit group of “loners” known as the “trenchcoat mafia (BBC News, April 99). Close-knit loners, oh? Neat. They were part of a typical gang of teenagers who hated the society that worshipped the people who were popular. The people who worship the most become the most worshipped. I could point out that I know what they mean, but point me at someone who doesn’t and I’ll show you someone who was on the inside of it. This is all, however, beside the point. The claim wasn’t that they weren’t insane, the point was that media had driven them to violence.

This I actually agree with, there is a certain mindset that will see violence on TV, or on Monitor, and think Oooh, cool! Can I do that?, but equally there are people who don’t follow that branch line. I can spend several hours a day shooting the shit out of people with huge guns in UT, or in tanks in Battlefield, or firing rotting corpses at buildings in Warcraft (Warcraft isn’t that graphic about it, for those of you going “Eww”, but that’s what the undead catapults do) without feeling the need to construct a rail-gun out of paper-maché and LEDs and kill my family with it, nor do I want to buy a tank and flatten Cambridge, Nor do I feel the need to make the undead rise and do my bidding. Likewise, playing AD&D didn’t make me dress up in a robe and memorise books in my sleep (Though I did take up archery); Fluxx doesn’t make me want to collect the Sun and the Moon; and GTA hasn’t taught me how to club a policeman, steal his gun and car, and ride off into the sunset with a police helicopter on my tail. There is a line between games and reality. Games like Assassins (“Killer”) and paintball may blur it, but it’s still there, and trying to reenact Doom II with a semi-automatic you stole from your parents is quite a bit on the wrong side of it.

So how do we stop the people with a distorted sense of reality from being inspired by this blatant filth, whilst letting those with a functioning reality switch get filthy? I suppose there is some kind of mileage in some sort of system whereby the creators of media entertainment put some kind of recommendation on the box for who should be able to buy or rent this item. If we really wanted to go into pipe-dream mode we could imagine some kind of governing body that assigns these rating things, and were people who sold them could make sure that the more explicit material wasn’t rented to anyone who couldn’t see it!

Oh, Hang about!

Yes, the system exists, it just doesn’t work. Games have ratings. Most games in the UK at least have the ELSPA rating, at least. Videos have ratings, even the bloody internet has ratings, but parents have to try to enforce them. Everyone has to enforce them, otherwise they don’t work. And thats where we are at the moment. Also, ratings are quite a bit more lax than they used to be. Battlefield 1942, a game where your job is to run around shooting people and thats it is rated 15+, so the kids mentioned above would have got it no problem. The only real way around it is for parents to vet everything there kids do, even if it’s round a friend’s house, or for compulsary morality tests to happen. Censoring media isn’t currently terribly effective, mostly because it surrounds us and buries us. You can no more avoid the media than you can the water, short of finding a mountian to hide up. And you’d be terribly bored.

So, whats the alterntive? Well, the UKs answer to it (after Dunblane) was to ban guns. Gun licence laws got stricter. The US doesn’t have that kind of thing, because owning a gun is a much more traditional thing to them, and they see it as being a Divine Right. I disagree, but then I’m British. My solution would be for licences of guns to be licenced, heavily, probably by the NRA. People with traceablity don’t kill people.

Of course, it isn’t society blaming the games completely unjustly. There can be little justification for the moral enrichement that Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball or XXX BMX Racing provide, nor really for Grand Theft Auto other than that it’s fun.

And that’s supposed to be what playing games is all about.