Phil Hartup on videogames

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Memo to Nick Clegg: It isn't video games that are corroding people's minds - it's you

Nick Clegg is the latest in a line of politicians and journalists to scapegoat video games for violent behaviour in society - conveniently forgetting the military and societal damage he and his political allies are doing every day.

Nick Clegg.
Nick Clegg called video games "corrosive". Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images.

Oh Nick Clegg. Cleggo. Nicky C. N-Clegz. We were getting along so well. Well. Kind of. That is to say I consider you to be one of the most morally hollow figures in British politics; a man whose near infinite selfishness has betrayed not only the electorate and the party that appointed you to lead them like some kind of Lemming King into the political abyss. But apart from that I had no specific beef.

I never took it particularly personally. I was angry, even outraged, at times with the things you enabled the Tory party to do to this country, this country that might not even exist in a couple of years if Scotland votes to leave. That’d be a feather in your cap, eh Nick? Being a part of a government so utterly impossible to tolerate that a great big chunk of said country would sooner cut itself adrift into a sea of uncertainty than spend one more day looking at your face beaming out of the television with the caption "Deputy Prime Minister" underneath.

But for all that anger, and for all that indignation, for all the things you’ve helped Dave and the gang to do to people in this country, young and old, poor and poor, nothing really lit the blue touch paper until now.

It was when you said this: "Clearly these games can have an incredibly powerful, and I suspect in some cases corrosive, effect on someone’s behaviour, someone’s outlook," that a new level of fury was reached.

This man is going to sit there, the Deputy Prime Minister in one of the most venal and sadistic administrations in modern British history, and he’s going to say we’re the corroded ones? That people who enjoy video games are corrupted, corroded, ticking time bombs just waiting to flip out and shoot everybody we can see? No.

I want to know something. If people who play video games are victims of these powerful, corrosive effects, with such a terrible effect on behaviour and outlook, what video games have politicians been playing for the last couple of decades?

But let’s be clear, it’s not just about Nick Clegg.

In both the UK and the USA we have seen politicians blaming video games for the corruption of society. For instance, we have men like Keith Vaz complaining about the fact that GTA V contains a torture scene.

Now I respect the right of people in general to be critical of things. I have yet to play GTA V and I won’t judge it myself until I have, and the torture scene is not something I look forward to. When groups like Freedom from Torture and teachers unions say that a game is a bit screwed up, I think their concerns merit consideration. We, as adult human beings, should respect the right to make games free of censorship, and we should equally respect the right of people to be critical of those games.

But if you are a member of parliament, and maybe for example you voted in favour of the Iraq War, or you tried to get Syria bombed because this week the government killed people in a new way, or you did nothing to stop the NSA and GCHQ spying on All The Things, then you probably need to shut up about all the bad things in video games. You probably need to shut up about all the bad things in video games, take a good look at yourself in the mirror and seriously consider just what the hell happened to you that you are where you are, doing what you do, with the world in the mess that it is.

Here’s the thing you see, torture in video games is relatively new, at least in the mainstream, but why is it here at all? Is torture something that was invented by games developers? Is it something that was brought into the mainstream consciousness by games and media? No. We deal with torture as a part of our culture now because politicians decided that torture should be a thing that government agents, be they soldiers or spies, do to people. It is politicians who brought torture into the public sphere because in the post 9/11 world, torture was legitimised.

We can see this hypocrisy in the former Labour government with its involvement in prisoner rendition and in the current government with its continual support for the USA despite the continued existence of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in spite of the general acceptance that it no longer serves any purpose.

We have a political class in the UK and USA who decry the corruption caused by video games, while making no secret of detaining and torturing men without charge for over a decade. Our leaders think it is acceptable to detain and torture a man without any intent to charge him; that is the message we can take from the last decade of watching politics in action. This should be shocking, yet we live with it now almost comfortably. We live in a world where politicians will try to destroy you for speaking truth to power, whether it is Dr David Kelly, Chelsea Manning, or Edward Snowdon.

But it is video games that are corrosive.

It is not just torture either, it’s the violence. Even moving past Iraq and Afghanistan what can we possibly make of the current approach to the use of violence in foreign policy? Drone strikes, for example, have dehumanised the process of taking a life to the extent that missions have been referred to as "bug splats". Thousands of people killed, some possibly legitimately, but does anybody really know for sure who all these men women and children are, or why precisely they have to die? How many must die to ensure our freedom, is there a precise formula? If the drone pilots stopped killing for a week, or a month, or a year, would the free world as we know it be overrun? We allow our governments to kill, but we no longer even demand to know why, or do demand due process. Somewhere along the way we embraced assassination on an industrial scale, because politicians told us this was the thing that we should do.

We live in a world shaped by politicians, not by video games. We live in a world of staggering wealth disparity, of injustice, of conflict in which the freedoms we took for granted at the turn of the century hang by a thread or have been axed.

The games we play are the product of this world, not the other way around.