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.

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.

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

Phil Hartup is a freelance journalist with an interest in video gaming and culture

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Politicians and fashion? Why their approach can be telling

My week, from spying on the spies to Theresa May’s fashion charm offensive – and how Sadiq stole hearts.

About nine months ago I was asked if I wanted to spend a morning with Zac Goldsmith, as he appeared to be wakening from the slumber that had obviously taken hold of him when he decided to run for mayor of London. However, after about three minutes in his company (maybe less, actually) I realised that not even his campaign team – let alone voters in the Borough of Southwark – thought he had a hope in hell of winning.

There was only ever going to be one winner, and the enthusiasm with which Sadiq Khan has been greeted by London has been heartwarming. He won the politician award at GQ’s Men of the Year Awards a few weeks ago, and I’d never heard such a roar as he leapt up on stage to collect it. Well, I’ve heard such roars for the likes of Michael Caine, Elton John and Amy Schumer, but rarely for a politician. In fact, the last time there was such fulsome applause for a politician at the GQ awards was when we gave one to a pre-Sextator David Blunkett. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised: the last time Noel Gallagher graced us with his presence, he asked: “Is this what a Conservative party conference looks like?”

 

On the dole

The recent past is being hauled over so repeatedly that soon there are going to be ­retrospectives of events that happened only last week. Or next week. On paper, the new exhibition at the V&A in London, entitled “You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970”, seemed slightly behind the curve, but the reality is very different – as it’s probably the best exhibition you’ll see in London this year.

This is all down to the curation, which was handled by Geoffrey Marsh and Victoria Broackes, the wizards behind “David Bowie Is”, the most successful show in the V&A’s history. It’s a terrific exhibition, although being reminded of the cultural and political insurrection of the Sixties also reminds you of the period’s seemingly innate optimism as a new London was mushrooming into life. Winston Churchill was dead, abortion was about to be made legal and the rise in happiness seemed exponential. Britain was experiencing almost full employment (though the government wobbled slightly in the spring of 1966 when it was announced that the jobless total had gone up to half a million). It never occurred to anyone that there might not be a job
waiting for them when they left school or their red-brick university.

 

Priced out

There certainly won’t be a house waiting for them, not if they intend to live in London. The marketing bods behind the new development at Battersea Power Station came in to make a presentation at Vogue House a few weeks ago, showing us lots of slides and videos about their fabulous ­development. There’s a Frank Gehry this and a Frank Gehry that, a swimming pool, a private members’ club and lots of artisanal independent retailers selling organic rhubarb and fancy beer, blah blah blah.

Their roll-call of “good things” included the ominous words “affordable housing”, but this appears to be anything but. After the presentation, I promptly stuck my hand up and asked them what they actually meant by affordable housing. The answer I got wasn’t satisfactory, so I asked again: “What does your entry-level accommodation cost?” And the very charming man with the lapel-mike coughed apologetically and almost whispered, “£350,000.” At which point I made my excuses and left.

The idea that my daughters can one day get on the property ladder in London is pure fantasy, and they certainly won’t be living in Battersea, or indeed anywhere near it.

 

Back in fashion

Last Thursday, Theresa May hosted her first reception at Downing Street for the British fashion industry, an event that usually takes place twice a year, and which is attended by fashion designers, industry figures, newspaper and magazine editors and the like. ­Samantha Cameron was always a significant supporter of the sector (which contributes more to the country’s GDP than the car industry), as was Sarah Brown before her, and it is instructive that May has decided to follow in their footsteps.

It’s also telling that Mrs Cameron was not only invited to the event at No 10 but turned up, which says a lot about both women. Theresa May is a fundamentally shy person, yet she not only made a pitch-perfect speech in front of a Brexit-sensitive (and quite possibly suspicious) crowd, but chose to embrace the opportunity to espouse the growing importance of an industry that was so closely associated with the wife of her predecessor. There is such a lot of noise at the moment surrounding the PM’s apparent lack of interest in remaining on good terms with David Cameron, so one wonders what, if anything, is going on here. Taken at face value, May’s move at the reception was extremely classy.

 

The spying game

The following day I found myself in Cheltenham for a five-hour briefing on counterterrorism, cyber-defence, drug smuggling and child kidnapping at GCHQ.

I had expected the place to be like the Foreign Office, but it’s actually more like Google, Apple or Nike, and feels as though it could easily be a campus on America’s “Left Coast”.

There is an incredible sense of purpose at GCHQ, a feeling that they are all working for the common good, and frankly I found it infectious. While the denizens of Silicon Valley might be very adept at pushing the frontiers of consumerism, designing training shoes, telephones and algorithms, it felt far more appropriate to be spending time with men and women obsessed with making the world safer.

Dylan Jones is the editor-in-chief of GQ and a trustee of the Hay Festival

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times