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

Photo: Getty
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Leader: History is not written in stone

Statues have not been politicised by protest; they were always political.

When a mishmash of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, Trump supporters and private militias gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia on 12 August – a rally that ended in the death of a counter-protester – the ostensible reason was the city’s proposal to remove a statue of a man named Robert E Lee.

Lee was a Confederate general who surrendered to Ulysses S Grant at the Appomattox Court House in 1865, in one of the last battles of the American Civil War – a war fought to ensure that Southern whites could continue to benefit from the forced, unpaid labour of black bodies. He died five years later. It might therefore seem surprising that the contested statue of him in Virginia was not commissioned until 1917.

That knowledge, however, is vital to understanding the current debate over such statues. When the “alt-right” – many of whom have been revealed as merely old-fashioned white supremacists – talk about rewriting history, they speak as if history were an objective record arising from an organic process. However, as the American journalist Vann R Newkirk II wrote on 22 August, “obelisks don’t grow from the soil, and stone men and iron horses are never built without purpose”. The Southern Poverty Law Center found that few Confederate statues were commissioned immediately after the end of the war; instead, they arose in reaction to advances such as the foundation of the NAACP in 1909 and the desegregation of schools in the 1950s and 1960s. These monuments represent not history but backlash.

That means these statues have not been politicised by protest; they were always political. They were designed to promote the “Lost Cause” version of the Civil War, in which the conflict was driven by states’ rights rather than slavery. A similar rhetorical sleight of hand can be seen in the modern desire to keep them in place. The alt-right is unwilling to say that it wishes to retain monuments to white supremacy; instead, it claims to object to “history being rewritten”.

It seems trite to say: that is inevitable. Our understanding of the past is perpetually evolving and the hero of one era becomes a pariah in the next. Feminism, anti-colonialism, “people’s history” – all of these movements have questioned who we celebrate and whose stories we tell.

Across the world, statues have become the focus for this debate because they are visible, accessible and shape our experience of public space. There are currently 11 statues in Parliament Square – all of them male. (The suffragist Millicent Fawcett will join them soon, after a campaign led by Caroline Criado-Perez.) When a carving of a disabled artist, Alison Lapper, appeared on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, its sculptor, Marc Quinn, acknowledged its significance. “This square celebrates the courage of men in battle,” he said. “Alison’s life is a struggle to overcome much greater difficulties than many of the men we celebrate and commemorate here.”

There are valid reasons to keep statues to figures we would now rather forget. But we should acknowledge this is not a neutral choice. Tearing down our history, looking it in the face, trying to ignore it or render it unexceptional – all of these are political acts. 

The Brexit delusion

After the UK triggered Article 50 in March, the Brexiteers liked to boast that leaving the European Union would prove a simple task. The International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, claimed that a new trade deal with the EU would be “one of the easiest in human history” to negotiate and could be agreed before the UK’s scheduled departure on 29 March 2019.

However, after the opening of the negotiations, and the loss of the Conservatives’ parliamentary majority, reality has reasserted itself. All cabinet ministers, including Mr Fox, now acknowledge that it will be impossible to achieve a new trade deal before Brexit. As such, we are told that a “transitional period” is essential.

Yet the government has merely replaced one delusion with another. As its recent position papers show, it hopes to leave institutions such as the customs union in 2019 but to preserve their benefits. An increasingly exasperated EU, unsurprisingly, retorts that is not an option. For Britain, “taking back control” will come at a cost. Only when the Brexiteers acknowledge this truth will the UK have the debate it so desperately needs. 

This article first appeared in the 24 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia