We haven't had something to get worked up about in at least a day, so how about the impressive and unhelpful display of nonsense from Plymouth-based Councillor Michael Leaves, Cabinet Member for Streetscene and Environmental Regulation. It seems that because a mystery shopper exercise by Plymouth’s Trading Standards officers tested whether various shops would sell knives or 18 rated videogames to teenagers, the two must be linked! Knives and videogames, together at last.
Following a similar exercise with knife shops last year (one out of 23 stores sold a knife without checking the age of the shopper), Plymouth bigwigs tried the same again, this time adding an investigation into games shops. Two out of 25 knife stores broke the law, while five out of nine gaming outlets failed to ID the customers. Step in Cllr Leaves to explain why we must all hide in upturned bathtubs in our basements.
"It's vital for shops not to sell youngsters knives and I find it very disappointing that any in Plymouth have done so. As for violent video games, I believe they must have a detrimental influence on any children who play them and I would not be at all surprised if there was not a connection with the knife crime issue. Everyone who sells these games must take extra care to ensure they only sell them to those who can legally buy them."
(We're assuming that he either meant that he would be surprised, or that the Plymouth Herald muddled his quote. It would be nice to think he was playing a clever trick on everyone with a sneaky double-negative, but that seems unlikely).
Statement of clarity: We could not be more behind enforcing age restrictions on videogames, and condemn the stores for failing to do so. It's essential that age restrictions be respected in order to maintain an adult's right to play adult games. If it can be proven they make no difference to sales, then the censors will be in a position to impose restrictions on what adults can play. Oh, and we don't know what detrimental effects violent games might have on kids.
What's so sad about this story is the lack of informed comment from all involved. From Mr Leaves', "I believe they must," (it's hard to believe he would use this phrase if he had done any research whatsoever before giving his public, governmental opinion), all the way, rather disappointingly, to those in Trading Standards. Lynda Braddock, who spoke for the body, began by explaining their investigation was inspired by Byron's report, and then gives the impression that she might not have read it. She expounds,
"Games are becoming more and more violent and more and more interactive. Youngsters are using them for four or more hours a day, living the life of a gangster. You must lose your shock factor if you're continuously killing people – and then get rewarded for being violent."
That word "must" appearing again. (We'll ignore "more and more interactive" out of politeness). So much easier than actually having the facts in front of you, to just say what you think "must" be the case. The reason this is so frustrating is two-fold. They could be right! It could be incredibly harmful for under-age kids to play violent videogames. But so long as the approach to the subject is so astonishingly dismissive that nonsense like the above is acceptable, it will never be taken seriously. And, far more seriously (since there so far is no evidence at all), it distracts from focusing on the real causes of violence amongst young people. For as long as we blame the videogaming bogeyman, we're avoiding what are far more likely to be real issues. Issues more difficult to regulate than age restrictions on boxes. Issues that would involve hard work and money. Issues like poverty and abuse. No, quick! Blame Grand Theft Auto! For goodness sakes, let's not think about it any more!
This isn't funny. Violent crime among young people is deadly serious, and being grotesquely trivialised by lazy authority figures. Conflating two utterly different issues because they were investigated at the same time is so ludicrous it becomes a joke. But a joke that's rapidly wearing thin.
It'll be interesting to see how much sillier it can get. I have a strong feeling that this will manage it.