media & technology
Playing with fire
With violent videos coming under increasing attack from the censors, it can't be long before computer games get caught in the crossfire. But is anybody out there big or clever enough to regulate them?
Words: John Henderson
So at last it‘s official. Violent videos cause crime. according to a report by Dr Kevin Browne. a forensic psychologist at Birmingham University. The report was commissioned by the previous Government after the allegedly video-influenced murder of two-year-old James Bulger on Merseyside.
‘Videos cannot create aggressive behaviour but they will make aggressive people commit violent acts more frequently.” Browne concludes.
Reservoir Dogs, Natural Born Killers and Cras/i have all come under attack in recent years for their content. and the latest shocker Siek. the true story of masochistic cystic fibrosis sufferer Bob Flanagan. is presently being studied by the British Board Of Film Censors (BBFC). It seems likely that the Home Secretary. Jack Straw. will introduce tougher guidelines for the distribution of violent movies after the ftill report is published this October. and the new head of the BBFC is almost certain to be politically accountable.
So if unsuitable films are to be kept out of the nursery. it can’t be long before nanny turns her attention to computer and video games. With the increasing realism and highly addictive violence of games like Quake and Duke Nuke 3]). a similar system of censorship will no doubt be deemed imperative.
Actually. software has had a ratings system for over three years. The European Leisure Software Publishers Ass- ociation (ELSPA) is the sponsor of a voluntary code of classification to which the vast majority of the industry adheres. according to spokes— person Tricia Oxford. It is tip to individual publishers to award a suitable classification. btit unlike film ratings. these are not. and nor are they ever likely to be. legally binding. The problem. as Oxford points out. is that you‘d need to hire a ridiculous team of video game wizards/censors if each part of each game were to be viewed.
‘lt’s not like sitting through a ninety-minute movie.’ Oxford says. In the case of Mario ()4. the girl ain't wrong.
as TlIElIST 29 Aug—ll Sep 1997
Only a couple of weeks ago, tales of a game on Virgin Net called Dunblane Massacre filled
: censors who objected to films like Crash (above) may soon turn
their attention to computer games
ELSPA has been held tip in Parliament as an exemplary form of self-regulation. and it has yet to face a single complaint. The majority of retailers stick by their classification. and the system seems to work relatively well. Yet only a couple of weeks ago. tales of a game on Virgin Net called Dunblane Massaere filled the newspapers. and herein lies the problem with video games. and indeed when technology improves. with films too.
There is. at the moment. no way that censors can exert any real control over the Internet. Its sheer scale. lack of national boundaries. and ethereal nature means that nanny won‘t be able to keep it out of the proverbial nursery. Games can be customised with dubious patches. porn downloaded and Spice Girls slapped. Almost anything goes. In the physical presence of a shop or a cinema. action can be taken. htit not so the Net. A site. once found. can be suspended. but thousands of new ones appear each day.
Smugglers can obviously import snuff movies. btit you don‘t need to be a technical wizard to confiscate a tape. If nanny or Jack Straw. or whichever Home Secretary it turns out to he. wishes to impose a code of morality. they need to have control of the distribution channels for the material they are censoring. As yet. no one has such power over the Internet. and regulation is not a practical possibility. Tightening film censorship will turn out to be the tip of a very big iceberg involving societal control. freedom of speech and modern information systems. Jack Straw could be about to open a global can of untouchable. riotous Internet worms.
Games oWeb Sites 0CD ROMS
GAME Ray Storm (PlayStation £34.99)
Once upon a time, SCrolling ZD shoot 'em ups were all the rage. With increasingly sophisticated modern game scenarios, they have now dropped out of fashion, but Ray Storm is a timely reminder of just how good they can be. Fast and furious is an overused cliche as far as game reViews are concerned, but there are few better phrases to describe the mixture of alien hordes, explosions and weapons-driven mayhem that Ray Storm offers. The graphics give a surprismg sense of depth, the challenge is well pitched and the only failing is the sound. Go wreak some havoc.
CD-ROM WillMaker (PC £19.99)
Feel the Grim Reaper's lazy finger tapping on your shoulder and it might be time to think about a will. If you're looking for a digital guide to passing on your worldly goods, then Wi/lMaker could well save family squabbles at a later date. Guiding you through such legalese as primogeniture and codicil, WIT/Maker takes you through a series of questions regarding what you own, and who you want to leave it to. Then all you have to do is print your finished document, and ponder a cyberspace head stone. Safer suggestion? Get a lawyer.
WEB SITE Glasgow Film Theatre (http://www.scot-art.org/git/)
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Glasgow Film Theatre has recently ventured onto the Web With the help of local company Multimedia Inc. PreViews of upcoming films can be viewed by title or date, but as yet there is no online booking faCility. You can join a mailing list to receive the latest news, but the site lacks interactivity, An online version of the venue’s Cafe Cosmos would allow for continuing discussion, and the educational emphasis of the GFT needs to be replicated on the site. Still, the interface is clean, and GFT is no mega- conglornerate with money to throw around. It’s early days yet.
REVIEWER THIS ISSUE: John Henderson