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Peaceniks take on Rockstar in violent games row

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Campaigners against thuggery have revived their campaign for a computer game depicting child-on-child violence to be banned in time for Christmas.

Bully, expected to be released in October by the violent game developer Rockstar, uses the setting of a remedial school to play out a subversive plot.

Bullyonline, which advises parents on bullying, racism and homophobia, has called for the game to be banned.

A campaign led by Keith Vaz, the Labour MP for Leicester East, to regulate violent computer games with a Video Games Bill, which has also called for Bully to be banned, got off to a bad start in May. Its second reading in the House of Commons was dropped due to a lack of parliamentary time, although Vaz may revive it in the next session.

He had proposed introducing a tighter and clearer system of video game classification. He has not extended his calls for computer game bans into his legislation, though he has noted that kids play computer games on average eight ours a week and the industry is worth £711 million to the British economy.

“Children need to be protected from violent games for this reason: although a child's morality continues to grow and mature as they grow older, they are still immature and lack the necessary capabilities to deal with the exposure to violence that these games give them,” Vaz told the House of Commons in March.

He was egged on by research published in January that was the first to suggest an association between people's brain physiology, their desensitization to violent images from playing violent computer games and their own aggressive behaviour.

"The implications of the research are far-reaching," said Vaz. "Every precaution should be taken to ensure that children are not exposed to games that will diminish their sensitivity to violence."

But the researchers were not convinced they had proved that playing violent computer games led to aggressive behaviour. Violent computer games may desensitize, but they do not necessarily demoralize. There is still to be found, said the researchers, that thing that mediates between ones' influences and ones' actions. There are those "good" people, for example, who perpetrate unprovoked war who most probably did not play violent computer games as either children or adults.

Vaz has attracted the signatures of 51 MPs in his call for a Bully ban. Another of his early day motions called last month for the impending computer game of the film Reservoir Dogs to be banned. Reservoir Dogs made its off-screen violence seem more offensive than it was with some realistic acting.

Liz Carnell, director of Bullying Online, said there were plenty of examples of copycat violence committed by children who played violent computer games. Kids who had played a wrestling game beat up another with similar moves. Parents of children who have been murdered have seen parallels with computer games. Happy slapping, the dark art of recording beating someone up on a camera phone, caught on quickly because people copied others who posted their recordings on the net.

Rockstar, the makers of the Bully computer game, the infamous Grand Theft Auto and other such mindless, yet strangely impulsive pursuits, refused to comment. Were it not just a computer game, we would have liked to ask them if their game depicted the mental, physical or sexual abuse often suffered at home by those who bully at school. What can it be that causes them to lack the means to calibrate their own moral mediator?

As it happens, this looks like yet another case of well-meaning campaigners getting excited about something before they've seen it. People playing Bully, by all accounts, take the part of a regular kid trying to get through the day in a school stuffed through of them.

Carnell said a representative of the firm told her their game Bully was no more than a contemporary retelling of Just William, the books that in the 1920s told the tale of a good-hearted, prank-loving, gaff-prone boy. Censors have relaxed a lot since then, desensitized as they no doubt are - and as such perhaps they are able to make more rational decisions about classifications.®

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