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Paul Vale: The Modern Warfare 2 outcry is woefully predictable

As laughable as it was predictable, MP Keith Vaz has criticised the publication of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, a new game from Activision that features scenes of violence and places gamers in scenarios where they are asked to decide whether to kill civilians in order to infiltrate a group of Russian terrorists.

Quoted in Saturday’s Daily Mail, the MP for Leicester East offered his now stock reaction to the publication: “I am absolutely shocked by the level of violence in this game and am particularly concerned about how realistic the game itself looks.”

Mr Vaz’s crusade against interactive entertainment stretches back many years. In 2004, he called for the game Manhunt to be banned, claiming that the killers of British schoolboy Stefan Pakeerah had been influenced by its content. Both the police and the judge failed to find a link when the case went to trail. Indeed, the only person to own the game was the victim. Mr Vaz also campaigned against the game Canis Canem Edit (also known as Bully), claiming it was a simulator in which “players use their on-screen persona to kick and punch other schoolchildren.” The BBFC gave the game a 15 rating.

Addressing the House of Commons in 2006, Vaz offered insight into his personal campaign claiming “this is not about adult censorship, but about protecting our children.” If children are to be protected, they should hope for a better champion than the MP for Leicester East. There certainly is room for a debate over what’s acceptable not only in games, but in all modern media. Unfortunately, paying lip service to “outrage” every time a new adult-themed title hits the shelves advances the discourse not one bit. In fact, it only serves to muddy the water making the job of those who have genuine concerns for the nation’s youth all the more difficult.

The true motives of Mr Vaz are difficult to grasp. Of course, video games offer an available niche with which he could raise his profile.

Perhaps his concern is genuine, just misguided. I am more inclined to give weight to the former, particularly as the MP has a less than pristine history in the service of the British electorate. Mr Vaz was given a month long ban from the House of Commons in 2002 after a Committee on Standards and Privileges inquiry found against him on various complaints. He was also recently implicated in the MP’s expenses scandal, with the Telegraph reporting that Vaz claimed £75,000 in expenses for a second home just 12 miles from his main home.

In 2008, the MP appeared on the BBC’s Newsnight programme in a discussion on Geert Wilders, an elected democratic member of the Dutch Parliament who was banned from entering the UK for commissioning the film Fitna, which explored Koranic justifications for terrorism. “We don’t have absolute freedom of speech,” he maintained, denying both advocates of the film and those wishing to dispute it the right to a public debate in this country. He also admitted to having never seen the film.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is set to be one of the biggest selling games of the year, regardless of whatever nonsense either Vaz or the Daily Mail can cook up. As such, calls for it to be banned, moderated or censored offer nothing more than a sideshow to its release. However, it is born from the same ignorance and intolerance that has far more serious consequences when debating issues such as the Racial and Religious Hatred Act.

The game has been given an 18 certificate by the BBFC. The publisher has also included checkpoints throughout offering the player the option to skip some of the more graphic scenes. This is a measured and responsible approach to a medium of entertainment that’s only just coming out of its infancy.

The gaming industry along with Government should maintain the ongoing debate on responsible content in what is a rapidly developing interactive media. Unfortunately, the histrionics coming out of Leicester East only serve to delay that process, amounting to nothing more than a 2D pantomime in a 3D world.