Speaking on his radio phone-in show on LBC, Nick Clegg has warned listeners of the “corrosive effect” of violent video games on children, using the recently released Grand Theft Auto 5 as an example.
Mr Clegg said that he restricted the amount of time his children spent playing video games to around an hour each evening. He also said that his three sons (aged 4, 8, and 11) only played sports titles involving tennis and football, and that he personally watches them play to check the content of the games.
“Even for very small kids they just get very wound up with these games so you have to try and ration them a bit,” said Mr Clegg. “Clearly these games can have an incredibly powerful, and I suspect in some cases corrosive, effect on someone’s behaviour, someone’s outlook.”
“They get shut off, they don’t talk to other people, they just stay in their living room, their bedroom, hunkered down in front of their computer. They occupy a sort of hermetically sealed world really of their own, and that can have a very detrimental effect.”
However, he also admitted that there was no easy solutions to what he describes as the problematic connection between video games and violent behaviour: “It's incredibly difficult to know in a free country what you can do. We can't limit use by law or by edict.”
Mr Clegg’s comments were made following the news of a London man who was stabbed and robbed of his copy of Grand Theft Auto 5. Although it’s not known whether the attack on the man was motivated by the game, some have seen the incident as emblematic of the link between video games and violent behaviour.
Grand Theft Auto 5’s launch was highly anticipated and the game has since broke several records, including the most successful launch day in terms of revenue for any entertainment property. Worldwide sales revenue totalled $800 million (£498m).
The topic has also been raised in the aftermath of the mass shooting at a Washington Navy Yard base committed by 34-year-old Aaron Alexis. Friends of Alexis told reporters that he played violent video games, a fact that was connected with his actions on the 16th.
The Mirror covered the story with the headline “Washington Navy Yard gunman Aaron Alexis heard ‘voices in head’ after playing violent video games up to 18 hours a day” whilst The Telegraph wrote “Aaron Alexis: Washington navy yard gunman 'obsessed with violent video games”.
Whilst accusations of violent video games causing or encouraging violent behaviour has been a recurrent debate for several decades, studies linking the two have often been criticized.
“It has been increasingly recognized that much of the early research on VVG [violent video games] linking them to increased aggression was problematic,” writes Christopher J. Ferguson, a professor specialising in mental health and video games, in Time.
“Most studies used outcome measures that had nothing to do with real-life aggression and failed to control carefully for other important variables, such as family violence, mental health issues or even gender in many studies (boys both play more VVG and are more aggressive.)”