Prime Minister Tony Blair today voiced his support for the UK's game certification system, which offers parents an indication of which titles are suitable for given age groups and provides a legal framework to fine or imprison retailers who sell adult-oriented games to kids.
Actually, he didn't say that at all. Blair today told parliament that the game Manhunt, alleged to have been involved in the murder of Leicester teenager Stefan Pakeerah, was "wholly unsuitable for children".
Indeed, Tony, that's why Manhunt carries an 18 certificate. It is already unlawful to sell the game to anyone under that age.
Despite this current legal framework, Blair said he would discuss the matter with Home Secretary David Blunkett, suggesting the possibility of further legislation. He said that while responsible adults should be allowed to choose what games they play, children needed to be protected.
The PM's comments came in answer to a request from Leicester East MP Keith Vaz for yet another investigation between violent games and violent actions.
Vaz asked the question on behalf of Pakeerah's parents, who believe the game was a direct cause of their son's death at the hands of Warren Leblanc, 17, who pleaded guilty to the crime in July.
Local police, however, discounted the claim during their investigation of Pakeerah's death. Indeed, it subsequently emerged that Manhunt had been owned by the victim, not his killer.
Pakeerah's parents are already taking legal action against Manhunt published Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. They are seeking £50m in compensation for the loss of their son. Sony and the game's developer, Rockstar Games, along with the British Board of Film Classification - which also certifies games - have rejected the alleged link between the murder and the game.
At this stage, it's unclear how Pakeerah came by his copy of Manhunt. Aged 14, he was certainly too young to buy it, legally. Any retailer found guilty of selling a game to someone insufficiently old enough to buy it faces up to six months in gaol and a fine of up to £5000 if found guilty. Those penalties could be increased, but so far there's nothing to stop unwitting - or fully aware - parents buying adult games on behalf of their children. There is no evidence to suggest that this is how Pakeerah obtained Manhunt.
As for Vaz's call for further research into potential links between violent games and violent acts, it's something of a red herring. Even assuming such a link is found - and on the basis of past research that remains unlikely - what then? Short of banning violent games and movies altogether, there's little that can be done beyond what the law states already: that it's wrong to sell adult games to children. ®
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