The atmosphere of bansturbation
thickens. There appears now, for many people, to be no middle ground between "I dislike X" and "X should be banned". Whether X is fox-hunting, smoking, drinking, trading with Israel or online pornography is irrelevant. The apotheosis of this attitude comes in this article
on Comment is Free.
He starts by looking at Second Life the online freeform virtual world that has been used as a media shorthand for the entire Web 2.0 idea. The point about Second Life is that there are very few rules of engagement - it's a freeform world and its inhabitants can look after themselves. The only time administrators step in is to repair glitches and faults, whether accidental or deliberately started. This freedom has had inevitable results: Second Life is rather like a Jilly Cooper novel - a very large part is devoted to shopping and fucking. Peter Singer has picked up on the most morally dubious aspect of this:
Depending on your preferences, you can have sex with someone who is older or younger than you - perhaps much older or younger. In fact, if your virtual character is an adult, you can have sex with a virtual character who is a child.
Provided, of course that the virtual character agrees this is true - but we're getting very woolly here - the one are where Linden Labs do make efforts to control the environment is that there is an age control that controls where avatars can go. So what we're talking about is online roleplay. Now, this isn't illegal in 'real life' - take a look in the window of Anne Summers - and it's hard to see why it should be illegal online. Singer rather weakens his case on this:
If you get aroused by having your adult partner dress up as a schoolchild before you have sex, and he or she is happy to enter into that fantasy, your
behaviour may be abhorrent to most people, but as long as it is done in private, few would think that it makes you a criminal.
I may be going out on a limb here, but I reckon that school fantasies aren't abhorrent to most people. The peculiar success of all those school disco parties suggests that a lot of people find the area a sexy one - hardly surprising as school was, after all, the place most of us became aware of sex for the first time. (School discos, on the other hand, baffle me - what was sexy about standing on opposite sides of the gym, waiting to get publicly rejected? Maybe it's just wish-fulfillment - 'this time it'll work, I'm not spotty any more, and I drive a sports car').
But looking at the question in this way raises another, and perhaps more significant, issue about virtual activities: video game violence.
Here we bloody go. More drivel has been written about this than can be believed. Playing Doom, or Resistance, Fall of Man, does not make me a killer any more than playing Virtua Tennis makes me win Wimbledon, or Tomb Raider makes me grow breasts and explore Mayan ruins.
The manufacturers fall back on the simplistic assertion that there is no scientific proof that violent video games lead to violent acts. But sometimes we cannot wait for proof. This seems to be one of those cases: the risks are great, and outweigh whatever benefits violent video games may have. The evidence may not be conclusive, but it is too strong to be ignored any longer.
Dear God. There's no proof, but we should introduce censorship anyway just in case? Reading Guardian articles raises blood pressure to dangerous levels. People who have recently suffered strokes are known to have read the Guardian. The editors fall back on the simplistic assertion that there is no scientific proof that reading the Guardian leads to brain haemmorhage. But sometimes we cannot wait for proof. This seems to be one of those cases: the risks are great and outweigh whatever benefits the Guardian may have. The evidence may not be conclusive, but it is too strong to be ignored any longer.
UPDATE: Kudos go to the commenter who said I used to play Super Mario Bros and now I'm an Italian plumber.
UPDATE2: DK points out in the comments that the writer is a professor of bio-ethics at Princeton. Words rather fail me.