Mon, Jul 23, 2007 - Page 9 News List

Violence in video games is a risk to the real world

Those who play violent games are often at an impressionable age. `Doom' was a favorite of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the two Columbine High School murderers

By Peter Singer

In a popular Internet role-playing game called Second Life, people can create a virtual identity for themselves, choosing such things as their age, sex and appearance. These virtual characters then do things that people in the real world do, such as having sex. 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.

If you did that in the real world, most of us would agree that you did something seriously wrong. But is it seriously wrong to have virtual sex with a virtual child?

Some Second Life players say that it is, and have vowed to expose those who do it. Meanwhile, the manufacturers, Linden Labs, have said they will modify the game to prevent virtual children from having sex. German prosecutors have also become involved, although their concern appears to be the use of the game to spread child pornography, rather than whether people have virtual sex with virtual children.

Laws against child pornography in other countries may also have the effect of prohibiting games that permit virtual sex with virtual children. In Australia, Connor O'Brien, chair of the criminal law section of the Law Institute of Victoria, recently told Melbourne newspaper the Age that he thought the manufacturer of Second Life could be prosecuted for publishing images of children in a sexual context.

The law is on solid ground when it protects children from being exploited for sexual purposes. It becomes much more dubious when it interferes with sexual acts between consenting adults.

What adults choose to do in the bedroom, many thoughtful people believe, is their own business, and the state ought not to pry into it.

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 behavior may be abhorrent to most people, but as long as it is done in private, few would think that it makes you a criminal.

Nor should it make any difference if you invite a few adult friends over, and in the privacy of your own home they all choose to take part in a larger-scale sexual fantasy of the same kind. Are computers linked via the Internet -- again, assuming that only consenting adults are involved -- so different from a group fantasy of this kind?

When someone proposes making something a criminal offense, we should always ask: who is harmed? If it can be shown that the opportunity to act out a fantasy by having virtual sex with a virtual child makes people more likely to engage in real pedophilia, then real children will be harmed, and the case for prohibiting virtual pedophilia becomes stronger.

But looking at the question raises another, and perhaps more significant, issue about virtual activities -- video game violence.

Those who play violent video games are often at an impressionable age. Doom, a popular violent videogame, was a favorite of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the teenage Columbine High School murderers.

In a chilling videotape they made before the massacre, Harris said: "It's going to be like fucking Doom ? That fucking shotgun [he kisses his gun] is straight out of Doom."

There are other cases in which aficionados of violent videogames have become killers, but they do not prove cause and effect. More weight, however, should be given to the growing number of scientific studies, both in the laboratory and in the field, of the effect of such games.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top