"I don't care what other people say: Brutal TV and brutal video games are a reason for this pointless violence."
You'd be forgiven for thinking that the above quote might have fallen from the moronic mouth of infamous Fox News anchor Bill O'Reilly, or CBS's equally inflammatory Katie Couric, but it's Britain's very own ignoramus Noel Gallagher that uttered this insightful gem. Feeling qualified to comment on the cause of society's ills thanks to his time as singer/songwriter for Manc Britpop band Oasis, Gallagher lay the blame firmly at the feet of the entertainment industry. "People are immune to violence, they are used to it."
We as gamers then, according to self-appointed social commentator Gallagher, simply couldn't resist the draw of violence and vandalism when the opportunity arose. We took to the streets in force to roll cars, smash windows, burn buildings and even steal handheld consoles from other gamers. Right?
What do you mean you stayed inside?
It would be very easy to drag up the age-old arguments against Gallagher's point, so that's exactly what I'm going to do. The 1940s saw the world's bloodiest war, decades before video games as we know them were even a blip in Nolan Bushnell's eye. The 19th century saw the decline of Britain's Empire, built upon the forceful occupation of often defenceless territories, and the first war movie wouldn't be made until early the following century. Rockstar were keen to stress the danger that pervaded early 20th century America in the fantastic Red Dead Redemption, which depicted the decline of the archetypal Outlaw in an era where films were accompanied by rag piano. Yet video games have been blamed for everything from the murder of Stefan Pakeerah to a high-school massacre since their conception, with little in the way of evidence to back up the claims.
Speaking of Rockstar, the London Evening Standard did no one any favours when, in the midst of the riots, they declared that Grand Theft Auto: London may well be responsible for the outbreak of violence in the British capital. This is a game in which you are rewarded for hikacking, drug-running and murder. Never mind the fact that it's a twelve year old title released on a console that isn't even made anymore; it's set in London for chrissakes! That's literally the only connection that's needed.
The truth is that at no point in GTA: London is the player's character depicted as anything other than a villian: a point that no gamer with a functioning moral compass will miss. Red Dead Redemption's protagonist is an outlaw hunting his villainous associates. Are we lead to believe that John Marston's life of crime lead to a rewarding and fulfilling existence? No.
Last week's riots - to quote Prime Minister David Cameron - reek of opportunist looting, despite the incoherent ramblings of two particularly vile specimens claiming to be showing the "rich that we can do what we like". But even that can't begin to explain the sheer scale of unrest over the last few days, because it's not as simple as pointing the finger at something like the games industry. Violence has been a part of human history for as long as we know, and the invention of a particular form of entertainment won't change that, for better or worse.
It's fair to say that this won't be the last time our beloved industry comes under fire by loud-mouthed celebrities with a misplaced sense of authority on the subject of virtual violence and its effects (or lack thereof) on gamers. But we'll keep doing what we do, safe in the knowledge that neither our sanity nor sense of reason are at risk because we like to escape into a virtual world for an hour at a time.