Labour MP Keith Vaz has tabled an early day motion calling for more stringent government controls on violent video games. In the motion, he mentions Anders Breivik who shot and killed 69 people in Norway last year and who claimed to have prepared for the attack by playing Call of Duty.
In 2010, Vaz called for clearer rating of violent games after a shooting in Sweden when the game Counter-Strike was implicated and last year he tabled a motion about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and claimed similarities between game scenes set in the London Underground and terrorist bombings in 2005.
Martin Robbins has neatly demolished Vaz's so-called evidence in his Guardian article.
But Vaz isn't doing anything new. In earlier times, whenever something terrible happened, the devil or other supernatural malignancies were blamed. This lead to all sorts of consequences, from throwing salt over your left shoulder to burning 'witches'.
Some people still blame the devil and there are still exorcisms, sometimes of children, sometimes with fatal consequences. Those of us who consider ourselves more secular and enlightened now often blame technology for the evils of society. I wrote here about social networking destroying the fabric of society, causing a loss of empathy, the destruction of the English language and even suicide - and here about how the internet 'causes' depression.
What all of these accusations have in common is that they place the blame on something outside of ourselves, something Other. No normal human could possibly do something so terrible without some outside influence. We saw the same reasoning (for want of a better word) when the media was full of stories about satanic child abuse. We like our photos of Breivik to look sinister and evil.
We like to think that we are mostly well-behaved animals. We may rob a bank, lie to our nearest and dearest or even stab someone in a pub while watching football on TV. These are considered within the comprehensible parameters of human behaviour. But when there is a large-scale horror or something truly 'inhumane', then we look for an external agency.
Everything humans do is part of human nature, even the actions that revolt or frighten us. Human behaviour doesn't just cover the nobler acts, or even the criminal but understandable ones. If a human does it, it is a human act, not an inhuman or inhumane one.
Not everyone is capable of doing what Breivik did. The problem is that we don't know if we are or not, we fear there may be something lurking within us like a hidden cancer that might one day reveal itself. Some people do terrible things. They may be people we know or people we're related to. They may even be us. There will always be acts that apparently come out of nowhere, too close to home for comfort, that we can't neatly ascribe a cause to. This causes a kind of cognitive dissonance, so we displace our anxieties onto the Other, whether that is a supernatural malign influence or technology - which is something most of us don't really understand and many of us are anxious about even though it was invented by humans.
We also fear threats to our society (real or imagined), which is where some of the internet scares come from, as well as our responses to terrorist activities. We like things to stay comfortably the same but they never do so rather than accept that change is part of life, we blame something or someone for forcing it on us. That could be a change to our society or, just as frightening, a change in the way we think about what it means to be human.
When he blames Call of Duty, Vaz is no different from a Mediaeval peasant blaming the evil eye for making his crops fail. The evil eye could be warded off, games can be banned or heavily regulated, giving an illusion of control and understanding.
Blaming outside agencies or freaks of nature is comforting but we need to grow up and put the comfort blanket aside. If we do blame games for violent actions and suppress or heavily regulate them, then the next time there is an atrocity, we'll have to come up with some other cause, some other thumb-sucking excuse.
I wrote about other aspects of passing the buck onto 'evil' here.