Editorials

Alan Titchmarsh Show: Promotes ignorance and hypocrisy…

April 6, 2010, Author: Andy Corrigan

The 19th of March 2010 was a positive day for gaming, with the British Academy Video Games Awards being held that very night. The industry was rightfully being recognised and rewarded for work on the medium that is easily becoming the nations favourite past time. However, on a day of celebration for many, a day that even the BBC relaxed on their recent sensationalist take on gaming and managed a positive news piece for one solitary occasion, a former gardener inexplicably armed with a weekday daytime TV show decided to continue concentrating on non-arguments. Held in the guise of an alleged ‘debate’, this particular segment on ‘The Alan Titchmarsh Show’ amounted to no more than an ignorant campaign of hate, with one of our own forced to sit in the middle of it and take unsubstantiated abuse from uneducated people without any facts or knowledge of the subject.

Take a look at the following video, as I give you my views on a prime example of why more and more people are switching away from the television.

As you probably saw in his intro, Alan had already nailed his own colours to the post before any actual discussion had taken place. After managing to sound like he was reading the classified football results while carefully reeling off the most mainstream titles that have been subject to the general media’s pitchforks and torches, he then decides to offend many generations by insinuating the rationalisation that all gamers are children. A bizarre stance for someone who, as host, should really be clued up and acting as a mediator for the ensuing farce.

After introducing CVG editor Tim Ingham (unaware of the abuse soon to be sent in his direction), Julie Peasgood (nope, I’d never heard of her before either…), and Kelvin McKenzie (a man well known for printing lies in his time as the editor of a particularly banal tabloid rag), the debate gets underway.

Mere seconds into the segment, Alan is countering the argument that violent movies are picking up Oscars by smugly stating the fact that movies have guidance ratings. Of course, this just shows Alan’s lack of research. Anyone who has ever glanced at the front of a videogame cover can see that games are rated similarly to movies and have been for some time. Hell, even a fair amount of non-gamers I know remember the PEGI vs BBFC debate. You know; an argument between two parties that provided guidance ratings for video games… The look of genuine bemusement on Titchmarsh’s face at this realisation said it all. You would think that someone wanting to host a serious debate on their show would have looked into the subject somewhat. Most shows have entire research teams to feed the hosts important facts like these, so just where is Titchmarsh actually getting his (mis)information?

After that moment, even our hero of the piece, Tim Ingham, made a comment that I could probably call into question, when he suggested that retailers are serious about preventing minors from getting their hands on violent content. I couldn’t count the amount of times I’ve seen an unwitting parent or relative purchasing a violent game for their precious child, and the retailer going ahead with the transaction even knowing who it’s for after the parent insisted that ‘it’s just a game’. That said, this scenario isn’t just something I’ve seen played out in games retailers but also in the like of HMV and Zavvi.

What is true however, is that games are not just made for children, just like not all movies are made for children, but this point is entirely glossed over by all members of the panel bar Ingham, who even had to endure booing from what I can only imagine is a mostly-elderly or at the very least, out of touch, audience. How the hell do you become a pantomime villain by just enjoying a particular pastime?

Julie Peasgood, who was probably the most argumentative of our trio of panellists, boldly declared that games ‘promote hatred, racism, sexism and reward violence’. In a way she was sort of right; they did start to promote hatred to me. I hated her the moment she opened her mouth and let falsehoods spew forth at every opportunity.

Alan promoting sexism more than games ever could...

The main ignorance from Peasgood came when she claimed that in a US study in which 130,000 children worldwide were monitored, it was found that kids with a ‘diet’ (you’re not meant to eat the games, love) of violent video games were more aggressive. First of all, I couldn’t find any mention on the internet of this study, however a fellow games journalist thinks he tracked down the non-official or licensed ‘study’ in question. It was a ‘meta-analytic’ study, meaning that it was highly unlikely that the theorist, CA Anderson, had actually done any research himself. The actual method of meta-analysis means that you can pick and choose a variety of other peoples studies and use them to provide strong conclusions in one direction no matter how insignificant the actual outcomes; it’s a very easy system to manipulate and is hardly what anyone could call scientific, yet Peasgood seems to think it is. Anderson had apparently already previously been very vocal against games before this ‘study’ had taken place, and people closer to him had levelled accusations of selection bias. Funnily enough, Titchmarsh piped in that these were ‘proven’ facts. Bravo research team!

Of course, Ingham was the only person to have provided any actual proven facts at just under the halfway point, by pointing out that the UK government-initiated Byron Review stated that there was no clear link between games and violent behaviour. This is true. I think it’s safe to say that when the government decided to announce Tanya Byron’s involvement, knowing little about the woman a lot of gamers were worried that our cherished hobby would be unfairly scrutinised, however what the report actually did was give credence to what we’ve been saying all along, and suggested that it is the parents that need to be educated on the subject of what is suitable for their children to play. Another point that seemed to be escaping the other panellists.

McKenzie, with his history of sensationalism and hatred, surprisingly offered a legitimate fact; that the average age of the UK gamer was thirty-three. He then went onto say that the level of sophistication has moved on that much in a decade that he’s not sure when that will end. Well, for a start, a game’s presentation may have been less sophisticated at certain points in the last ten years, however are they any more violent? Streets of Rage allowed people to pick up a knife and stab someone in the middle of the street way back in ’91, long before Grand Theft Auto was on the scene. Is that setting really any less violent than a contextualised war? Of course not.

His educated opinion ended shortly after his initial sentence and he reverted to type when he suggested that one of Jamie Bulger’s murderers, Jon Venables, was corrupted by videogames. Not once in the events of the tragic murder’s investigation were violent video games even suggested to be a factor in those senseless actions. Hey, let’s not let facts get in the way of a good shoeing, right?

After some nominal back and forth where Ingham gets mocked for reasonably suggesting that he agreed children shouldn’t be getting their hands on inappropriate content and pointing out that most consoles have parental controls on them, Julie Peasgood pipes in with another corker.

‘I am categorically against violence for entertainment, it is just wrong.’ Declared a defiant Peasgood. Is that so Julie?

After googling her name, I discovered that she is apparently an actress and presenter. Let’s just take a look at that CV shall we? Peasgood has starred in popular soaps such as Hollyoaks, Emmerdale, The Bill, and many other shows that portray violence, pre-watershed I might add, as entertainment. Julie has also provided voiceovers for Playboy TV and has done countless shows about sex, so it seems she’s certainly happy to put her name to pornographic and sexual material, but not violence in videogames, or so she would have you think… but I know better. I’ve saved the best example of hypocrisy for last.

Julie Peasgood better look away now!

In 2000, Julie Peasgood provided the voice of a character called Harroway in survival horror game Martian Gothic: Unification. A mature-rated horror game that contained plenty of scenes with blood and gore. It seems that Ms Peasgood is only ‘categorically against violence for entertainment’ when it’s not putting money in her purse.

After that classic, the debacle was promptly wrapped up and will hopefully be forgotten about for ten years when an inexplicably-still-alive Dennis Norden wheels it out for ‘It’ll be alright on the night 8754867456’, but at a time that I personally felt the heat was starting to come off video games as a corruptible source, this piece slapped me in the face that lack of knowledge is still as rife as ever over the last decade.

The problem is that it’s all too easy for people who haven’t seen or played the games causing controversy to hear that ‘Current-Day War Simulator 6′ allows players to ‘shoot innocent people’ and then take the moral high ground, but without experiencing it in the proper context intended in relation the setting and narrative you can’t really judge whether something is in poor taste or not. In fact most of those critical against violence in games refuse to witness or experience these moments for themselves, so how exactly they can form an opinion on it is beyond me. The fact is that most of the people outraged by aspects of games have no idea why they are outraged.

I fail to understand how a host with his own name being the main attraction can go into a segment so ignorant to basic and easily researchable facts. I can’t understand that for the panel they chose a hypocritical actress and a proven published liar to argue the case against videogames. This wasn’t even the biggest shocker; it was the audience who booed the gamer and cheered on ignorance that was the real shame. Could this whole thing be simply down to generational difference or is much deeper than that? I know one thing; I’m not the only one deeply offended that this witch-hunt was allowed to be televised, considering the numbers within the country’s population that actually enjoy interactive entertainment.

Thankfully, by the end of the night, it would prove to be the games industry that was the real winner of this foolish debate, recognised by the British Academy for its contribution to entertainment, something that Titchmarsh, Peasgood and McKenzie will never experience for themselves. The sheer amount of appreciation shown by a variety of respected celebrities, happy to have their names associated with the medium, overshadows that of yesteryear and the standing ovation that Miyamoto received when receiving the Fellowship Award speaks volumes about how far we’ve come. I just wonder how much longer it will be before the general public catch onto the fact that adults play games, games are rated and that Alan Titchmarsh is just a gardener. Live with it.

Please note: I approached Alan’s agent for an interview or his input on this article, and I was advised he was too ‘busy’ to put forward his views on how the debate went. I didn’t even get chance to ask him his thoughts on Viva Piñata…