Every so often, a hysterical rightwing newspaper or attention-seeking corrupt discredited member of Parliament calls for a crackdown on violent video games because they corrupt innocent little minds.
This time it's Keith Vaz, an embarrassment to humanity, let alone the Labour Party and democracy (career highlights: suspended from Parliament for unfounded accusation against a policewoman, leading a demonstration calling for The Satanic Verses to be burned; expenses fraud and blocking an investigation into further fraud; dubious financial links with some very dodgy billionaire businessmen; being 'for hire' ideologically and betraying his supposed principles in the hope of currying favour; frequently interfering with government business on behalf of dodgy friends; 'flipping' his homes to con the expenses rules and over claiming on various items; obsessively supporting homeopathy).
So a rather slippery, unintelligent and untrustworthy chap. But he's grabbed some headlines by saying that Breivik's claimed use of a video game to 'train' for his massacre.
Sigh. Here we go again with a debate we stage for first-year media students every year before moving on to more intelligent ideas.
We start by asking how many of them have played violent video games. Most have. Then we ask them to calculate how many people they've killed in the games, and how many deaths they've witnessed in games, on TV, at the cinema and so on. The total is usually some astounding number.
Then we ask them to confess to the number of actual real-life killings they've committed. The total is usually quite low, though I suppose we should control the statistics for the possibility that some students might not reply honestly to this question.
It becomes clear that these young people tend, on the whole, not to transfer their garrotting, shooting and bombing skills from the screen to the street. We then consider whether it's possible that killers who do possess violent games might choose them because they have pre-existing violent tendencies. It's even possible that people use fictional violence as a safety valve, letting off steam without doing any harm. I had a housemate who ended up attacking several of us with a knife before being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. His shelves were full of martial arts and UFC DVDs. I didn't assume that they caused his mental illness - I think he liked them so much because he was mentally ill. It might even be that watching them delayed the day he lost control.
From where I'm sitting, there's a clear line between Vaz's Nazi-style book-burning and his belief in homeopathy to his argument to his assault on video games (which I don't play, by the way). Clearly he believes in the power of fiction to an extent greater than the rest of us. He operates by anecdote unless - and I know this is cynical - he just wants the attention.
But why stop with video games? I read an awful lot of disgustingly violent books. Last week I read a play in which a man dabbles in the occult, then murders his way to the top of the tree. It's called MacBeth. And yet I haven't stabbed by line managers at all. Similarly, Titus Andronicus involves cutting out a girl's tongue, cutting off her hands, then two boys being baked in a pie and served up to the family. Yet my chopping board is dusted with nothing more than flour even after exposure to this sick filth. I've read Portnoy's Complaint without wrapping a raw liver around my gentleman's parts and pleasuring myself (yes, American Pie viewers, literature got there well before you). I've not followed any dilatory rabbits down holes nor followed any instructions to 'Drink Me'. I have not set out in any beautiful pea-green boats, nor knocked myself out on the entrance to Platform 9 and 3 quarters. I've eaten no Lotoses or attempted to enter Xanadu. I have not eaten of the tree of knowledge. Some of those poets are sick bastards. Get them off the shelves. Have you read any Swinburne or Dowson?
The truth is that however distasteful a particular artefact might be, it will form only a tiny proportion of anyone's life. Balanced against the desensitised slaughter of pixels are parents, siblings, friends, colleagues, fellow students and various institutions all encouraging you not to go on killing sprees. Viewers and gamers are complex and morally-sophisticated people - drawing a straight line between playing a game and committing a massacre.
I wonder which games Keith played to teach him him how to burn books, defraud the taxpayer, and corruptly cosy up to billionaires… or did he acquire all these skills by himself?
The funny thing about these self-appointed censors is that it's always other people they're protecting. Keith's too clever to be affected by these horrible games. But the oiks are stupid and suggestive and he needs to protect them from themselves.
I've a few simple rules to get me through life. One of them is as followers: 'anyone who burns books is usually on the wrong side of the argument'.