What caused the London riots?
Padraig Reidy: what caused the London riots?
08 Aug 11

It was Twitter. Definitely Twitter.

Except it was BlackBerry Messenger.

Except no, it wasn’t. It was, of course, Grand Theft Auto.

According to today’s Evening Standard, one police constable has blamed the by-now-venerable game for the spread of deplorable violence and looting across London neighbourhoods over the weekend.

As dusk fell people were told to get off the streets for their own safety. “Go home, get a takeaway and watch anything that happens on TV,” one constable advised. “These are bad people who did this. Kids out of control. When I was young it was all Pacman and board games. Now they’re playing Grand Theft Auto and want to live it for themselves.”

Which raises two obvious points. 1) the policeman in question seems to think there were no riots in the 70s and 80s, and 2) He’s never heard that old joke about “If computer games really influenced people, children who grew up playing Pac-Man would have have spent the late 80s running around dark rooms in day-glo colours ingesting funny pills to a repetitive electronic soundtrack”.

Does anyone even play GTA these days?

The blaming games thing has been around for years now (read this excellent 2007 piece by Tim Smith on the topic). It succeeded the “blame the video nasty” trend which reached its pinnacle with the Jamie Bulger murder and the media’s insistence that Child’s Play II had somehow played a part.

The interesting thing about this is that we must apparently always find a new technology at the heart of problems: VHS, games consoles, smartphones… all interactive rather than passive technologies.

The problem with the kids these days, it would seem, is they insist on making their own entertainment.

By Padraig Reidy

Padraig Reidy is the editor of Little Atoms and a columnist for Index on Censorship. He has also written for The Observer, The Guardian, and The Irish Times.