Alan Dee: Here’s a grand idea - computer games could help to cut crime

All sorts of mealy-mouthed moralists have been tutting away since the much-hyped release of GTAV.

Tuesday, 24th September 2013, 8:46 pm

If you’re not entirely up to the minute with acronyms du jour, GTAV is the fifth instalment of computer game Grand Theft Auto.

There are no end of computer games on the market in which players are encouraged to slice and dice other characters, behave in a beastly fashion towards women and guardians of the law, and generally indulge their inner psychotic killer, but GTA is the one that grabs all the attention.

Perhaps it’s because it is set in a version of the modern world, rather than a space station, or a long-ago era, but it’s also the one that gets condemned most often for providing a crash course in being a criminal for anyone who wants to learn the ropes from the comfort of their own sofa.

But anyone who reckons that a fantasy game is likely to trigger a killing spree is barking up the wrong tree. We’ve always had fantasy violence, in books and films and pop music and now computer games, and if anything the opposite is true.

Consider this – these computer games have been around for little more than a decade, and they have steadily been getting more realistic, more sophisticated, more violent.

And what’s been happening to the crime rate over that period?

That’s right – it has been steadily reducing, pretty much across the board.

There are a lot of reasons for this, of course, and it would be daft to argue that there’s a direct link between the two.

But consider this: most burglaries, car thefts, assaults and other ‘in your face’ crimes are committed by young men, and young men are the biggest audience for games like Grand Theft Auto.

There’s no way that you can claim that by wreaking havoc in a virtual world these potential crims are getting all that violence out of their system, because the vast majority of people playing these games are entirely honest people who just haven’t got much of a social life.

But even if that’s not the case, you have to accept that the long hours it takes for players to work their way through the many layers of mayhem involved in one of these games is time they are not spending kicking their heels on the streets and getting into trouble.

That’s why I am suggesting a variation on the ‘drunk tank’ proposals which have also caused much discussion in recent days.

Young miscreants picked up for minor offences would not be put through the court system and eventually given a mild tap on the wrists, they’d be sat down in a sealed room and told they couldn’t go home until they had worked their way through all the levels of a box-fresh computer game.

They would be charged an hourly rate for the time they took, to reduce the strain on the public purse and all the time they were playing they would have free and unlimited access to whatever fast food they wanted to pig out on while they played.

That way, even if they didn’t get the violence out of their system and help cut the crime rates still further, they’d be so fat and unfit they’d be much easier to catch next time round....