The Met hopes its ‘video game’ will play well with teenagers

The Metropolitan Police’s use of a spoof video game to tackle the rise of knife-related crime among young people (MW last week) has received a mixed reaction.

As part of Operation Blunt, the Met is distributing a DVD called Knife City, created by Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy, which uses a mixture of animated graphics and documentary-style footage to demonstrate how carrying knives can wreck lives. The disc, part of a tie-up with London radio stations Kiss FM and Choice FM, ends with the line “Carrying a knife – it’s not a game”. The target group of 13- to 17-year-olds are driven to website, www.itsnotagame.org.

Yet some argue that using a medium so often associated with encouraging violence among youngsters is the wrong tactic. Labour MP for Leicester East Keith Vaz says: “Video games are not a good way to warn young people about the consequences of carrying knives. Increasingly, games are associated with violence and this can only distort the message.

“We need to polarise the difference between good and evil, and this can be done using more far-reaching techniques such as visiting schools.”

Michael Rawlinson, deputy director-general of games industry trade body the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association (Elspa), also greets the campaign with caution. He says: “We applaud any initiative to reduce criminal activity, but emphasise that the type of imagery used in this video would be very likely to attract a BBFC 18 rating in a real game and would not be sold to teenagers.”

Last year, Rockstar Games’ Manhunt title came under fire after the parents of murdered 14-year-old Stefan Pakeerah blamed the game for influencing the actions of his killer. However, the association was never proven, and the debate about whether video games encourage violence rages on.

Psychologist Mark Griffiths, professor of gambling studies at Nottingham Trent University, says: “There have been about 30 studies in this area and most results are inconclusive. Players are monitored in novel settings and there is no research into the long-term effects of playing such games.

“It’s a chicken-and-egg scenario. Those who are more predisposed to violence are most likely to play violent video games and so are most likely to act aggressively having played a game.”

A Metropolitan Police spokesman defends the decision to use video game-style imagery, saying the campaign employs a medium to which today’s youth can relate. He explains: “Most youngsters are computer-literate, have online access and play computer games. This is not a route of communication that they would normally associate with the police. Among the target age-group, the majority of games are played in private, meaning youngsters are likely to engage with it before realising what it really is.”

But he does admit the initiative has limitations: “We are targeting younger teenagers, those who are not so hardened to carrying knives and will be somewhat more receptive to the message.

“We have not made a huge noise about this – we want it to get under the radar. We’ve had some good reactions to Knife City, but admittedly those youngsters most likely to commit crime will not be logging onto our website to give us this feedback.”

Recent studies show strong brand recall of products featured in games. But whether they can be used by the authorities to successfully ram home messages to teenagers is another matter.

Nathalie Kilby

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