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Women are better equipped for heartbreak because Justin Timberlake is such a babe

Humour

Romantic relationships arise in an endless manner of ways. Some start with a formal expression of interest, perhaps through a meticulously planned speech or a vaguely obsessive love note; others blossom through the polite, considerate gyrations you can only get from a jacked up dude with his top four buttons undone on the dance floor at the Ivy. Heck, considering the sheer number of ways love can emerge, it’s fair to assume at least one relationship has started with a “T minus 10, 9, 8…” introduction, before two people were launched into the stratosphere in the name of science. Godspeed.

Most of these relationships, however, will not work out. Heartbreak is almost one of life’s certainties, alongside death, taxes and a highly rational bloodlust that takes over whenever Pitbull comes on the radio.

Men tend to take heartbreak with little poise: punching walls, sobbing on the shoulders of their mates, and getting re-invested in Skyrim. Women, on the other hand, deal with the crisis in more constructive ways, like “focus[ing] on [their] career[s].”

And why? Justin Timberlake.

Most of today’s women fell in love with the global sensation at a young age. They were charmed by his unruly boy band antics, and when he grew up and became a solo artist, they discovered their cardinal desires upon hearing his mature, masculine vocals in ‘Cry Me A River’. Heck, they even stood by him when he – get this – willingly invested millions into MySpace. If that’s not unconditional love, then what is?

But more importantly, these women also eventually realised, “I was created in God’s image, but a blurry one at best. Justin was carved from a really high res image – probably a 6000 x 4000 TIFF – and on a retina display, too. I can’t compete with that.”

So really, if they can pick up the pieces of their shattered hearts after realising JT can do way, way better, getting over the heartbreak of losing any other shmuck should be piss easy.

Now, you might be wondering, “what about women who aren’t straight?”. There’s an explanation for that as well, and it’s… uhh… Portia Di Rossi? Yeah, let’s go with that.

While heartbreak is never easy to comprehend, women are likely to have begun developing the coping mechanisms necessary to moving on from a young age. Young boys, on the other hand, don’t have time to fantasise about their lives with JT. Have you played Skyrim? That’s a 200-hour investment right there. So when they, later in life, find themselves heartbroken, shit gets real, and considering there are more than three billion men on the planet, that’s a lot of holes in walls, tears shed and hours spent traversing the dangerous wilderness of Skyrim while failing to accept the loss of a partner.

No doubt, the scientific community is yelling, “That’s all well and good, but what do we do now? How do we apply this knowledge to make our children’s lives better?”.

The answer is simple: Governments need to invest more money into getting posters of actors and actresses, athletes and recording artists into the bedrooms of young boys. Additionally, in-depth instructions on how to make out with these posters needs to be included in every school’s sex-ed curriculum, while also highlighting the risk of sexually transmitted paper cuts to the lips and tongue. With these measures in place, tomorrow’s boys should have no difficulty forming innocent obsessions with celebrities, and then becoming woefully disappointed at the rest of the people the world has to offer.

By placing enough pressure on policy makers, we can ensure that generations to come are entirely desensitised to the harrowing feeling of heartbreak. If we’re really successful, our kids may even begin to see relationships and sex as a purely utilitarian function, deriving no pleasure from what amounts to nothing more than a biological necessity.

So men of the world, do yourself and your kids a favour by walking into your bedroom, garage or shed, ripping that poster off the wall and just going to town. Who cares if it’s a poster of a Holden HSV? It’s not the 1950s anymore – anything goes!

First published on Bullshit.

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I won’t stand idly as someone destroys the environment, assuming I can be bothered

Humour

Many people believe the evolution of our society is tied to the simple act of voting, but writing numbers on a ballot paper is not the source of change. To see change, you need to confront the problems head on. That’s why when I see someone thoughtlessly throwing their rubbish on the ground, I won’t stand idly and let them destroy the environment, assuming I can be bothered.

Do they not realise that even dropping one measly Coke can on the road can result in the trapping and death of endangered marine life? It’s absolutely thoughtless behaviour, and these people need to understand the consequences of their actions, provided I don’t need to get out of my seat.

Just the other day, I caught my neighbour stuffing her garbage bin with at least 10 perfectly recyclable boxes. Can you believe that? If I wasn’t wearing pajamas and slippers, I would have walked straight up to her doorstep and given her a piece of my mind.

All I could do was ask myself, “Does she realise what she’s doing?”. This is the sort of reckless behaviour the police ought to be fighting – if they can fit it in, that is.

We, as concerned citizens, need to stand together and tell our nation’s leaders that enough is enough. We need to have teachers in our schools explaining to our children the importance of proper waste management, conservation and the sustainable use of our natural resources. Frankly, I’d do it, but I have work tomorrow.

Imagine a world where the materials we use in our homes and workplaces are reused and recycled; where our energy needs are satisfied entirely by cheap, renewable energy; where the natural landscapes that skirt our urban centres are lavish scenes, made complete with a myriad of flora and fauna living healthily and harmoniously. Isn’t this something worth fighting for? I for one think so, and I’ll let the whole world know, as long as getting the necessary attention won’t be too much work.

So please, join me as I place my foot down to send a message to those who don’t understand the importance of maintaining the integrity of our natural resources, or simply don’t care. Together we can make a difference, as soon as this episode ofHouse Of Cards finishes.

First published on Bullshit.

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Catholicism: It’s time the church grew with its flock

Essay

I grew up in a Catholic household, went to a Catholic school and recent Census data has me down as Catholic. Despite such, I’m not actually a practising Catholic. I don’t attend church services, nor do I engage with a faith community on any level.

A few facts about Australia: In 2011, 61 per cent of Australians identified themselves as Christians, yet only eight per cent of the population actively practises their religion. We may have over five million Catholics, but only 13.8 per cent visit their church.

From these stats, it sounds like I, along with the majority of Australian Catholics, might as well join the quarter of the population already identifying as non-religious.

The simple truth for Catholicism in Australia is that it’s being pushed to the fringe. The nation’s relative economic prosperity and the general dogmatism of religious institutions have driven disengagement, which is undoubtedly troubling Catholic bodies and poses for them a weighty question: Should religion adapt its values to meet the changing needs of Australians, and, more importantly, should it feel compelled to?

As a once devout, now-disenchanted Catholic, trust me, the answer is ‘yes’ on both counts.

The common defence for preserving Catholicism in its current form is rooted in the personal and subjective nature of religion. Though religious bodies love to offer their two cents worth on social matters, religious values differ from political and consumerist values as they are determined by doctrine, not trends. As such, one could argue that Catholic values shouldn’t be questioned by fleeting followers, just respected. However, this notion is flawed as it ignores the role played by the people – specifically, without its constituents, there is no Catholic Church. The construction of the Church exists purely for and because of its people, and there is every reason they should be more heavily consulted in decision-making.

Unfortunately, this reasoning seems to fall upon deaf ears further up the hierarchy of Catholicism.

This very hierarchy is the centre of the problem. The institution’s head, Rome’s Vatican Council, has clashed with Australian Catholics since the late 1960s, starting with opposing views on contraception but spreading to a raft of social issues. The interminable conflict is proof of a progressive mindset among many Australian Catholics and their desire to re-evaluate the Church’s stance on social matters. Whether the Vatican is too detached to recognise this fact, or simply doesn’t want to, the result is a community so far removed from the Church’s leadership that the values pronounced from ‘on-high’ don’t reflect those of the people.

Australia is home to a Catholic Left, such as the Liberal Catholic Church, and these groups are open to entering dialogue on modern social issues, preferring to focus on more pressing social justice concerns than the usual ‘sanctity of marriage’ debate. Discourse would be healthy for the wider Church’s advancement, but even the past five years has seen these voices marginalised and denounced by orthodox Catholics. The discouragement of discourse was painfully evident in March’s Papal election. As the leading Catholic figure, the Pope is significant to the life of every follower, yet little-to-no effort was made to educate the community on what each candidate stood for, ostensibly because they have no actual say in who takes the top job.

Catholic bodies would be wise to foster a space where followers can play a larger role within the Church, the benefits of which have been proven by the line of Australian Pentecostal Churches, Hillsong being one of the most well known. Unlike the mainstream Christian variants of Catholicism and Anglicanism, Pentecostal Churches have recorded small but sustained growth in the past 10 years.

Puzzlingly, the Vatican’s recent attempts to boost interest, especially in Australia, have involved pushing the fundamentals of Catholicism through what it calls ‘New Evangelisation.’ The logic is beyond baffling – if Catholic values are failing to resonate with fleeting and non-followers, why emphasise them further?

To the Church’s credit, New Evangelical activities, such as World Youth Day (held in Sydney in 2008 and in Rio in 2013) signify a willingness to take steps to reinvigorate the flock. The problem is these steps are decidedly conservative.

While I’m in support of a radical evaluation of Church’s values and practices, it is understandable that the efforts to refresh Catholicism have been steeply inclined towards orthodoxy. After all, any change risks alienating loyal and conservative Australian Catholics, and religious values aren’t determined by popularity.

But if the number of practising Catholics continues to decline, as has been the case for decades, the Church could very well create for itself a dire future where its presence is too small to actually deliver a message to wider Australia.

For too long, the Catholic Church has maintained a stance summarised byThe Australian’s Greg Sheridan: “If people believe that the Church has been wrong about these issues…there’s a very simple solution, go somewhere else.”

Holding this attitude will only see the number of committed Australian Catholics dwindle further.

First published on The Big Smoke.

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Should we hate Google for trying to help?

Essay

We, as consumers, have every reason to be sceptical of companies. They can be cold bastards. They don’t want us for our personalities; they just want our money, right? Still, every company has a fiscal responsibility – to pay workers, pay bills and make money. It’s what makes a company a company.

You can’t blame a company for being a company, but that’s exactly what happened in a recent editorial on Wired.

The story put Google into the firing line for the introduction of its new Google Classroom service. Classroom, in essence, is a productivity app that allows teachers to plan, distribute, collect and mark schoolwork without the need for paper. Everything is handled electronically – including each student’s completion of the work – and, according to Google, the service aims to allow teachers to spend more time actually teaching.

Conversely, Wired suggests the motivation behind Google’s new service isn’t altruism, but rather, future financial gain. The author poses a good question: What if Google doesn’t give a damn about teachers or students or the education system and just wants to sink its claws into a new market and become more of a household name than it already is?

Frankly, that scepticism isn’t misplaced – sinking its claws into more people probably is the company’s end goal – but does that make Google a threat to education?

Consumer advocacy groups exist to pressure companies into conducting business in a way that benefits consumers or satisfies consumer values. If a company acts entirely altruistically, however, it’ll surely go bankrupt. Companies still have to remain profitable, so if a company can find a way to benefit consumers and turn profit, that’s a win-win.

For example, in 2009, Cadbury – a company with a history of mistreating workers in developing countries – began manufacturing its flagship Dairy Milk product with fair trade produce. Was it to appease concerned consumers? Yes. Was it a marketing ploy? Yes. But it doesn’t change the fact that there’s now an avenue by which workers are being treated fairly, and this isn’t too different to what Google is trying to achieve with Classroom – improve the school environment while getting more people using its products.

No doubt, some of the concern around Classroom stems from the fact that Google is often accused of holding onto user data and claiming otherwise. Considering the value of this data, these allegations probably hold some truth. As such, it’s understandable that anyone has difficulty placing trust in the company, and that’s not to mention that fact that Classroom could possibly give Google a leg up on stockpiling data on a whole new generation of kids.

Ultimately, it’s a good thing that there are critics of Classroom and that people, such as the editors of Wired, probe Google before schools happily hand the company greater access to the lives of teachers and students because there’s every possibility that the company will act in a way that takes advantage of the service’s users. Or who knows? Maybe Classroom won’t prove beneficial to the education system and will end up in the Google’s growing graveyard of retired products.

All we can say at this point is that Google isn’t evil simply because it wants to make money.

First published on Bullshit.

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Money talks: Has Kickstarter changed the Return On Investment?

Essay

I’m a firm believer that people should talk with their wallets. If you’re concerned by Nestle’s treatment of workers, buy a different brand. If you’re not happy with Vodafone’s erratic service, find another provider. It’s the basis of consumerism, and by thoughtfully choosing where your money goes, you’ll help shape the market.

Crowd-funding services – the most popular of which is Kickstarter – are built on this exact ideal, allowing the average credit card holder to help fund a project, eliminating the need for corporate dealings. Essentially, a creator pitches their project (whether a film, stage production, comic, etc.) to the masses, who then decide if they want to back the project, and if so, with how much money. The concept is fantastic: Taking power away from marketers and Venture Capitalists, allowing consumers to decide ‘what people want.’ But is it also taking advantage of project backers?

Without Kickstarter, funding a project works this: You pitch your product to an investor, and if they decide to give you money, they’ll expect an agreed upon share of your profit, also known as their Return On Investment (or ROI). Kickstarter doesn’t offer the same mechanism. Instead, backers get the warm and fuzzy feeling of knowing they helped bring a product into the world, and in most cases, backers who contribut a large amount of money get gifts, such a posters and or even the product itself. Considering over 32,000 projects have been funded in the past three years, clearly people don’t mind the warped ROI.

There instances where I find Kickstarter’s approach to ROI (or lack thereof) entirely reasonable. One such example is Retronauts, a podcast that has existed since 2006, free of charge. Earlier this year, the Retronauts host Bob Mackey lost his job, along with the equipment needed to record the podcast, much to the disappointment of the listener base. Mackey decided to create a Kickstarter fund to revive the podcast, asking for US $12,000 – enough money for the recording equipment he needed to keep making the programme, again free of charge. WithRetronauts, there’s no profit and there never will be. ROI isn’t an issue here.

But what about Zach Braff’s upcoming film being funded through Kickstarter, or more concerning, the Veronica Mars film? These movies will turn a profit without a doubt, considering the publicity they have received through the unusual use of crowd-funding and, in the case of Veronica Mars, the fact that fans have been asking for the movie for seven years. Yet, for the thousands or millions who backed the projects, they won’t see a cent of the money. Instead, backers who contributed a large amount get a digital copy of the film on release, limited edition posters and may visit the film set.

Marketers and Venture Capitalists will call a limited edition poster a sorry excuse for ROI, but does it matter? This is Kickstarter’s service – if you don’t like it, don’t hand over your money. Ultimately, while backers aren’t sharing in the potential riches, they like the freebies. They’re thrilled to visit the Veronica Mars set, and if they’re happy, is there even a problem? When you give money over the Internet, you click “Yes, I have read the Terms & Conditions” (whether or not you actually read it). People know what they’re buying into and they’ve spoken with their wallets, so even if you think the model takes advantage of consumers, the consumers are agreeing to being taken advantage of.

Kickstarter’s idea of ROI might be a bit unusual, and in the case of profitable projects, imbalanced, but the consumers have spoken. They don’t mind if they help someone become rich and can’t reap the benefits, because they got a cool sticker album for their efforts. Maybe these consumers are naïve to the business world, but maybe their values are simply different. As long as you’re putting your money where you think it belongs and you’re happy with the result, you’ve done your job as a consumer.

First published on Bullshit.

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Let’s be honest – romance is creepy.

Humour

I’m sitting on my bed, phone in hand – the same thing I’ve been doing for the past 20 minutes. My text message has been meticulously worded, yet when I hover my thumb above “send,” it shakes anxiously. This isn’t the sort of message you fire on a whim because the consequences are so grave. Whether I fling it across the airwaves or bury it in the digital cemetery known as my Drafts depends on one thing – am I being romantic or am I being creepy?

Despite my agonising, the answer is quite simple: I’m being both. Some people (read: women) will tell you there’s a fine line between a wildly romantic gesture and a creepy one, but this is pure fantasy because as you try to separate the two, the line becomes blurry at best. For every saccharine and lovey-dovey act, there’s a shady and depraved underside that makes it far less charming.

Romance is creepy.

Imagine this: You arrive at work on Monday morning to find a bouquet of flowers waiting on your desk. Opening the card, you a find short and cryptic note addressed from an anonymous devotee. Your initial reaction might be, “Ooh! I have a secret admirer,” but shouldn’t you be more concerned that a shadowy figure knows where you work? And that there’s no way to be sure of what else he or she knows? What began as a delightful gesture is no longer as promising, and with the risks considered, you’d best be saying goodbye to your loved ones.

Some will be quick to call me a wet blanket or accuse me of trying to undermine any would-be Casanovas, but these people have been brainwashed into craving wildly romantic gestures. For this, we have the romantic comedy to blame – a phenomenon that exists purely to make shady and depraved behaviour seem acceptable to a rational person. Perhaps more aptly titled “romantic horror,” the audience will laugh and cry as they follow the mishaps of a love-addled and even deranged individual, all because of how the situation is framed.

In film, the director gets to determine the frame and how the characters are portrayed. If it’s decided that the romantic-but-questionable deeds will be put on a pedestal, then they will always seem reasonable. That’s why it was okay in Love Actually for Britain’s Prime Minister to knock on every doorstep in London in search of the woman he yearned for, or for How I Met Your Mother’s Ted Mosby to sneak into a woman’s apartment with a string quartet in tow, patiently waiting for her to arrive home.

Reality, however, never frames such behaviour quite so kindly, and any attempts to replicate the above behaviour would range between absurd and unlawful. So while you might leave the cinema or your living room post-rom-com dreaming of being whisked away by that certain someone – will they show up on my doorstep on a lonely night and profess their love, or will they lead me blindfolded to a picnic in a picturesque woodland hideout? – the feeling is temporary.

Firstly, I know a girl who had a guy show up on her doorstep, and she said it was frightening – particularly when he screamed, “love me!,” for 15 minutes straight. As for the picnic, just remember that dragging a blindfolded guest into the bush is illegal. If someone does that, they’re neither romantic nor creepy – the widely accepted term is “serial killer”. As soon as such a situation arises, you’ll realise that time is best spent with someone who doesn’t treat the word “love” synonymously with “insanity”.

Despite these warnings, some people will insist on keeping their faith in romance, but that would be to live in a fantasy world. By definition, that’s all romance has ever been – a fantasy. It’s why the Romantic Era of literature yapped on endlessly about the countryside; it’s why teenage couples dream of eloping; it’s why a rom-com can make a deranged protagonist likeable. It’s also enough to make a person fantasise about someone romantically breathing down their neck…

Then again, the phrase “breathing down my neck” also has some suspicious connotations, and this is the exact reason why wildly romantic gestures are creepy: why would someone resort to trickery to win the affection of another? It’s all a bit too shifty, foregoing sensible behaviour and making their intentions known through a smoke and mirrors routine – surely it means they have something to hide? These gestures use the thrill of the unknown to hide a dissatisfying truth.

So maybe I’m writing off the would-be Casanovas, but if they’re going to rely on such sinister methods to get their way, why should they be trusted? Next time someone tells you they wrote a poem about you or they painted your portrait, you should already be running.

Because romance is creepy.

First published on The Big Smoke. Illustration by Julitte Furio.

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Online advertising: Stop complaining, you freeloaders!

Essay

“In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.”

Benjamin Franklin intoned these words of wisdom in a letter in 1789 to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, proclaiming two certainties that still hold true to this day. The latter takes effect when you enter the workforce – the beginning of the end, I’m told time and time again – and the former is a more permanent kind of employment, or disemployment as the case may be. My jobless, eight-year-old self was far from thrilled with the introduction of the GST in Australia, which had an immediate impact on the $3 pocket money my parents gave me each week. How was I expected to afford a packet of Wizz Fizz and the new issue of K-Zone?

Despite my loathing for the GST, there’s another tax I’ve always been happy to pay – television advertising.

Yes, the trusty three-minute ad break that slots its way into your favourite TV show is effectively the price you pay to watch free-to-air television, and even my eight-year-old self thought it was a good deal (nine minutes of ads for 22 minutes of The Simpsons was a steal). And I don’t believe I’m alone here.

I’m not saying anyone loves television advertising, just like no one loves paying income tax, but most people accept it and pay up. But there’s one tax – a near identical one, at that – that not everyone is as happy to pay as I: online advertising.

In the interest of transparency, let me state that I used to work in the advertising industry, but this isn’t the reason behind my tolerance. I don’t support online ads because I like them (and I mostly don’t) – I support online ads because I understand their place in today’s online business models.

Advertising works in the same way on the internet as it does on television: the user can access content – be it a news story or a video of a monkey riding a pig – and rather than being asked to empty their wallet, they see a few ads instead. Strangely, despite it effectively mimicking the TV model, online advertising results in a cacophony of howls from the peanut gallery.

The opposition to online advertising appears to be twofold.

Firstly, users tend to develop a sense of entitlement when they sit in front of a computer, assuming that free access to online content is their right. The internet’s power to make information more openly available might make free content seem like a right, but with so many businesses struggling with the transition to cyberspace and issues such as illegal file sharing and copyright, the assumption is plain bratty.

There is also an ostensibly warranted fear of data mining, where a user’s browser history can be harnessed for targeted advertising. As much as Google might deny any data mining, let’s not kid ourselves: of course it happens. Advertising is where Google makes its billions. But if a person is actually afraid that targeted advertising will lead them to make purchases against their will, they’re not giving themselves enough credit. No ad is that good, and no ad can do more than contribute to a greater decision-making process behind any purchase. We’re talking advertising, not Inception.

Frankly, I’m happy for my internet use to be recorded for targeted advertising. If online advertising is a tax, then, just like real life taxes, I should be able to play a part in deciding where my online taxpayer dollars go. I want to see ads about sneakers and sweaters and Radiohead – not diets and jewellery and Viagra. I want to see my taxes go towards something relevant to me.

Despite my reasoning, the amount of people who agree with me is equivalent to the audience numbers for The Shire. A lot of people will go out of their way to avoid online ads altogether, even installing ad-blockers on their computers, which is insane – online ads fund free content. Take Spotify, for instance, which grants users free access to a near-endless catalogue of music, and all these users have to do in return is see or listen to an ad here or there. The model has its flaws, but it’s better than artists getting screwed over through piracy.

Put simply, if you use ad-blockers, you’re potentially killing your favourite sites.

However here’s where ad avoidance becomes mind-boggling: ads alongside a web-page might be a tad bothersome, but they’re also pretty easy to ignore. Content advertising, advertorial and press release journalism (content that hides advertising in articles, videos and other media), on the other hand, is not nearly as easy to avoid or even spot. These methods might be less disruptive than traditional ads, however, they’re anything but consumer-friendly and are much scarier and more dangerous than data mining.

I realise your gut instinct is probably to never trust anyone in advertising, along with politicians, snake-oil salesmen and Kyle Sandilands, but I can say with certainty that persistent ad avoidance will, and already does, lead to disguised advertising.

In pursuit of tackling this issue, companies like Fairfax Media have begun raising paywalls around their services, but asking for a subscription is a hard sell when users already feel entitled to pay nothing for content, which is why ad support is a worthwhile model.

There’s no doubt that online businesses should be taking the initiative by explaining to internet users why they rely on advertising, but the sense of entitlement that the internet has given many people needs to be whittled away.

Online advertising is just a tax, easily paid, and as long as advertisers aren’t holding guns to heads, the ads are also easily ignored. However, the more actively internet users avoid online advertising, the worse the ads will get.

First published on The Big Smoke.

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Breaking the fourth wall: The complex relationship between violence and video games

Essay

Gun violence is deeply troubling. In light of tragedies such as the Sandy Hook shootings in December 2012, it is imperative to determine the driving factors behind gun violence to prevent future shootings. What leads a person open fire on innocent people? What role did society and law play? The conversation is not a comfortable one and there will be no easy fix.

There is, however, an easy scapegoat: Video games. The past decade has seen the medium rise in popularity, providing users with richer and ever-more realistic experiences. With Australia placing its first R18+ classified game on shelves this past January after years of legal debate, the trend is unlikely to end soon.

But what role do video games play in inciting violence, whether physical or gun-based? Considering all the talk about a relationship between violence and video games in Australian and American news media, the evidence presented is scant at best. Consider that NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione thinks the video games available in Australia encourage “raping women” – either he’s acquiring such games underground, or more likely, has little to no experience with the medium.

The Communication Graduate in me wants to weigh in on the debate because it’s a meaty topic, but fairness and the freedom of expression are the reasons I am writing. We need to hear more sides of the argument before we decide if we act against violent video games, and if so, how.

For transparency’s sake, let me outline my place: I grew up playing somewhat-violent video games, so I am hardly impartial. However, I have no history of violent behaviour and find ultra-violence in any media uncomfortable. I do believe designers and developers should have creative liberty in their work, but also think any violent content needs to be regulated. As should any commentator on the matter, my argument begins in studies from the past five years. Let’s get the first major fact out of the way now: There is a relationship between violence and video games, but it is not a simple one.