London — They careen noisily across flickering television screens in homes, clubs, cars, city arcaders, foyers, cross-channel ferries, waiting rooms, and countless other places in Britain, Europe, and the United States.
But are these electronic bombs, space rockets, and alien beings of sophisticated video games in fact as innocent as they might seem to the hordes of teen-agers and others they fascinate and absorb?
It is an issue of some moment -- so much so that the august House of Commons in London has now rung to the rafters with debate (not all of it solemn) on the merits and demerits of this international fad.
"An addiction, leading young people to theft, blackmail, and vice to obtain the money to play," thundered George Foulkes, Labour member of Parliament (MP) from South Ayrshire in Scotland.
"Innocent, harmless, genuine pleasure," retorted Conservative Michael Brown (Brigg and Scunthorpe), who said defiantly he had just come from putting 10 pence in a machine in a nearby pub and playing "space invaders" over lunch.
Mr. Foulkes was not to be denied. He had been alerted to this insidious threat, he said, by the headmaster of a school in his area, the Cumnock Academy.
British young people were playing truant. Their eyes were glazed. They were missing meals. They became crazed. Did MPs doubt him? Then let them go (incognito, of course) to an arcade or a cafe and see for themselves.
Each electronic games machine had an "interest span" of no less than two years. Some 80,000 machines were flickering away day and night in Britain. Profits from each were more than L200 ($420): "Blood money extracted from the weakness of thousands of children."
Did the House know that one pupil had stolen between L100 and L200 ($210 and for his grandmother's funeral?
Far be it from Mr. Foulkes to ban electronic games. But the House should adopt his own bill, he said, and force machine operators to obtain licenses. Gaming laws did not work, since the machines did not reward high scores with money.
"Outrageous and rediculous," retorted Mr. Brown. "If I have glazed eyes," he said, to general laughter, "it is because I am the one MP who is an avid player of 'space invaders.'"
Mr. Brown suspected that the root of the problem lay in Mr. Foulkes' "socialist beliefs" and his desire, in Mr. Brown's eyes, to restrict the pleasure of the young.
In a stirring peroration, Mr. Brown said young people could be doing many worse things than deriving innocentamusement from electronic games. They could be "trooping the streets." They could be "engaging in violence."
Under a measure known as the 10-minute rule, Mr. Foulkes' bill was put to a vote. It lost by 114 votes to 94.
"Space invaders" and other electronic blips have been saved. The House has moved o n to other things.