It’s a question of ethics, nay a question of morals, nay both. One of those ethical, moralistic conundrums lies at the heart of one of my closer held beliefs: the computer game industry should be allowed to create whatever style of game they see fit.
The capitalistic argument is simple: if the public wants a game, then there is demand. If a game company creates a game that shocks and horrifies via violence, sexual content or more rarely, intelligence and the public swoops into stores to snatch up their copies, then by all means make more. But when do we, as individuals (which is where all true movements must begin) watching parents snatching up copies of the latest splatter-fest for their pre-teen, say “enough is enough”?
My concern stems from a discussion I was having with my brother-in-law a few weeks back. I was telling him about how much fun I was having playing “Grand Theft Auto 3”, and giving a basic description of what the game was about. Now this college professor with a PhD in Psychology tells me that a friend of his bought the very same game at his 10-year-old son’s request. My jaw gained a new hinge and it hung slack for at least a minute as my brother-in-law blandly related this fact. I asked him if his friend knew anything about the game he had just purchased for his son. Nope. Had he ever watched his son play the game? Nope. Did he realize that this game was a 17+ MA title? A what?
It is this kind of attitude that knocks me back on my heels. How can any parent purchase a game such as GTA3 for their pre-teen child? Hell, how is it that so many kids under 17 are playing this game? It’s simple: parents just have no idea what their kids are doing. With our mass-consumer, instant-gratification culture, parents have neither the time nor the patience to understand what their kids are doing on the computer. That would require effort. And parents these days are too “busy” to worry about the dumb computer and the stupid games. It’s much easier to blame the schools and the teachers for not raising their kids for them. In the meantime, they’ll just buy the game to shut their kids up.
We can sit back and say “but there have been studies that show that violence in movies, on TV and in video games has no real effect on children”, but we’d be buying into a lie. You can’t bombard someone with images of horrific violence and overt sexuality without affecting their development, no matter how “make-believe” those images may be. And while I can say there are studies to support this statement (which there are), I would rather say that in the marrow of my bones, I know this to be true.
Let me be clear here: I do not support game censorship. I support the right of Rock Star Games to create games such as GTA3. I enjoy playing violent and sex-laden video games such as GTA3. But I also know, yes know, that games such as this would not have been good fodder for my young mind when I was 10, 13, 16 or even 20. I was crazy enough without spending my evenings shooting innocent bystanders in the head, firebombing FBI cars and picking up hookers no matter how “virtual” it may be.
I believe that the labels that are on games now are more than enough to demonstrate to parents what a game is all about. Even without a label, a quick perusal of the back cover of any game ought to give parents a dang good idea what’s in the game. We don’t need the government trying to tell us what’s right and wrong. What we need (and this extends much farther than just games) are parents who are actually involved in their kids live; parents who set boundaries and enforce them; parents who act as parents and raise their children.
I despised my parents getting involved as deeply as they did in my life, and if there was something I wanted to hide from them badly enough, I could. But the fact of the matter is the fact that my parents made rules and expected me to abide by them helped me survive High School and made me responsible enough to live through college and adapt well to life in the real world. My parents knew what games I was playing (and they can’t even vaguely compete with the games of today), knew where I was going, knew who I was hanging out with, and were smart enough to give me leash when I was doing all right and to yank back when I was getting out of hand.
Are games violent, sexist and capable of warping young minds? Yes. So are the majority of the mass-consumption pieces of celluloid tripe passed of as movies and the popularity contests known as “reality” TV. Do I think we should ban any of these? Definitely not. I am an adult and capable of deciding what I want to see, what I want to hear and what I want to play. I need no one dictating to me what I can and cannot see and do. A company that makes a game that is so depraved that no one wants to play it won’t make another, because they’ll see that there’s no money to be made.
However I think that many kids do need direction. Why? Not because they aren’t capable of making up their own minds and determining right and wrong on their own – hell, I know 13-year-olds that could out-think me any day of the week. But rather because they haven’t had a chance to live through adolescence, which is one of the most screwed up times in life. Once you’ve survived that crap and can look back with wonder upon the things you held so important back in “those days”, then I think you can look objectively upon anything and make rational decisions about what’s right and wrong.
Until that point, I lay the responsibility squarely upon the shoulders of the parents out there. You took on an important, and life-long, role the day you brought your child into the world. You need to get involved and learn what your kids are being exposed to when they’re loading up their favorite games. You just may be surprised.