Thursday, February 14, 2013

Thinking: Kids vs Violent Gaming

Some times I feel sorry for Ewan, our eldest. He's 11 soon, and is now very much sat in one of those strange childhood "dead zones" - not a teenager, with all the teenage market to play with, and certainly no longer a child, easily amused by simpler things. I got through this odd time by becoming a voracious reader; raiding my Dad's shelves for thrillers and science fiction, but Ewan is a different generation and far more interested in games and movies as his primary source of entertainment. Which is problematic, in many ways, for him, and by extension me. 
Waaaaaagh! Orks Luv Violent Gamez!

From a movies point of view, it's pretty simple. With handful of specific exceptions we've no problem with any 12A movie (hell, he got the Marvel Phase 1 boxset for Christmas!) either on the big screen or small, and that seems pretty normal for his peer group, too. With our experience of watching films from my youth (Indiana Jones, etc) the old PG rating was far more liberal in terms of death and blood than it is now, with a huge gap up to the 15 rating. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, for instance, is a 15, which I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be today.

Gaming, well gaming is a different thing. Currently Ewan is playing Dawn of War II: Retribution, rated "M" for mature. He's really enjoying stomping about as a Tyranid Hive Tyrant and a horde of shooting, stabbing and eating gribbly monsters in the GrimDark future of the 40th Millennium. Hordes of tiny figures fight to the death and expire in messy splodges and digital screams. From talking to him about it, the carnage is definitely part of the attraction, compared the antics of games like Skylanders or Lego: Batman 2 which are bloodless and "kiddie" - although he still really enjoys them, too. My tolerance of this almost certainly qualifies me as a terrible parent.

But what bothers me about the potential impact of games on children is actually the same thing that argument about culture should consider; the impact of the culture we consume on us, the viewers/listeners/gamers. Little men going splotch at the claws of alien space monsters isn't going to teach him any life lessons, compared to playing say, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and being implicitly taught that the difference between "allies" and "targets" is as simple as skin colour, something I find much more troubling.

The same goes for Batman: Arkham City (Rated T, for Teens), a game I am pretty sure he would love. No swearing, no nudity, and no death, because it's Batman, but a crunching, bone cracking combat system and a constant undercurrent of misogynist dialogue from the NPC thugs that really gets wearing after a while and I would not want repeating around the house. I'd much rather he played Uncharted, where you may shoot all the people, but its relentlessly escapist nonsense that isn't masquerading as geo-political simulation and even at 11 I think you're not going mistake it as such.

A lot of the debate about kids and violent games always boils down to some sort of crazed debate about whether gaming "affects gamers". Of course it does. Why would I play a game if it didn't affect me? Any form of entertainment that doesn't reach out to you in some way, even if just to make you smile, get your heart racing, or leave you satisfied at beating it, isn't worth taking out of the box. I can't say games don't affect kids, because they clearly do; but then as a kid we played Star Wars by hitting each other with big sticks because no-one had toy lightsabers. It's how they affect kids, and what messages they learn from that, that we should be considering, not some fruitless, didactic debate about if there is a message at all.

Thinking about it, I guess I should let him play Left4Dead, to prepare him for the Zombie Apocalypse....