Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Children and Video Games

What comes to mind when you think about video games?  If video games aren't of interest to you, then chances are that you imagine little cartoon characters hopping around to cheerful music.  Real family friendly stuff.  Kid stuff.  But this isn't 1990 anymore, where the Nintendo Entertainment system reigns supreme and graphics are made up of pixels so large you can count them.  This may come to you as a surprise, but video games have changed drastically over the last couple of decades.

Long gone are the days of the pixelated man jumping and hitting blocks, hopping on turtles and mushrooms.  While there are games published today that are made with that aesthetic and style, video games have evolved far beyond that.  Today, games are more realistic than ever, both in terms of gameplay and graphics.

With that being said, I have a message for uninitiated parents: video games have ratings.  Yes, that's right.  Just like movies and even TV shows, video games have ratings dictating the age that they're appropriate for, and for good reason.  The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) sets out the ratings ranging from eC for Early Childhood to A for Adult.  Most commonly, though, you'll see E for Everyone, T for Teen, and M for Mature.  So, what do these ratings mean and why am I telling you about them?

For starters, many parents don't seem to know what their children are playing.  The rating of a video game determines what age the game is appropriate for.  But to a parent, a video game is just a video game, and it doesn't matter what it's called or even what the rating is.  It's a video game—how harmful could it be?  Well... very, actually.  

When a game is rated E for Everyone, that typically means that, as the rating suggests, it's appropriate for everyone.  Think Super Mario Bros.  But when a game is rated T for Teen (13 and up), that means that it likely contains some violence, suggestive themes, some strong language, and maybe a little bit of blood.  This is where you might find some sports games, arcade fighting games, and action adventure games.  When a game is rated M for Mature (17 and up), this means that the game may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and strong language.  This is where you find some of the most recent best-selling games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty.  (To see a full detailed list of game ratings, check out the ESRB ratings guide.)

These particular games—the Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty series—are some of the most violent video games on the market today, selling millions upon millions with each release.  In Grand Theft Auto, the player is capable of stealing, murdering, and even picking up prostitutes for onscreen sexual encounters.  Call of Duty, meanwhile, allows the player to kill, granted it's in a war setting, again and again. 

Though these games are rated M for Mature, this doesn't seem to stop parents all over the world from buying them for their children.  This is an individual choice each parent has the right to make, but unfortunately, many of them don't seem to know what it is that they're buying their children.  

What I'm saying to parents is this: take just a few moments to read the back of the box before picking a game up for your children.  Take a look at the rating in the bottom corner.  Heck, in the Internet age that we live in, a video of gameplay is just a couple of clicks away on YouTube.  Once you've seen the game that it is that you're buying, then you can make the decision of whether it's appropriate for your children or not.  Making an informed choice isn't going to hurt you.

Another reason I'm telling you about video game ratings is because children are always developing.  With that, it's important that they aren't vegging out on video games day in and day out, a constant intake of mindless information.  Not only that, but, as I'm sure you know, children are so easily influenced.  Now, I'm certainly not going to say that video games cause violence like anti-video game folks like to argue, because they don't.  But I do believe that it's reasonable to say that children take lessons from what they see in video games (and in movies and on TV, too), so it's important that they're taking in age appropriate material and useful information rather than content that they don't understand and is inappropriate for someone their age.

I'm certainly not demonizing these games.  I play them, after all.  But I'm not a developing child.  I'm an adult that is able to discern the difference between reality and a video game.  I'm able to separate actions in a video game from real life actions.  Frankly, I'm just tired of seeing children who I believe are far too young to be playing certain video games carrying the game from a store.  I often have a hard time believe that a their parent would have purchased the game for them if they had taken just a fraction of their life to research the game before making the purchase.

The final issue that I have with children and video games doesn't actually have to do with the games themselves at all, but instead, it has to do with playing the video games online.  On the current generation of consoles, most games have some type of online play.  This means that the player will likely interact with others—real human beings from all over the world.  This exposes the player—or in this case, your children—to the actions of others.  This often includes unfiltered conversation, resulting in strong language, or, in worst case scenarios, adults befriending your children with malicious intent.  The latter behaviour certainly isn't rampant (though the former is), but the fact that children are interacting with others online is something to keep in mind. Fortunately, parental controls are an option on video game consoles, allowing parents to dictate what their children are able to do on their console.  Again, it's all about being aware of what your children are doing and making sure they're having an age appropriate experience.
In the end, it's up to the parent to decide what their children play.  They're your children, after all, and you have the responsibility of deciding what they can and can't do.  Just know that video games have ratings for a reason and that it's your responsibility to make appropriate decisions for your children.  Everyone has the right to decide what's best for their children.  I'm simply making sure parents are informed when they make these decisions.  

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