Mild Realistic Violence

[Following up Annie’s rant about parents and video games.]

I have a slightly different, and maybe more liberal, take. I completely agree that parents have absolutely no right to complain about what their kids are watching/playing, if they haven’t taken some responsibility for that.

However, I think often when responsibility is ostensibly taken, it’s only of an extremely superficial and often narrow-minded kind. I remember browsing in a Borders a while ago, and listening to negotiations between a mother and son about what game she’d allow him to buy. Said negotiations took the form of the kid bringing one game after another to her, whereupon she’d give only the most cursory glance to the rating stuff on the back and then reject them one by one. ‘No, this one has violence in it,’ she’d say over and over. She made absolutely no effort to understand the nature of the game itself.

There are (at least) two problems here. The first is that you just can’t reduce games — just as you can’t reduce films, books, etc. — to those farcical summaries that appear on the backs of the boxes: ‘Mild Realistic Violence’, ‘Animated Blood and Gore’. They’re ridiculous. And unfortunately, parents who don’t want to spend any time actually finding out what these games are like, lazily make judgments using these simplistic metrics. It’s not merely that they don’t have time; I suspect it’s mostly that they see no value whatsover in games. They’d spend time finding out about books for their kids, but to them games are at best harmless, so they’re primarily concerned with damage control.

The second problem — which is exacerbated by the fact that parents do fall back so much on puritanical capsule summaries of games — is that descriptions and ratings of games are often very much skewed too old. The Grand Theft Auto games are fine for mid-teens, yet have a rating of 18. That’s beyond both the age of consent and the age at which young people can drive real cars in almost all US states. Shadow of the Colossus is a game of great beauty and its ‘violence’ is of a stylised, fairytale nature, yet it’s rated for 13 and up.

Personally I reckon kids are far more capable of finding games (and films, and books and such) that are appropriate for them than they’re given credit for. From my perspective, I think many parents have an antipathy towards games which comes from equal parts ignorance of the genre, and dismissal of the genre. If they do want to police their kids’ gaming, then I think they do the kids a huge disservice if they don’t take the time to find out what the games are actually like — by reading reviews, and by playing the games with their kids — rather than jerking their knees at the mere mention of ‘Mild Realistic Violence’.

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