It’s Reasonable to Not Want Small Kids to Play Violent Games

I had an interesting conversation with Robert Dolan, mayor of the town of Melrose, Mass., last week, in which we discussed his town’s program for allowing parents to return violent video games, movies and toys in return for coupons to local businesses.

Dolan’s New Year – New Direction program sounds a bit like that of Southington, Conn., at first mention. That’s the program that had parents turning in violent games and other stuff, but was going to result in all that stuff being burned — and quickly gained national attention as sounding like the rounding up and burning of offensive art. The program in Melrose is much more subdued and thoughtful, from what Dolan told me: Its focus is on educating parents, primarily those of young children, about violent media and toys and their effects on kids, as well as things like ratings systems that can help parents make good purchasing choices.

Speaking with Dolan, the New Year – New Direction program seemed entirely reasonable. It helps parents get clear of violent games they don’t want their kids to have, which they might have received as gifts or purchased without realizing what they were getting into. More than anything, though, it was about helping parents be better parents, and allowing parents to make decisions for their kids.

It’s exactly what the gaming community advocates, in fact — leaving the onus on what media is appropriate for kids with their parents, and not with heavy handed, censoring legislation.

Something that seems like it often gets lost in this discussion of whether violent games are responsible for violent actions is that, regardless of where people fall in the argument, or where the science falls, most of us seem to share the opinion that seven-year-olds probably don’t need to play Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. When Dolan told me a story about veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars visiting elementary school children and those children asking if the experience of being a soldier was like Black Ops, I was taken aback — that’s exactly not what we want kids to think.

So I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that while I have respect for the medium of games and its potential as an art form, and while I’m vehemently opposed to its censorship, I don’t think it should be easy for kids to get hold of violent games. It’s a decision left to parents, under their supervision and with their guidance.

The breakdown here, however, is that these forms of media make easy scapegoats precisely because parents aren’t fully aware of them, and that’s a bad thing. It’s easy for politicians and pundits to demonize games because they know nothing about them — they’re scary and it’s easy to generalize. Back in the late 1990s, the Internet was scary too. It also was demonized in much the same way. Remember all those news stories about Internet predators?

And just today, President Barack Obama called for a $10 million study by the Centers for Disease Control into the link between violent media, specifically games, and actual violence. I can’t see how that study would turn up anything different than the others that have shown no causal link between violence in media and violence in people, but the very fact that video games have been made into another convenient target — yet again — should be evidence that there’s something wrong. The trouble isn’t that people with an agenda to push love to look for an easy target, as that’s unavoidable; the trouble is that video games remain an easy target, even 14 years after Columbine.

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13 Comments on It’s Reasonable to Not Want Small Kids to Play Violent Games


On January 16, 2013 at 4:56 pm

Amen to all of this


On January 16, 2013 at 5:03 pm

That would be good. Unfortunately it requires the willing agreement for all parties involved to actually work. So far most parents out of touch don’t really want to put fourth the effort to learn.
I happen to whole heartily agree that some games shouldn’t be played by those of a certain age. I’ve seen this in practice when i saw a mother buy Grand theft auto four, for here child. The kid was probably about seven or eight years old.


On January 16, 2013 at 5:52 pm

You know, I just don’t know. When I was a kid, Resident Evil 4 was the big thing on the playground. All the kids were playing it. It’s a pretty violent game but I don’t see the big deal. My parent’s didn’t let me play it and that just pissed me off. If there is no clear link between violent media (that includes video-games) and violence then what does it matter?
Like I said, Resident Evil 4 was the big thing back then. So was Saw and God of War. If there is no negative effects, who cares?


On January 17, 2013 at 4:16 am

Murders were around long before video games and guns, not sure why people are too dumb to realize it.


On January 17, 2013 at 5:50 am

I say the following with all due respect:

Do you have any evidence that there is a correlation between children playing/viewing violent media? Most of the research that I’m aware of either shows that there isn’t much of a correlation to prove anything (Grand Theft Me), or systematic/observational/selection bias with the research.

I bring this up because, if there is no evidence of a correlation between violent media and negative behavioural attributes in children:

*Why make said violent media harder for them to get?*

To me (at least), you are suggesting that we punish children for the ignorance of adults/parents/politicians


On January 17, 2013 at 6:01 am

“Pornography doesn’t cause sexual thought – having a d*ck causes sexual thought.” Bill Hicks.

Same applies here. Bad apples will always fall from the tree of life. If parents are too lazy and stupid to not moderate what their kids play, that’s their problem.

I played GTA as a 13 or 14 year old. I’m now 25, and my current tally of murders, carjacks, drug deaks and soliciting of prostitutes stands at a whopping zero. The same goes for the overwhelming majority of people who play games – in many cases, it actually becomes cathartic for them and a positive way of channelling rage or frustration. We should be encouraging this, not resorting to reactionary, emotional rhetoric because of a couple of unproven cases of killers who may or may not have been influenced by entertainment media. These people are clearly mentally ill anyway for them to think this way – THAT’S what should be targeted here, not videogames.

You appear to just detest videogames in general unless they have some sort of wider social undertone or a PC message.


On January 17, 2013 at 7:13 am

My guess is this is a reaction coming from outdated conceptions about games. Back then it was ok to berate games as it was a niche industry with a relatively small contribution to a nation’s economy (or so they thought. I for one didn’t think so then and certainly don’t think so now).

Now it’s a freaking huge money making machine. Attacking it now has about the same effect as advertising against ciggaretes ( and that’s because ciggaretes ACTUALLY KILLS people)…

Phil Hornshaw

On January 17, 2013 at 8:58 am

At this point, it’s pretty much an established fact that games and movies don’t lead to actual violence, but there are plenty of parents in the world who think things like sexual content and violent content (and others) should be kept from children until they’re old enough to process and understand it. While one might lead to another by a straight line, exposing kids to this kind of content too early in their lives can and does seem to affect their development in different ways. There’s a reason schools and people in the scientific fields coach parents to limit this content for their children and to try to give them context for it; it can have negative effects.

So the debate here, as I was trying to say in the article, isn’t whether this stuff is bad or how bad is it or how should we limit it’s distribution. Because that stuff has already been discussed and studied, or is being studied, at length, and regardless, it’s in the realm of “things for parents to deal with.” The trouble, though, is almost one of public relations. It seems that whenever a tragedy happens, older generations turn to the things that younger generations are interested in that they don’t understand to place blame. Comic books. Violent movies. Heavy metal music. Marilyn Manson. The Internet. Video games.

It’s only when these things become better understood or more mainstream that people stop blaming them for things. So if video games as a community can help parents to realize that they’re not scary brainwashing devices — that that idea is patently absurd, in fact — then we’ll get a lot fewer instances of people wanting to regulate and legislate them. We can argue back and forth about whether video games are ACTUALLY bad for kids all day long, but the facts of the situation are that people PERCEIVE them to be bad and are actively thinking about ways to control them. With laws. And if we want to avoid that situation, we need to stop arguing back and forth about anecdotal situations or waiting for some scientist to give us the all-clear (or not). We need to help make the idea that video games cause violence sound idiotic to people who don’t understand video games. This is a battle of education, the way I see it.


On January 17, 2013 at 10:58 am

Very much agreed about that. But the question to me is how?

Phil Hornshaw

On January 17, 2013 at 11:08 am


Very good question. If I were a big publisher, I think I’d start with a TV commercial campaign. Explain the ratings and the like. Worth the investment given the alternative.


On January 17, 2013 at 7:40 pm

I don’t know how long it took you to figure that out but I’m sure they had more yet this seems a million times more logical and effective than anything they’ve said.

Phil Hornshaw

On January 18, 2013 at 2:41 pm


Haha, thanks. I think all it will really take is a willingness for publishers to step up and deal with it. Right now they probably don’t think it’s worth the money.


On January 18, 2013 at 6:57 pm

Violent media and children is nothing new. At one time children saw public executions with there parents as a family outing. At another time the general public thought horrer films was only for kids. Not to mention the comic books they read every day showing super hereos using violence as there only solution to a problem. As a child I saw violence in both media and and in real life and let me say this, real violence affecting me far more than anybody could create on film or any another kind of media.