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.