What Was I Thinking?

#onewhenifeellikeit 14 – Please Think of The Children!

with 2 comments

Okay, enough with the fucking nanny state already.

Recently my games-related Twitter feed has been abuzz with the story of Mary “Queen of Shops” having a good old Twitter rant about how her 17 year old son was refused service in a GAME store because he didn’t bring an adequate form of ID to prove that he was over 15. All well and good. I think everyone aside from Mary Portas agreed that this is appropriate.

However… BBFC age ratings do not (I repeat, DO NOT) trump the right of a parent to choose what they want their child to experience.

Sorry Pete. You know I like you but this scenario…

Little Johnny returns to GAME with his mother, who doesn’t know much about video games. He has convinced her that he “needs” this game in order to fit in with all the cool kids, who are all playing it for 37 hours a day, some of whom have already Ascended and are going around the levelling system again, only this time with brand new Elder Powers to choose from. His mother picks up the game, barely gives it a second glance, asks the cashier for it with Little Johnny standing right there, and the cashier doesn’t question this at all. Little Johnny’s mother hands him his shiny new game, he shouts “FUCK YEAH!” and runs out of the shop giggling.

No, GAME. Bad GAME. Incorrect response.
Pete Davison, Got any ID?

…can fuck RIGHT off. Who is the government to tell a parent how to raise their child? How could a bunch of civil servants possibly know how a child can cope with the subject matter of a game? What damage could playing Call of Duty:Black Ops possibly do to a child?

[This is not directed solely at Pete, but at the dozens of people with whom I’ve had similar conversations over the past 10 years]

You can’t have it both ways – you can’t argue that games don’t cause violence on the one hand and then fight to prevent children from having them with the consent of their (however speculatively ignorant) parents on the other. Either you accept that games and the wider media have the ability to affect behaviour or you don’t. Make up your damn minds.

Here’s my perspective. Absolutely; games, marketing, films, books – they all affect behaviour. However old or young you are, of course they do. That’s the entire fucking point of art – to make people think about the wider world and themselves and hopefully to question their place in it.

[Heartfelt yet unrelated admission: In my entire life and countless galleries I have seen exactly one piece of art in a gallery that actually excited me. Mike Nelson’s The Coral Reef.]

Affecting behaviour is not the same thing as inciting aping behaviour. Sure, anyone who has played an FPS developed in the past 5 years will understand what I mean when I describe first-person shooters as hyper-violent. Blood spraying everywhere, post-nuclear-armageddon heads flying off when you punch them too hard with your bare fists, chainsaw bayonets, for fuck’s sake. Bulletstorm isn’t even out yet, but holy fucking dick-tits, that is a graphically violent game.

1992’s Mortal Kombat paved the way with graphic depictions of spine-ripping fatality. Ee all played a bit of Mortal Kombat in our time, did we not? Are we now all walking around with the constant desire to rip our opponents heads off? No. Does laughing at a rape joke make you go out and rape someone? Of course not. Will letting a child play Call of Duty: Black Ops turn them into violent criminals?

You watched Tom and Jerry as a child, did you not? Hit anyone in the face with a frying pan lately? But absolutely, convincing a child that violence is the first, second or even third resort when it comes to problem-solving; that is a problem. That’s not what violent games do, though. Sure, there may be the risk of normalising violence but I contend that no matter how many rounds of Halo, BFBC or COD:BlOps you play as a child, the first time you get punched in the face your attitude towards violence changes pretty fucking quickly. Pain hurts.

…pain is the basic mechanism built into us by millions of years of evolution which safeguards us by warning when something threatens our survival. Why should society refuse to use such a highly perfected survival mechanism?
– Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers, ISBN 0 450 00573 9, Page 101

Yes, being constantly saturated with violence does make you more likely to think that violence is an acceptable solution. I firmly believe this, if only from the personal experience that watching Fight Club kind of makes me want to go out and pick a fight with someone. Being saturated with the idea that rape isn’t really that bad will fuck you up in the same way. But you know what? I can rationalise my way out of those ideas. Experiencing pain certainly makes it a hell of a lot easier to realise the difference between intellectual and actual violence. Pain fucking hurts.

I’m pretty goddamn sure that the gamut of my childhood experience extends beyond the media that I experienced. The most important experience of any child’s life is the way their parents treat them and I don’t care how many violent or sexual films, games or books they consume. When a 9-year-old’s mother or father contradicts those media, their words and behaviours trump anything that child might be playing or reading.

What are we so afraid of? What lasting and incontrovertible damage do you think will be caused if a child plays Halo: Reach or Call of Duty? Tell me in the comments.


Written by Weefz

15 February, 2011 at 3:00 am

Posted in ranting

Tagged with , , , , , , ,

2 Responses

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  1. [NB: This comment originally got lost in moderation, hence the followup below – Debbie]

    Well argued, yelling at me aside ;) I can tell I’m not going to change your mind and I respect your opinion and your right to it—I just disagree. Here’s a 3AM attempt to explain why.

    I will confess to being, despite my words, a little conflicted about the whole issue. I do believe in the concept of “age-appropriateness”; that certain content requires a certain level of maturity to be able to deal with appropriately. And as such, yes, I am firmly in favour of the law being able to say what people can and cannot buy at specific ages. They may be arbitrary boundaries, but I always respected them when growing up.

    I also agree that there is an impact on behaviour, though not in the way Fox News suggests. Rather, children re-enact scenes from these games in public. It doesn’t mean that they’re going to commit real-world violence. But it always made me feel uncomfortable to walk down a street containing children swearing like sailors and talking about knifing each other. I know I’m not the only one who doesn’t like to see this, either.

    The concept of “childhood” is rapidly eroding; children are being forced to grow up far too quickly. And being exposed to age-inappropriate material thanks to poor parenting is partly to blame for this. Given that parental *advice* has been tried many times and ignored, clearly something stronger is needed.

    I see your point that you don’t want the government telling you what to do—but personally, on this particular issue, I don’t have any objection. They’re not censoring or banning anything outright, merely trying to ensure people have access to things they’re mature enough to deal with.

    Pete Davison

    15 February, 2011 at 3:14 am

  2. Hello! I could have sworn I left a comment last night but it looks like WordPress ate it. I shall endeavour to remember what I wrote at approximately 3AM.

    Basically, I’m right, you’re wrong.

    Haha. I jest, of course. (This is the Internet.) I respect and understand your opinion, but I don’t agree with it, and here’s why:

    First up, the quote you pulled out was more an attempt to highlight the idiocy of most retailers’ interpretations of the law, which is that if a parent is clearly purchasing an age-inappropriate game for a child, then the store will often tell its employees to “just do it” for a quiet life, despite the fact that this, too, is illegal.

    But my main point is that I strongly believe in the concept of “age-appropriate” material. Of course everyone is different with regard to the stages they reach an appropriate maturity level to deal with particular types of content, but if you’re going to enforce it by law, you have to place your arbitrary boundaries somewhere, and the current ones have been in place (and understood) for a long time now.

    What do I mean by “age-appropriate”? Well, content that an individual can process and understand with an appropriate level of maturity. If the guns, chaos and bloodshed of CoD leads to children running around in the street swearing, talking about knifing each other and referring to specific, explicit acts of violence that, to me, is Not Okay. I have no problem with kids playing “war”—I remember doing it myself when I was a young child, without a real understanding of the true horrors involved in an armed conflict—but when their play refers to things that are… I don’t know, “realistic” and “specific”, I guess, it just makes me uncomfortable. Not to mention the fact that walking down a street filled with kids engaging in violent play is also an uncomfortable experience—the street where I lived in Southampton was regularly filled with children playing such games who would turn quite abusive at a moment’s notice.

    Now, you may say that this is the parents’ fault and you’d be absolutely right; they should decide what content is and is not appropriate for their children, and how they deal with it. The trouble is, they don’t. I’d be firmly in favour of parental choice if it worked. And sure enough there are plenty of parents out there who do take an interest in their kids’ activities—my brother and a very close friend from the States are two examples—but there is a far greater number of parents who buy these games for their kids to give them a quiet life.

    So if self-control isn’t working, then to me, stronger measures are needed to help prevent this material from getting into the hands of youngsters. I’m not talking about censorship or banning things completely, mind; I’m simply talking about ensuring that age-appropriate material gets to the right people and out of the hands of the wrong people.

    Why does this matter, though? Because the concept of “childhood” has been eroded so much these days that it’s almost irrelevant. And that’s sad. Children are forced to grow up and deal with concepts that they’re really not ready to deal with from increasingly young ages, and exposure to this sort of material isn’t helping. Obviously we can’t wrap children in fluffy cotton wool for ever and ever—that’s not desirable, and it’s self-defeating—but I certainly don’t begrudge any child the enjoyment of a time of innocence when they don’t have to be scared of violence or sex or crime.

    This is my personal opinion, mind, and I understand and respect that your views differ. It’s just how I feel.

    Pete Davison

    15 February, 2011 at 1:17 pm

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