Christmas is here and parents need some guidance

With the release of the latest Grand Theft Auto we also got slew of news on parents and professional psychologists panning the game universally as a negative influence to children who play it. At this point, most of you will have alarm bells going off in your head, thinking what the hell is wrong with these people. For me, it’s a yearly event.

Let me tell you a story that I might have already told previously, but it’s still just as valid.

Few years back I was browsing some games in our local electronics store. At the time, the shelves had more selection than what we have nowadays, as the profit the stores gain from video games has dropped like a hammer sinking in river. A proper-looking mother, with a pretty spot on three-size, asked yours truly a question about games, as she knew nothing of them. Well, being who I am, I gladly helped her in deciding what she should do. First of all I asked what kind of games her child enjoys and how old is he. Sure enough, the kid had games spanning from Sly Cooper series to Call of Duty. Pretty standard games really, but she was unsure, as games had changed somewhat since she bought anything the last time. Sure enough, PEGI System has gone through a few revisions, and this was around after the latest one. I explained the markings on the game and how the PEGI system works. After some discussion that PEGI is a recommendation system and that it isn’t all encompassing universal law, thou it is sort of illegal to sell R-18 games to under age in certain regions countries. PEGI in itself is a recommendation system.

This led into discussion about the maturity of individuals and how physical age is never a direct indication of psychological maturity. For example, a child aged at ten can be completely OK with watching horribly violent movies and sexual material, while another person of same age might get traumatised by the material. After all, it is up to the parents to supervise their children and assess if they are mature enough to be exposed to a chosen material. This is, of course, practically impossible and hover parenting is generally not a good idea. However, video games and other entertainment is a different thing. I do agree that parents should be aware of what kind of entertainment their children are consuming in front of the screen, be it on PC or a game console.

Anyway, we chatted there for about an hour about these things and what they were to her. Ultimately, she confessed that a lot of this stuff was new to her as she never really thought any of it properly. I was glad I could help her, and after the chat she chose a game based on what her child had been playing previously and what his tastes were. Of course, parental concerns were present, but I later bumped to her and she told me that her son was delighted to get that particular game as a present.

Needless to say, the staff of the store, gave me a weird look after this.

What I try to illustrate with this story is that parents don’t know jack shit about the video entertainment in general. Only just recently we’ve seen a generation reaching adulthood and getting kids that understand what video games and films are as an entertainment in their current form. These people have been born in the 70’s and 80’s, and have witnessed the golden age of video games as well as how television, movies and world wide connectivity has changed. However, this is also a generation of stagnation, the one that doesn’t dare to dream. Much like we are taught to read movies, news and ads the right way to get the best out of them and not be fooled, we should be taught to understand and read other video media as well. Newgrounds and Youtube are the prime examples of the Web 2.0, but as much as we see it talked about, we don’t see anyone wanting to educate us on it. Personally, Web 2.0 is kind of bullshit but that is beside the point. The point is that if we’re taught to read behind the traditional media, and I’m covering films and TV with this remark as well, why is it so hard for some people to read through video games? As they are now, video games use vastly similar ways to convey messages and use almost the exact same visual methods as any video based material, be it a TV-series, movie or ad. Which actually begs the question if this is a good thing overall, but the point stands.

Of course, we know the answer. Any new form of entertainment is seen as a threat. Before video games it was the computer nerds, before that it was the radio geeks, before that it was the kids reading books all alone in their rooms, and so on.

It would be awesome to have some sort of leaflet that shortly explains what video games are, where they come from and why there’s no reason to be afraid of them. The problem lies with the individual parents of course, and that’s why one person can’t do it without the help of some larger organization. For example, if a well known game company like Nintendo, or a well known electronics company like SONY, would start a campaign to open this video game thing to those who feel they’re left outside, it just might be the thing to allow the worrying parents to understand that video games are just fictional entertainment like movies, music, television and books.

There was a decade long study on television’s and electronic game’s effect on children’s psychological adjustment. In short, video games have no negative effect on the psychological growth. As usual, we can always say that they do have effect on people with prior abnormalities, just like with any form of entertainment. A normal person won’t go out and start killing people after playing a session of Modern Warfare, whatever the age might be.

It’s a difficult issue, and I hope it’ll be met, just like the issues with other screen entertainment has been.