Aaron McKenna: Parents need to get game

There has been a lot of talk of late on harmful videogames, to the extent that I feel like I’m flogging a dead donkey whenever I start to write about it these days. But one of the central and, I think, critical issues which has once again come into play in the last few months is the role of parents in overseeing the videogames that their children play.

The problem that many parents face is the simple fact that they know little or nothing about videogaming, and so it’s either difficult to in any way control what games their children are playing or they have to trust the oftentimes biased views of anti-videogame lobbyists who put forward their information specifically aimed at parents in such a position.

The problem with many of the hard-liners is that the discussion tends to hover around the Grand Theft Auto’s of this world and so a parent not in the videogaming loop might be forgiven for thinking that all the gaming industry produces is ultra-violent cop killing simulations.

Make no mistake, there are plenty of these games floating around, and I’ve made my views on how the ratings system should work and be enforced for these games clear in the past. But these games are, in reality, indicative of a minority in videogames, not the majority.

The dilemma faced by most parents is that they can’t tell the difference between Grand Theft Auto and Civilization IV - heck, I’d say most of the non-videogamer parents in the audience don’t recognise the second game mentioned in that sentence. Yet the Civilization series is what I would consider to be one of the most intelligent, non-explicitly educational and fun games I’ve ever played.

Therein lies my biggest problem with the anti-videogames lobby and the message which is being communicated to most parents. By highlighting the GTA’s of this world specifically and demonising the industry many parents are being moved to throw out the baby with the bathwater in totally banning videogames in their homes as opposed to limiting what their kids play away from the violent games they don’t agree with.

Grand Theft Auto is an open-ended, ultra violent and adult orientated game which allows one to car jack, murder and steal at will. Civilization is a turn-based strategy game which charts the course of human history, allowing players to start off with an ancient tribe and steer them through the choppy waters of time. It is a game as much about education and logic-building as it is fun.

The danger in highlighting GTA and avoiding Civilization (to use these two games in our limited example) is obvious : Parents ban videogames in their home because they believe them to be morally unsound, and the children miss out on all the other offerings of the videogame world.

Of course I’m not presumptuous enough to tell parents what they should and shouldn’t allow their children to be exposed to - I’m merely pointing out that there are different levels of videogaming exposure beyond "None" and "Grand Theft Auto".

It’s all about levels of intensity, in terms of violence, sex and other topics raised in videogames. For example, some parents may be totally opposed to GTA, but not mind an historically based first person shooter such as Call of Duty or Brothers in Arms. These World War II games (being in fad and actually quite goreless it must be said) are still violent videogames, but the premise of the violence, the freedom to express it and the way in which it is portrayed is in an entirely different context to that of GTA, or any of the other ultra-violent videogames out there (sorry to pick on GTA, but I’m sure it’s helping sales figures so don’t look so wounded...)

Some games have historically accurate violence. Some games have fantasy violence, other’s no violence at all. As much as I won’t tell any parent what they should or shouldn’t expose their children to, I would say that it would be awfully closed-minded to put the boot down in banning videogames entirely without first researching beyond the often times hysterical and biased "advice" of anti-videogame types.

I may be on record as saying that the ratings system is a load of crap, and its enforcement a farce, but make no mistake in thinking that I’m anti-videogame, or agree with much more to come out of the anti-videogame lobby beyond those points.

So parents do a little research for yourself about videogames and see for yourself where it is you want to draw the line, rather than simply slamming the door shut on videogames.

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