Should Parents be Arrested if the Kids Play Violent Games?


gta_kidIt seems like a group of 16 schools in Cheshire, England, are proposing reporting parents to the authorities if they let their children play games rated PEGI 18 or higher. For reference, many of these games are rated M by the ESRB. The arguments for doing this are as one would expect coming from such initiatives. The phrases “we are trying to help parents to keep their children as safe as possible in this digital era” and “it is so easy for children to end up in the wrong place and parents find it helpful to have some very clear guidelines” are cited as the main factor in this initiative which, according to the BBC, Prime Minister David Cameron endorses.

According to the letter as reported by The Daily Mail, “Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Dogs of War and other similar games, are all inappropriate for children and they should not have access to them.” The initiative also argues that kids should be prevented from having access to social media sites.

I admit that my reaction to this is a split one.

As a scholar of rhetoric and media, specially of games and gaming culture, as well as someone who is familiar with the way in which politicians have uses video games as a scapegoat for society’s ills, I know that the underlying assumptions behind this policy is that games make people violent. This kind of thinking is one that has been disproved, often with studies showing a decrease in violent crime as the popularity of video games have increased, projects showing that although competitive video games cause short bursts of adrenaline rush this effect disappears after a few minutes, and that video games make people competitive, not violent. Furthermore, there has been criticism of studies claiming to show correlation between video games and violent behavior, as many of them ultimately just show that people with violent histories (people who got into fights often in school, people who work in law enforcement or the military, etc) prefer violent video games to a greater degree than people without violent tendencies.

On the other hand, as a scholar of rhetoric and media, as well as a parent, and as someone who has formal training in education and human development and psychology, I know that there are certain concepts that, when presented in certain ways, might shock children who have not previously been exposed to such concepts. This doesn’t mean that kids can’t understand the concepts of death and violence – it means that depending on how they are presented they might have an incredibly difficult time understanding them. This is especially true in the case of smaller kids and specially when they are in stages of early development (2 – 7 years of age). A child might, for example, understand the concept of game violence as well as understand the difference between fictional and real violence if they are introduced to the concept first with a game like Skylanders (rated PEGI 7 and E10 by the ESRB). In Skylanders the characters beat up the Chompy monsters, but it’s presented in a colorful and clearly fictional aesthetic. The music, the sound effects, the story, and the toys even help take focus away from the fighting monsters element (which is still there) and help focus on character growth and on the hero’s quest. The narrative fiction sets the purpose of the game as “save the world”, not as “beat up every chompy.” Furthermore, the way in which characters burst into colorful experience orbs make it so that children don’t think “it’s dead” as much as “I defeated it and it became color bubbles.” Granted, this is only anecdotal experience based on my playing with my son, but I would expect that the same would be true in most cases. On the other hand, if a child’s first exposure to video game violence is Mortal Kombat X, it will raise many questions in the mind of the child that a parent may not be able to answer. These may include “why are they fighting?”, “why are they ripping each other’s heads off?”, “what are those dangly things that came out of the stomach after he got cut in half?”, and perhaps most importantly “why do you kill the other guy after you win?” How do you answer that last part? “Because mindless violence and graphic killing is fun”?

I wholeheartedly agree that parents should know what their kids are playing and should make informed choices about their games. I don’t think that an average 7 year old kid should play Call of Duty or GTA V. But at the same time I know that these games are not created for kids, and I know that not every kid grows up having the same level of maturity. I played Phantasmagoria and Under a Killing Moon when I was around 10 years of age and Night Trap when I was 12, and I’m not sure that I would give that game to either of my 15 year old nephews. I also know that there are many different parenting styles, and that while some parents would prefer to keep violent games from their children’s ecosystem, there are others whom are willing to sit down with them and explain what is happening, as is the case in the video below where a parent plays “The Monsters Game” with his kid who likes “smashing monsters”.

I’m not one to criticize either parenting style, but both in a situation in which a parent decides “I don’t want my kid playing this game” and in a situation in which the parent decides “I will play the game with my kid and explain what’s happening”, I think there was an informed decision made. What I can’t agree with is with the state forcing a certain parental style and incarcerating the parents if they don’t follow the government approved parenting style. In cases like those of media, government’s role should be to inform (if that), not to oppress and punish, and therein lies my problem with the proposal.

Yes, I it is a fact GTA V and other games are incredibly violent. Yes, it also is a fact that they are marketed towards adults. Yes, I am of the opinion that parents should regulate what media their kids consume. Yes, I am of the opinion that some media might shock some children and give them a hard time understanding what is being represented. No, I don’t think parents should be put to jail if they let their kids play GTA V.

While it is certainly true that in a minority of cases the parent might have no idea what the kid is playing, this is an issue that is solved through education and information and hardly warrants imprisonment. What this proposal does is overreact to an issue that is hardly a problem and that will probably lead to creating more (and worse) problems than those it hopes to fix, and in the end it seems to me that the proposal is nothing more than a group of people saying “I don’t like these games so I’m not going to let anyone play them.”

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About Quijano

Johansen Quijano is a professor of English in The University of Texas at Arlington, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Development focusing on TESOL, and a Master’s Degree in English Literature. He has published and presented on a variety of topics including video game studies, popular culture studies, education, teaching methodology, language acquisition, romantic poetry, and victorian literature. His research interests include the above-mentioned topics, narrative, interactivity, simulation, new media in general, and 18th century literature. He also enjoys creative writing (fiction, historical fiction, and poetry), and reading all kinds of epic literary works - from the Epic Poem of Gilgamesh to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Posted on March 30, 2015, in Media Commentary, Video Game Commentary and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Good luck with that. Why not arrest kids for watching violent movies or television shows? My cousin let her kids watch CSI all the time. They only had to close their eyes for the sex scenes. Now 10 years later she’s got 2 kids that want to be cops and 2 that want to be doctors. Video games will make people want to be soldiers and heroes.

  2. I honestly got infuriated when I heard about this. I went and wrote an article to release my frustrations. But it’s honestly stupid to arrest anyone for such a thing. It really is.

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