Won’t Somebody Think of the Children?
From playing first shepherd to playing first person shooter games…should we be allowing our under 10’s to play violent games? asks Elizabee …
I suppose I should start this article by explaining that I am not writing from a purely theoretical perspective. I am in fact looking to settle a long running argument between me and the other half. See, we have a 4 year old boy. He’s pretty nice, you know, all small boyish, quite cuddly and still makes endearing grammatical mistakes like saying ‘you hiddid’ instead of ‘you hid’. He was a little shepherd in the school nativity, in a dressing gown and teatowel. I like him. Of course, I’m supposed to, and there may be a certain amount of bias here but I think he’s rather smart and wonderful. And little, and (mainly) innocent (there have been some incidents with the theft of chocolate Santa’s from the Christmas tree but we’ll overlook that for now!).
But this article isn’t just about the potential loss of innocence that watching scenes of violence may cause. That is, I suppose, a part of it, but then we could get into the argument about the creation of childhood in the 20th century (wherein it is pointed out that childhood was not revered as a sacred entitlement for most of the preceding millennium). However, I’m happy to assume that most people now accept the status quo in respect of our kids being entitled to their childhood.
Anyway, so back to the main argument. My mister insists that it’s ok for our little one to play first person shooter games on the Xbox such as Halo, Call of duty, and some other one which involves zombies and soldiers, ‘zombie death apocalypse’ or some such. Ok, ok, that’s probably not its actual name but that seems to encapsulate the main theme of the game. I have put my foot down and said ‘No’. It has caused the following debate:
Me: I don’t want him playing those games, they have an age rating for a reason.
Him: well, it never did me any harm.
Me: you can’t seriously be comparing the computer games available in the 80’s to the realistic ones here?
Him: It doesn’t matter how realistic it is, he knows it’s just a game. Plus, he’s not shooting people, he’s shooting aliens or zombies.
Me: I don’t want him being put in the perspective of someone who’s sole mission is to shoot everything that moves.
And it continues.
The thing is, there have been studies about the effect of computer games on children’s behaviour. Just google it as a search term and there’s a plethora of work on the subject. This scholarly article for example, concludes that
experiment showed that individuals low in VVE (Videogame Violence Exposure) behave more aggressively after playing a violent video game than after a nonviolent game but that those high in VVE display relatively high levels of aggression regardless of game content.1
And this really is my problem. It’s not that I believe that my 4 year old is going to go on a killing spree, with the precision and mindset of a Spartan schoolchild. It’s that I believe that the effects are more subtle and far reaching than just cause = effect. I believe that there’s a distinct possibility that he will lose the ability to empathize (and let’s face it, this is a skill I really want my son to have in spades for the future, when he grows into a man). There have been numerous studies showing that people who have been playing violent video games show less empathy towards someone who needs help. I want a future with more empathy towards our fellow human beings, not less.
Secondly, there have also been studies that show a link between aggressive play and violent video games. I don’t want that, I am not one of those people that believes that ‘boys will be boys’. I believe that we are supposed to be evolving, not just physically, but intellectually and in attitude. So many things that previous generations took for granted as normal have changed, girls are now allowed opinions and careers. Racism is not Ok.
So perhaps it’s time we stopped taking it for granted that boys’ play should be aggressive. I understand that only a portion of the parenting population will agree with this (liberal/middle class/insert stereotype here), and therefore we will be leaving our boys and future men exposed to rougher, tougher others from different backgrounds. I’m not against teaching kids self-defense. Karate, Judo and Tae Kwon Do are all ways to learn self-discipline, self-defense and a means of keeping healthy too. But for me, the difference comes with the fact that all these traditions come with a rule – only cause harm if it is completely necessary for your own survival.
This is where first person player violent games flip that rule right on its head. The rule seems to me to be ‘harm the bejaysus out of anything that moves, and screw anyone else who’s in your way’.
And my third objection is I suppose more philosophical, more of a ‘what if’. It kind of goes along with not letting kids play with guns. It goes a bit like this:
What if…hurting others was not just socially unacceptable but actually weird?
What if…empathy towards others was so well developed that the future looked completely different in terms of human to human interaction?
What if…our children were not desensitized to violence and it was so shocking it caused outrage?
And I know it’s a Utopian ideal, I know people argue it’s human nature to be violent, but then would they have been the same people 200 years ago arguing that women are less intelligent naturally and that any non-Caucasian race were another species?
My point is, that humanity is capable of spiritual evolution and changing thought from one ideal to another.
So, my final question to you, dear reader is this (and I do want your opinion): Is it ok to let a primary school child play violent videogames? Would you let them? If so, why and if not, why? I really want to know if I’m in the majority or the oddball in the corner here!