Homeschooling: It's not what we do, it's how we live.

I Allow My Kids to Play Violent Video Games

Hi there. I’m a parent, and I play violent video games. I have never killed anyone,  mugged anyone, maimed or raped anyone, robbed a bank or knocked over any convenience stores, or lived through the Zombie Apocalypse or fought in any Alien Wars. I also allow my kids to play violent video games. 

I consider myself an AP parent, with all of the lovey-dovey concepts that go along with it in full practice.  I also consider myself a  ‘crunchy’ mom (scoring 157 on the crunch scale), and I do not find these lifestyles incompatible with allowing my children to experience and participate in video game violence. I thought that I would start off with that clarification so as to give you, dear reader, an idea of where I stand on this issue. 

This topic comes up quite a bit in my group of homeschool friends. Most of us have gaming kids, and they often play together online. The confession of which games our kids play is almost always admitted with a shy smile, ducked head and almost shameful countenance, like we’re divulging some horrible secret. I grew up watching Bugs Bunny (of sarcastic, cross-dressing fame) and Daffy Duck/Elmer Fudd/Yosemite Sam trick and try to kill each other with horrifying regularity. Then there was Wile E. Coyote, with his unlimited spending account at Acme. Co., try, and fail (often with self-destructive consequence) to off the Roadrunner. Other cartoons, Captain Caveman, Tom & Jerry, Ren & Stimpy, the terminal stupidity of Beavis and Butthead… all had their share of cartoon mayhem and violence. I grew up with video games, like Super Mario Brothers (where the Mario Brothers begin their reign of murder and 8-bit violence on the animal population of Mario World within the very first frame), Contra (where there is nuthin’ but killin’, especially with the ‘up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, Start’ cheat code, which allowed a wholesale killing spree virtually without consequence). Though the graphics have improved, the violence in video games nowadays is more often in story format now (movie format, even) and in many, you can choose your path to be less or more violent.

Articulating why I allow my children to play such games is often elusive. Being able to pinpoint exactly why I don’t find them as threatening as Media portrays them is very difficult. But I came across this article on The Escapist by Shamus Young called ‘Violent Video Games are Awesome‘ that does a wonderful job explaining what I haven’t been able to. Katie Couric apparently brought this topic into the limelight yet again(with a beautiful critique by Chris Person on Kotaku), and tweeted for the public to respond with the positive side of video game violence, and Mr. Young’s reply was, in part, thus:

“This is a really pernicious way to continue the conversation. Imagine if I argued that nose piercings caused brain cancer. To support my argument, I talk about two people (there’s a robust data set for you) who had pierced noses and who also had cancer. And then I ask everyone if there’s anything positive about nose piercings. Instead of defending my ridiculous and shoddy argument, I’ve put the opposition in a spot where they somehow have to justify the existence of the thing I’m attacking.

It’s hard to give the positive side of lots of things: Celebrity gossip shows, greasy food, rock music about sex and drugs, trashy romance novels, and shallow Bejeweled knockoffs for Facebook. You can’t show the societal benefit of this stuff. That doesn’t matter. In any kind of civilized world, you shouldn’t need to prove that your entertainment benefits society. That’s not why we make or consume entertainment.

The argument is taking the angle of, “since these games [maybe] cause violence, and since they have no redeeming social value…” and then letting the audience take over from there. Couric doesn’t need to dirty her hands arguing that violent games should be banned. She can just construct a narrative where that’s the obvious conclusion and let nature take its course.”

I’ve only quoted a small section of his rebuttal, and I encourage you to read the article in its entirety. His assessment of Ms. Couric’s methods are spot-on, and his reasoning is quite sound. Many of the points that he makes, including that of the regulation and compliance of video game manufacturers to  appropriately label their products being far superior to other warning labels, are points that never seem to get brought up in the ‘great debate’.

Another issue lacking in the ‘great debate’ is parental supervision. Aside from the fact that these are MY KIDS and I am the one who gets to decide what they are able to handle and allowed to do, the push to ban video games wrests this decision from my hands and puts it into the hands of a one-size-fits-all government. It implies that I, as a parent, am incapable of making the decision as to what my child should and shouldn’t be allowed to do.

As their parents, Loverly Husband and I have what we consider reasonable rules about video game violence. For one, our kids are not allowed to play games in which you are killing people. So, no ‘Call of Duty’, no ‘Rainbow Six’ – most realistic ‘war games’ are out. However, killing fictional monsters? A-OK. ‘Halo’,’ Gears of War’, and cartoon video game violence (Mario, Sonic, Ratchet & Clank, and the like are all fine). When they are allowed to play games with a more mature ESRB rating, they do so with language and gore off, so no huge blood spatters and gratuitous swearing. This is far less ‘violent’ than movies like even Harry Potter, where people start getting killed by kids in the first movie, and get tortured by wicked adults more or less throughout the franchise, or Chronicles of Narnia, where a sibling group of children lead a war of men and fantasy creatures alike, or Avatar, where an entire civilization is razed in grand American fashion for land and money, then rises up to kill their oppressors (which is what the Native Americans are still being punished for… and the American government is totally fine with that, even to the point of celebrating and revering the perpetrator of this horrific injustice with a national holiday). I dare say that’s done more to desensitize people to real violence and atrocity than killing off fictional invading aliens in a video game.

Another rule for us is that Loverly Husband usually plays it first. There are definitely games that they are not allowed to play – my personal favorite ‘grown up game’ is the Dead Rising franchise; zombie killin’ sprees all around. Games like  Alan Wake and L.A. Noir are off the table for the kids. Resident Evil, BioShock, DeadSpace, Grand Theft Auto, Saint’s Row… all are off limits to our kids.

I realize that other parents have different rules for their kids, violent video games or not, and that’s fine. That’s as it should be. When my kids go to friends’ homes that have more restrictive rules, they abide by them. When they visit friends who have less restrictive rules, they are required to follow house rules where they’re at (which means that occasionally, they may play video games that we don’t allow, but in the grand scheme of things, that’s okay with us).

One aspect of this argument is woefully ill-addressed. The constant assumption in this debate is that given the opportunity, kids will always choose violent video games just because they’re available, over others. That’s certainly not true in our house. PeaGreen plays Minecraft on creative with no mobs (no killing at all) more than any other game, ever. LBB’s favorite franchise is Halo, but it’s not just limited to the games. He reads the novels, instruction guides, watches videos of game strategy – it’s more than ‘just a game’ for him. Do they get carried away with it sometimes? Absolutely. They’re both focused, intense kids. When the game gets too consuming, we will either cut back of go for a full media ban for a while (which we’re currently doing in prep for summertime). The same could be said of any recreational activity. Balance in all things, right?

The bottom line is that I don’t think that there is a correlation between kids playing video games and being violent. That logic is post hoc ergo propter hoc. Violence is far more likely in children with underlying issues: depression, behavioural problems, un-diagnosed food sensitivities, developmental disorders, family issues and the like. But these issues are almost never brought up as the reason a child exhibits violent behaviour; instead video games are used as a scapegoats because we want something/someone to blame, and a ‘quick fix’ solution, even if it’s entirely mis-directed. We conveniently tend to forget that:

“Violence is (and always has been) a part of the human condition. From war to child abuse, murder to school-yard bullying, violence takes its toll, often with children being the innocent victims (or occasionally the not-so-innocent perpetrators).”

Loverly Husband and I use common sense and knowledge of our kids, and communication with them to determine when something is within their ability to handle, and to help them understand the difference between entertainment/fantasy and reality. They’re not stupid. They understand that what may be acceptable in a video game is not how one would act in real life. They’re old enough to get that what they do and experience in an entertainment format is vastly different than real life, and we have done our best to ensure that with communication and supervision.

Allowing them to play violent video games does not make me an uninvolved or unconcerned parent, nor do I believe that it increases my children’s tendency to act in a violent manner. On the contrary, we are extremely involved in our children’s lives, and have been told to have an enviable relationship with them. Judge me if you will, but make no mistake about our interest in their welfare.

But if you need more ammo in order to cast me in the role of ‘bad mother’, I also let them listen to heavy metal and rock music, never used a trampoline net, allow them to play near a snake-infested pond, shoot guns and own archery equipment, and occasionally buy them a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to go teach my kids about evolution and sex.


One response

  1. I think you’ll be happy and maybe even proud to find out that even when offered by other kids to play games they’re aware that you don’t approve of, they refrain. Red Butler is allowed to play Call of Duty now and when Little Boy Blue was asked to play last night he said “My parents don’t allow us to play that, let’s play something else.” Then they played Halo 4 instead. 🙂

    June 15, 2013 at 2:27 am

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