I received this note from a friend recently, I wanted to share it and my reply because I think this is an important issue for parents and children.
“A lot of children in my son’s class are playing games well above their age, specifically call of duty. My son is 9. He was shown it on a play date and doesn’t like it and has no interest in playing it so we are pleased about that. Unfortunately there is a lot of cod [call of duty] talk in class because a lot of parents seem unconcerned about their children playing 18 rated games. We have mentioned it to school and they are concerned.
My question is should we be concerned about 9 yr olds playing 18 games?”
should we be concerned about 9 yr olds playing 18 games?
I think it’s right to be concerned about the underage use of games like Call of Duty (COD). Increasingly parents are succumbing to perceived peer pressure and allowing their children to play these games because ‘all their friends are.’ I know lots of parents that have decided it’s okay.
I think there are a number of reasons to be concerned. It’s not just the gratuitous violence that risks becoming normalised, COD and alike are riddled with bad language, sex and other adult themes.
It’s odd that many of us regulate our children’s access to TV but feel that the violence presented in games is somehow different and therefore harmless. But visual realism in these games is increasing. What’s more, it’s participatory. COD Black Ops has a gruesome torture scene, Modern Warfare 2 has terrorists murdering innocent civillians in an airport, and the player can join in. Computer games present violence in the same manner that porn shows sex – entirely casual and inconsequential. I can’t imagine many of us would be comfortable with our children watching 18 certificate films but the content in video games is basically the same.
Killing is the point of these games – it is relentless and mindless. But that might not be an issue to those of us who know better. There is no evidence to suggest that playing violent video games makes well-adjusted players more violent in the long term but there is ample research that shows a rise in aggression and drop in empathy immediately after playing. Current studies suggest that violent games can exacerbate underlying psychosis, that is, if you have a tendency to be violent, first person shooters will make it worse. Thankfully most of us aren’t psychopaths and by our early-mid twenties most of us have settled into our skins. Young people are still ‘solidifying.’
Children mimic behaviour that they perceive as ‘grown-up’ – they are building their life experience – however unpalatable, the characters in these games are role models. While this effect may not extend to actually being physically violent, it may well increase bad and aggressive language, the acceptance of racial and sexual stereotypes and the believe that such conduct is not just normal but desirable. With a natural paucity of real life experience, children use whatever they can to build their world view.
There is another worry. Between the ages of 10 and 13, the brain undergoes massive development. It is similar to the changes that take place when children are toddlers, defined as the Terrible Twos/ Threes. As the brain finishes its development, pre-teens reflect and adopt dominant environmental conditions, just as babies do. The exposure to external influences literally sets the mental pattern for how we think, what we consider normal behaviour and starts our moral and ethical system of beliefs. These things aren’t set in stone but undoing them can be hard and painful for all concerned.
If you are an adult with a wealth of life experience, established relationships and a stable brain then putting these games into context isn’t too hard. It simply isn’t the same for children.
The ‘Safer Children in a Digital World‘ report by Tanya Byron is particularly helpful read.
What are your thoughts?
Postscript – if you haven’t played COD Black Ops and want to see its ’10 Goriest Moments’ there’s a video on YouTube. Two points: total gameplay might last 30 hours so keep the events in this 3 minute video in perspective. Secondly, it is genuinely gruesome – you’ve been warned.