This post was inspired by the story about California today announcing that 2-inch by 2-inch stickers will now be included on violent videogames to ensure that parents are aware of ratings. Check it out here, if you haven't read it already...
The issue has been an ongoing debate for millions of years, it seems like. My friend, Suzanne, was a psychology major in college, and one thing she's told me over and over is that kids who are truly violent, or prone to violent behavior, are likely going to be violent regardless of whether or not they play violent games. Look at what life was like before video games gave us all reasonably controllable fantasies to play out our dreams. Kids went and ran around outside and played games like "Cops and Robbers," "Cowboys and Indians (there's a racially sensitive one)," and "Army Men." Okay, maybe the girls were left out of most of those games, that's unfortunate...I know if a girl wanted to play one of those games with me, she'd be more than welcome, but...most little girls are encouraged by their parents (of all people, who allegedly believe that they're teaching their children the right way to behave and act) to play with Barbies, dolls...they play "House"...not, as in Dr. Gregory House, but you know, Mommy and Daddy taking care of a baby sorta thing...they're given easy-bake ovens and taught how to make cookies, when if they wanted to play some shooting fantasy game with the boys across the street, the girls were yelled at for not being feminine enough, and the boys (not being interested in girls yet) for some strange reason didn't feel like letting the girls play. It was a more "innocent" time.
Still, the fact remains that young children found other ways to be violent. They shot BBs at small animals, beat up other children, broke furniture and possessions (whether public or private), and so forth. Kids always find ways to let out their primal urges, but what I really want to know is...why is it that I, despite being just shy of 29, basically grew up on violent video games (playing the original Mortal Kombat as early as maybe 11 or 12), and was picked on mercilessly at school...and yet, I'm not a violent, depraved member of society who finds pleasure in torturing and killing other humans? Why is it that I manage to keep my primal urges and and desires for death and destruction under control? It can't be because my parents took as much as time with me as possible, to raise me with a good set of moral and ethical values...can it? It can't be because my parents taught me right from wrong, taught me the difference between fantasy and reality...can it? I remember playing the original MERCs game on my Sega Genesis a long time ago...my dad used to always joke with me, every time I'd detonate some Mega Bomb, he'd go, "what do you think happens to all the families?" And I'd say, "what do you mean?" He'd go, "you know, the little electronic families of all those henchman you're murdering? How do you think they'd feel?" And I'd say, "but dad, it's just a video game, I don't think they have families." "But Marc, what if they were real?" And we'd have a brief talk about it, and ultimately I felt good blowing up enemy soldiers, but did try and imagine the real life ramifications of such wars being fought. It doesn't take much, ya know? Parents want to keep their kids occupied and give them things to keep them busy but never seem to want to get into it with them. My mom and dad were quite concerned when I got into heavy metal music, but always balanced their worry out by the fact that they knew I was a good kid, who was always well-behaved and polite and was never likely to allow myself to get into trouble...not, get into trouble but avoid getting caught...not get into trouble...there's a difference.
What's crazy is...politicians love to throw around cliches about supporting family values, being a good citizen and spending time with our children...and yet, instead of encouraging parents to pay attention to what their children are into, instead of encouraging parents to take more responsibility when their child does something they shouldn't, and instead of encouraging parents to take a more active role in what their kids see, watch, hear, read and say...they apply mandates like this, which will likely not solve anything. It won't make parents more involved (nay, it'll make them LESS involved), it won't help them be more responsible for how their kids grow up, and it won't bring parents and children closer together or open up the door to conversation about issues like violence and society and knowing right from wrong.
It just gives parents one more reason to say, "good, now I don't have to monitor them 24/7, I don't have to sit and watch what they watch or listen to what they listen to, I don't have time for that, American Idol is on."