Walking Away From Violence

A week ago, my soon to be three-year-old son was being corrected for doing something wrong. He was upset by it. That’s not really a bad thing to be upset when you are corrected. Making your hand into a gun and yelling “Bang! Bang! Pew! You’re dead, daddy!” is.

Before you raise any preconceived notions, my wife and I are very controlling of our two boys (5 and 2) as to what they watch, hear, and play. I only play violent games after they have been put to bed and I even go so far as to hide the games in a closet. Even then, I don’t play many violent games because, presonally, they affect me. That’s not was this post is about. Also, I don’t want this post to delve into the video game violence debate. I just want to share what we as a family intend to do about it.

Two days ago my wife and I were talking late in the evening. I was lamenting my recent poor parenting skills and the feeling like I had not ever really grown up. It was then she mentioned video games. My wife is not a typical nagging video game spouse. She never pressures me or makes me feel guilty of what I play or purchase. (There was a time where she called them my “second wife” but that was me being stupid early in our marriage.)

She mentioned the idea of getting rid of video games. I was surprised by my initial reaction: agreement. I think it surprised her to. Actually, at first I misunderstood her. Her intention was for us to get rid of mature games. Once again, I was surprised by my answer. Let’s do it.

Starting on Labor Day, I took inventory of all my titles and if they met a certain criteria, they were added to a pile to be traded for credit.

  • Any game with blood was out
  • Any game that realistically and graphically killed humans was out
  • Any game that had strong, pervasive language was out
  • Any game with sex was out (which we didn’t have any that I knew of)

Using the ESRB ratings, the pile started to stack up: Halo 3, Mass Effect, Gears of War, Call of Duty 4, Viva Pinata—animal sex! Ok, just kidding there—, Assassin’s Creed, Crackdown, Bioshock, Uncharted, Metal Gear Solid 4, Okami, Metroid Prime 3:Corruption, Ghost Squad, and recently acquired Too Human.

A couple of things I did find interesting is that all the Wii game’s ESRB rating descriptions used the term “Animated Blood” and some of the ESRB ratings were too vague in their descriptions or maybe even a little off base. For instance, Too Human has a description of “Blood”. Either I am blind or I’ve been desensitized, but I don’t remember any blood. (Maybe in a cutscene I’ve skipped?)

My next step was to examine or remember the specifics of the titles. I decided to keep Okami, Metroid Prime 3, Bioshock, and Too Human. Three of the titles I’m still slowly playing through, and the latter title I didn’t see it as being overly violent or meeting the criteria. It’s new, and I’ll probably trade it in when I find it just sitting there. Bioshock is the one title that I’m keeping that certainly falls in the list above. I am so impressed by its atmosphere that I truly want to finish it. Once I do though it’s gone.

This really only applies to consoles and not my handhelds or PC games. The boys don’t even know I have a DS and PSP and they don’t have access to the PC. Of course, I’ve only got the Hal-Life series, Tie Fighter, X-Com, and a bunch of RTS games on my PC—and I hardly play PC games anymore.

The response I’ve received from offline and online friends has been from agreement to indignant, stupid remarks. Jokingly, someone asked me what I would then play. Actually, I don’t think I’ll miss all that much. There are a lot of games out there that are entertaining and are family friendly. In fact, in the list of games above only two did I really struggle with keeping. In the end, I decided to get rid of them. I hadn’t really played anything from that list in a while anyway. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve gotten older, but overly mature or violent games don’t really impress me that much anymore. Most—and I say most—have become formulaic. I’ve had more fun with games such as Geometry Wars, Everyday Shooter, LEGO titles, racing games, and casual games in the last couple of years more than anything.

We don’t know where our son picked up the gun gesture, but I’m not taking any chances. My only guess is that he may have overheard me playing after he was in bed. More likely, he saw it on TV or a movie. Video games aren’t the only thing we are cracking down on. My wife and I are currently working on TV and movies too. We already are restrictive in what they watch. Now, we are taking it a step further in really policing what we watch.

I believe it all to be for the better. There are so many things my family could be doing other than zoning out to a screen: reading together, drawing, walking, bike riding, just talking, fixing meals together, and playing. Of course, this all leads me to when I am going to play the games I own. That actually brings me to another Gamer Responsibility topic: time spent playing games. (I hope to address that soon.)

This also means that you probably won’t see many reviews or posts from me on violent games. If so, they will be rare. But you know what? I believe that to be ok. Life will go on and my family will be better for it. They (and many other things) come before personal entertainment.

Comments

  1. I think this is an awesome move, Nat. I’ll be curious to hear, not only how your gaming habits change (if they do), but how difficult it is to avoid the pre-release hype surrounding those T+ rated AAA titles.

    What I’d be even more interested in hearing about is the conversation you had with your son after he did that. The conversation about context and consequence–about the role of violence in the expression of anger. He may only be 3, but if he’s already capable of correlating shooting daddy dead with being upset, chances are his messages are coming from outside the home. Play dates with the children of less-aware parents perhaps?

  2. I wish you the best of luck with this and I admire your stance on it.

    I have the same issue with this and my 7 year old daughter…but I keep this in mind when she’s playing it: she’s going to be exposed to violence in one form or another whether I like it or not. I would rather be the one to coach her through those feelings than someone else. Having the ability to seperate fantasy from reality is key here and I think video games are a great medium for teaching that lesson…so are books, and movies.

    Now, whenever my daughter shoots a fireball at a mushroom in Super Mario or “kills” a Cog in ToonTown, I know she can tell the difference between game and RL because I’m there managing her reaction to them.

    …food for thought.

  3. My first visit, and an interesting post.

    “I don’t know if it’s because I’ve gotten older, but overly mature or violent games don’t really impress me that much anymore.”

    I’ve actually noticed the same thing in myself. I really don’t need to spend 40 hours watching people being eviscerated anymore. I don’t know if its my age, or that the technology has improved making everything look more realistic, or what.

    I think “tone” plays into it a lot for me, too. For instance, Uncharted… I played through it and loved it. I appreciated the lack of blood and dismemberment even though I was shooting humans, so it really didn’t bother me. It was just like its inspiration: saturday afternoon adventure films.

    The flipside for me is Bioshock. I played part of the demo, and found it fairly horrific. One of the first things I had to do was bludgeon an insane person to death. Then start jamming needles into myself. No thanks. I understand that the story is amazing and all, but I just wasn’t going to be comfortable playing the game.

    By the way, I don’t have kids. So this isn’t about anything but me and my lady. I still feel better about my gaming hobby now that I’m not constantly reveling in slaughtering other people/entities.

  4. I do kind of wonder if this is really necessary?

    Young boys have a tendency to act out. I kind of see my role as a parent in helping them understand what is and is not appropriate. I don’t worry about the games so much, but I think content is important to.

    Sooner or later they’ll pick this behavior up. You cannot insulate them from the whole world and I’m not accusing you of trying, but reality has come crashing down on my head far too many times since becoming a parent. I simply cannot hold the world at bay even though I desperately want them to retain their innocence for as long as possible. I simply do not understand parents who let kids the same age as mine have unrestricted access to movies and games in their home.

    I do believe our actions have effects even when we think no one is looking, but don’t push the blame on yourself too much. I think what you’re attempting to do is noble, but I wonder if it isn’t the wrong response for the right reasons.

  5. I’ll second the well wishes and “good lucks” to you, Nat. We’ve talked about this before and I would struggle to make such a drastic change.

    Up until GTA IV, video game violence affected me very little. Some of the choices presented in that game changed how I play games a bit.

    Some people will say “it’s just a game,” like I used to say, but sometimes I wonder if that’s really the case.

  6. I guess, if you ‘open up’ this kind of games, books and movies in time, when you notice they’re intersted and share the experience of (re)discovering this kind of contents, your approach is acceptable. As long as you don’t end up demonizing games and such, it certainly can’t harm to try and stay away from this kind of entertainment for a while.

    But you will have some very strange kids, I’ve you succeed in keeping them away for too long. Or you will alienate yourselves from your kids, once they want it and you will appear to ‘not get it’. Like losing your connection to your kids, because you decided to end your ‘adult’ lifes to be ‘responsible’ parents.

    In my view, the kids I grew up with, that had parents, that kept their ‘adult’ personality alive, instead of killing it for their ‘parent’ personality, rather end up ‘socially successful’, than those with parents, who gave up their ways along the way.

    Just my two cents

  7. At least you’ll still have JRPGs, Nat!

    I do my best not to play the more violent games when my son is around. If the stuff is cartoony, like what he’d see in a Justice League cartoon or in a comic, then I’m fine with him being around. Games like GTA or anything with bad language will be saved for a much later hour or when he’s not around.

    I remember mentioning to one of the supervisors at the drop-in center that I take the kids that my son was turning everything he got his hands on into a gun. She just laughed and said, “At that age, EVERYTHING is a gun.”

    It’s odd that that is the case but if you think back to your childhood, there’s a better than likely chance that you were running around with little plastic six-shooters and playing cowboys and indians.

    Of course, I’ve got my son convinced that zombies roam the streets when he goes to bed and that any and all aggression he has should be vented in their direction. He’s more concerned about saving his family from the undead hordes than he is about making us join their ranks :)

    But all of that said, good on you for drawing a line in the sand and being able to follow through with it. I’m not sure I could do it, though I do find myself backing away from more of the big ‘me-too’ action games these days because I’ve already played a million of them and I’d rather invest myself in a game with a good story and/or fun game mechanic than just trudge through the same gritty ubersoldier fantasy again.

  8. Spray N' Pray says:

    I agree with you and admire you for your stance. It’s a hard decision, and is not a black/white issue. Black/white issues are easy, but the various shades of gray get tough, and makes your stance all the more impressive.

    Just don’t throw away Turok, okay?

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