The Fifth Column: It Is Not The Video Games
It never ceases to amaze me how technology is used as a scapegoat for social ills. When I was in junior school, television was the great one eyed devil that was corrupting the youth. If anything I should have been a poster child for deviant youth because my dad managed video stores for many years. This meant that I had an endless supply of movies to watch. We also had two VCRs with which to record any television that we may have missed. All in all it should have been the ultimate youth-corrupting paradise, except that it was not. The reason for this is that I was only allowed to watch a limited amount of television during the week. If I did record anything, I could only watch it on the weekend and the same applied to any movies that we got from the video shop. I was also only allowed to watch movies for my age group, and age restricted films were completely off limits.
These days, the new great evil is video games. It appears that many anti-social and/or violent acts can be linked to video games. It also appears that the more horrific the act, the more nonsensical the argument linking video games to it. You only need to have a look at a recent example to realise that the quality of the “video game violence” argument is really plumbing new depths. But my primary concern is not to focus on the arguments which are being espoused by either side but to focus on the area of responsibility, especially since so many incidents involve children. What are the responsibilities of parents in relation to the use of video games?
As a gamer-dad and someone who works in IT, I am in the enviable position of knowing a lot more about video games and IT than the average parent. But it really does not take an avid interest in either to know how to best manage the technology which is used in your home. In the violent video game debate, you can either get really angry about the inflammatory rhetoric or you can educate yourself about videogames and the tools that you can use to ensure that children have a safe and age appropriate experience.
In my case, I wanted to ensure that my video game hobby did not impact my daughters negatively. This I did in two ways, by ensuring that I did not play any age restricted games when they were around and by playing their games with them. Locally, the age restriction of games is managed by the Film and Publications Board. The ratings that they apply to games are attached to all new games. This makes it very easy to check the age rating when you buy a game. It is a bit more difficult if you buy a second hand game, because the rating sticker attaches to the cellophane wrapping and not the actual disc case but with a little bit of research before hand, it is quite easy to determine what the rating is.
Now that my daughters are able to understand what to do in a game, they have started playing a few basic games on my phone. I have also installed a number of classic arcade titles on my PSP, currently Pacman is firm favourite and when they reach a particularly difficult level, I step in and help them to get past it. I have enjoyed some of my best gaming sessions with my daughter cheering me on to get past a particularly tricky Pacman level so that we could progress to the next one. Which brings me to another important point. If you are involved in your children’s video game sessions, you will have a very good idea of what they are playing. So don’t just buy the console and games in order to keep them occupied, join in a cooperative game or just shout encouragement from the couch. Regardless of how you participate, it is critically important to be engaged and involved with what your child is doing.
There will always be new technologies to challenge the role of parents. When I was at school it was television, now that I have children the big challenge may come from video games or some other technology. Regardless of what the challenge is, the best course of action that any parent can take is ensure that they are well informed so that they can act in the best interests of their child rather than be fodder for scare mongering journalists. Regardless of what the external influence is, if you are informed and consistently involved in your child’s activities, you will be able to overcome any challenge. Problems only arise when we cede our authority as parents to someone or something else.