by Matt Mattheisen
Grand Theft Auto. Iíve never played the game but I feel
like I have considering all the jabbering on Iíve had to listen to lately.
Thereís never a want of breathless, Christian radio personality or concerned mom
or high profile senator from New York telling me how scandalous not only this
game is, but how other video games are ruining American children as well. The
aforementioned senator from New York is even going so far as to propose a $90
million dollar study on these effects. Uh, where is this money
coming from? Can I opt out of having to contribute?
Iíve got news for these people. Kids will inevitably be engaged with something you donít like and moreover the older and more set in your ways you become, the more engaged these kids will be in something you donít understand. When I was a kid my mom and dad were concerned with my playing Dungeons and Dragons (The cats out of the bag. I was an ubergeek. And when my folks were young their parents worried about the epidemic initiated by Chuck Berry and Elvis. Like it or not, video games are a part of our childrenís lives. All of the hand wringing and gratuitous funding are not going to change that. Thatís not to say that one has to surrender to every part of the culture at large but we live in a digital world. Itís in our homes and on our desks at work so unless you plan on packing up the family and becoming an Amish chair maker you must grapple with the fact that at some point your kids will be kneeling in front of a television with a controller in their hands.
To prevent games like Grand Theft Auto getting into the hands of impressionable children, the video game industry has put ratings on games. If you walk out of Walmart with an adult title, donít claim ignorance when you happen upon your kid in the middle of a video simulated car jacking. And if you discover little Dylan or Logan in the family room gaming on a title you didnít purchase, then you had better find out which neighbor kid is poisoning the soup. In either situation, itís mom and dad and not
necessarily the gaming industry whoíve got some Ďsplaining to do.
Having played a few video games in my time, I can attest to the fact that there is more to them than just pressing a button so you can spray someoneís guts all over a wall. Depending upon the game, there are usually a number of different strategies and environments you need to master in order to advance. Your memory skills, problem-solving abilities and eye to hand coordination are consistently being tested in ever changing environments and platforms. Back in college, I use to spend hours playing a game called Dark Forces. Itís what kids nowadays would call an old school Star Wars game. Each level of the game was more difficult than the one preceding and the enemy became more tenacious to defeat and the puzzles required to open doors and gain access to rooms tested my memorization and deduction skills. Current games are even more detailed and intense. One has to memorize an intense amount of variables, engage in more detailed strategies, and be thrown into various environments at dizzying speed. You really do use your noodle when you play these games. Much more so than when you watch Oprah.
Unfortunately, there will always be some deluded soul who canít differentiate between fantasy and reality and the always-available talking heads will make the convoluted connection that he or she was unduly influenced by a video game but what of that? Charles Manson didnít have a X-box; he blamed it on the Beatles.
There are times I have to put the kabash on video games and tell my sons to give it a rest. I get some whining now and then but for the most part they accept my command and go find something else to do. I donít let them play Grand Theft Auto or any other game that has an adult rating and I have taken the time to formulate a response to my kids when they ask why. If they decide to play those games while they're off at college or as adults, I have no control over that but hopefully my wife and I will have sown enough seeds, made enough sacrifices and most importantly loved one another strong enough that theyíll be able to put the games into perspective.
My eleven-year-old son plays Madden 2005 regularly. He runs his team, makes trades, calls plays, and holds practices. He also keeps a written record of the season, documenting team standings and scores and pores over statistics. A result of this Madden mania is that he asks his mom and me to buy books on football so he can read (Wha!) more about the history and intricacies of the game. He now tutors my youngest son on strategies and coaching decisions. Perhaps I have future team owners or coaches in the making. Maybe theyíll gain some experience in learning how to run a business and keep records. Who knows?
When itís all said and done, I realize that itís not healthy to allow kids to play video games all summer long and that somehow playing four hours of Star Wars Battlefront is just as beneficial as reading Aquinas, but judging from my own experience as a parent, video games are not the bane that so many adults seem to think they are.