Smile, You're Gaming

Smile, You're Gaming
Videogames: Are Your Children Safe?

Chris LaVigne | 27 Jan 2009 08:54
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5. Emotional development
"Children are drawn to violent themes because listening to and playing with those frightening images helps them safely master the experience of being frightened," write Kutner and Olson. We're all used to the idea that a child has to burn themselves on a stovetop before truly appreciating the danger of those glowing coily things the soup pot goes on. Videogames may function in a similar way, letting children experience the fear and danger of violence without ever actually exposing themselves to harm. Where the oven burner teaches a physical lesson, videogames may teach emotional ones. Kids who see how hurtful, gory and disgusting violence is may learn that they never want to see that kind of stuff in reality.

Another comparison may be more apt: In the last decade, doctors have learned that completely disinfecting homes to prevent children from getting sick actually reduces the effectiveness of kids' immune systems when they're outside the home. Children need to be exposed to risk in order to make them strong enough to survive similar risks outside their protective environment. Preventing kids from engaging with violence in their play may leave them unequipped to deal with the often violent world we live in. Mastering violent desires and fears may be a vital part of development that overprotective parents deny their kids.

6. Competition
Violence is the distillation of conflict. Combat is perhaps the essence of competition. The simplest way to express the opposition of two people is to make them fight. So it makes sense that highly-competitive people would be drawn to violent content. Pitting your Ryu against a friend's Dhalsim is a more tangible way to compete than, say, seeing who can finish Sam & Max the fastest. Blasting strangers in an Unreal Tournament match leads to a more immediate sense of victory than just topping the leaderboards in online Scrabble. Feeling a sense of accomplishment at covering a hallway with your opponents' guts is not a mark of depravity; it's just a more concrete sign of triumph than having the highest score. A child who chooses to play violent games may just be picking the games that best fulfill his competitive desires.


7. Avid gaming
There's an extremely simple but often overlooked explanation for why kids play violent videogames. Kids who are passionate about videogames want to play the best titles available, and they want to play as many games as they can. Just like a food connoisseur want to try out the restaurants that have the best reputations, avid gamers want to play the games that everyone is raving about. The violence isn't the attraction so much as the quality. Many fans believe games or series like Grand Theft Auto, BioShock, Halo, Gears of War, Fallout and Crysis have some of the best production values and most fun gameplay in the business. Of course videogame lovers want to play them. They all happen to be violent, M-rated games, but that's not a necessary ingredient for success. Look at LittleBigPlanet. Remember the Katamari Damacy craze. Think about how universal the popularity of Tetris is. Hardcore gamers want to play all the best games, not just the violent ones.

Videogame opponents make it seem like every violent game is a huge success, but that's not true. Just ask the developers of Manhunt, the remake of NARC or the last few Mortal Kombats. The kid who thinks a mediocre game like Postal is the best game ever and only plays games rated M - that's who researchers should be studying. Maybe then those of us simply enjoying the best of what our hobby has to offer can be left alone.

Chris LaVigne also writes news and reviews for Snackbar Games and a monthly technology column for Maisonneuve magazine.

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