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Typical.  Yesterday I couldn’t come up with one thing I wanted to write about.  Today I’ve been giving a swarm of ideas.  I could have written about Taekwondo again, as I got to practice boards in extra time today (sadly couldn’t repeat Sunday’s action, only breaking it once, and splitting my toenail in the process), or about meeting up with friends and failing to fight against the need to eat all the things in Cosmo.

However, decided to stick to my guns and write about the first idea I had today.  Children and Video Games.  Two of my direct colleagues have children, including a preteen boy.  And today the topic of games came up, as one of them admitted they’d finally buckled and bought him a 15 or 18 rated war game that they’d sworn they’d never get.

Now she’s been pretty adamant the whole time I’ve known her about these games.  My other colleague, although not happy about it and not willing to buy the games herself, accepts that he’s going to play them one way or another, while the first has been determined to keep them away from him.  She has even intercepted games from other friends that were going to let him borrow their copy, and informed their parents of her rules.  Most genuinely either didn’t know the content of the games, or apparently didn’t care.

However, she’s admitted to buying the game now because when he’s off school, all he does is go round to his friends and play their copies.  The last time they were off, it rained the whole time and he pretty much outstayed his welcome at every single house (since he didn’t have the games and wasn’t allowed them, nobody wanted to go to his house), and my colleague admits that since there’s no way to stop him playing them outside her house, and he’s obviously seeing them, it seems rather pointless to keep denying them under her roof.  That said, she’s still going to vet every title that comes in, and he is never getting Grand Theft Auto.  Military and Shoot Em Ups?  Fine, even if he plays it at other homes, it is never in her home.

I do think it’s rather sad that she’s had to compromise her views, especially since at the end of the day she’s trying to protect her son.  These games aren’t meant for his age group, and according to some of the conversations we’ve had, it’s pretty clear that a lot of parents genuinely don’t know what their kids are playing – they ignore the ratings and buy what they all clamour for.  Others apparently use it as a bonding experience (some fathers can play this kind of game with their sons – I’m too young to be saying this but in my day, fathers and sons played racing games).  But because they’re not paying attention or don’t care, it makes her job twice as hard, because trying to keep something from a child when everyone around him has it and can share it, is borderline impossible.

The first proper game system in our house was the Sega Megadrive, bought the first ‘Divorce’ Christmas.  By this point just about everyone in the street had one of these, so we were elated.  There were 3 games along with it – a Sonic game, a Disney and Donald Wizard adventure…and a game involving a scantily clad Amazonian goddess that ran around killing things.  I don’t remember the rating, but it was the first cartridge we tried out because it looked so interesting.  Dad had no idea what it was either – he’d just picked up whatever looked like it might be interesting to a 6 and 4 year old.  Mum was just as guilty – we could pick up any game from Blockbuster and she wouldn’t even look at the title – if she had, she might have wondered if she wanted her impressionable young minds playing things like Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto.

When the novelty wore off, I sort of phased out of games, and didn’t return until my early teens.  And since I only played RPG’s the rating system was never really an issue (I did manage to get a copy of Galerians when I was still younger than the rating, and it gave me a few nightmares, but that was it).  My brother however, was always an avid one, and he did have an abundance of war games – at the end of the day, it was just what every kid had in his game cupboard.  It was just what kids did.

I have to admit, I think the world would be a better place if more parents took the role my colleague does.  Game ratings are there for a reason, and yes, it’s hardly a new thing – children like my brother and I played a lot of bloody and violent games growing up and came out no worse for wear.  But you can hardly relate the original Grand Theft Auto (whose graphics basically translated into: ‘control this little circle to take control of these decorated squares, and get points if you mow down a lot of other little circles’) to its latest incarnation.  Games have gotten more realistic, more dangerous and violent…and a lot of people have no clue how bad they are.  Yet allow their children to play them for hours on end.

Don’t get me wrong.  As a gamer, I am perfectly happy to get on my soapbox and yell at anyone else on a soapbox insisting games are evil and should be banned.  There are certainly games that I feel shouldn’t exist (and feel quite horrified as a human being that they actually have a market, looking at you GTA…) but these games are just like movies and television shows with ratings.  Would you let your 12 year old into an 18 movie?  Or let your 10 year old buy alcohol at the supermarket?

Considering how easy it is for children to get their hands on material they are too young to see through TV and the Internet, is it really so hard for people to vet one of the few things they can control and take a few moments to read the back of the game before they shell out the cash and it comes in the front door?  Even watch your child play for a few minutes to make sure it is what you think?  Your kid might not thank you, but your conscience will.