Parents responsible for controlling violent content at home

If you’ve seen one story, you’ve seen them all. Someone kills somebody, or plans to go on a murder spree at their school or commits some other heinous crime, and the blame falls right on video games.

It’s an outplayed and lame excuse to simply shovel the blame on violent video games. Violent games alone are not responsible for violent acts.

The idea that video games have some kind of hypnotic effect that makes kids go out and commit violent crimes is absolutely laughable. If that were true, then crime would be overrunning every city, town and township in the United States.

That doesn’t mean they can’t be one of the influences a child or teen receives. Just like TV, radio, movies or any other form of media, video games have the power to shape young minds, whether that be positively or negatively.

Generally, the negative effects are the ones that get the focus of the public. While there have been many studies linking games and violent behavior, other studies have found that games have psychological benefits.

One such study was recently conducted by University of Rochester and Immersyve Inc., who looked at what motivated 1,000 gamers to keep playing video games. The researchers found that games can provide opportunities for achievement, freedom and even a connection to other players, all positive effects. Richard Ryan, the lead investigator of the Rochester study, believes that video games are not just fun, but “also can be experienced as enhancing psychological wellness, at least short-term.”

Also, like other forms of media, video games have a rating system, established by the Entertainment Software Rating Board. The current rating system in place rates game based on their content and assigns them a rating, usually from “E” for everyone to “M” for mature.

Still, violent games end up in the hands of young gamers on a regular basis. How can this happen?

One part of the problem is that the ratings system is easy to circumvent. This is not at all the ESRB’s fault, but is the result of both some game stores and parents doing a poor job.

Last year, Washington State Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson announced results of a survey showing it was easy for young gamers to get their hand on violent games. Secret shoppers visited 19 stores in three Washington counties, and over 50 percent of the time were able to purchase M-rated games.

One idea to curb this is banning the sale of all mature or violent games, but that creates problems for those of age who want to purchase such games. It also creates the problem of defining what is considered to be violent because what is violent to one person may not be violent to another.

Singling out games as the source of violent crimes is also unfair, because there are so many other influences out there. In fact, if you’re going to ban all violent games, then you need to ban all other violent forms of media as well.

The biggest issue here, though, is the reason video games can have such a negative impact on those who play them. The final responsibility of determining what is acceptable and what is not falls squarely on the shoulders of parents.

I cannot recount how many times I’ve walked into a store and have seen a parent buying Grand Theft Auto or some other violent game for their 7-year-old child because “they want it.” If a parent is going to let their young child have such a violent game, I doubt they will be paying close attention to what their kid is playing.

In fact, it’s such a pressing issue, that big names on both sides of the gaming debate are trying to solve it. IGN recently reported on a new campaign aimed at educating parents about game ratings, so that they buy games that are suitable for their families. The campaign is the result of an alliance between ESRB President Patricia Vance, Best Buy President Brian Dunn, GameStop President Steve Morgan, and most surprisingly of all, Senators Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman.

Senators Lieberman and Clinton have long been in the camp of stricter video game regulation, so I was quite surprised they were supporting this initiative. However, I applaud that someone is finally making a bigger push to educate parents on the ESRB rating system.

Parents also need to be aware if their child is mature enough to be playing games with more violent content, regardless of how old they are. This is something they can do best, and that’s by keeping a close watch on their kids and making sure they know the game they’re playing is just a game, not reality.

As much as I hated it growing up with my parents making sure I wasn’t playing games that were too violent, it’s part of the reason I can handle such content now.

It’s essential that parents do a better job of making sure their kids are playing the right games, and that game stores keep mature games out of the hands of kids. Only by doing that can the effects of violent games be better controlled.

Send comments to Brian Szabelski at [email protected]