My Deprived Childhood

Joey, Lauren and Amelia at her second birthday party. She's quite the Disney lover already.

Joey, Lauren and Amelia at her second birthday party. She’s quite the Disney lover already.

Note from Sheree: This week three of my sons agreed to doing some guest posting for me as I anticipate the birth of my grandson. Their musings are a little feisty and address contemporary issues pertinent to us all. I’m grateful — because the world is changing too rapidly for me to keep up. We are eager to hear your comments and they have agreed to respond to each. Today’s post is by 27-year-old Joey. He is pictured here with his wife, Lauren, and adorable 2-year-old Amelia (who absolutely loves playing games on their iPad).

“I don’t think playing video games makes people more violent. You of all people should know that. I do, however, believe playing video games turns people into bigger (jerks) than they would otherwise feel comfortable being. Games are founded upon competition and confrontation. It’s probably no coincidence, then, that a large and extremely vocal part of the video-game audience responds to arguments with which it disagrees by lashing out. One reviewer of GTA V (Grand Theft Auto V), Carolyn Petit of GameSpot, said the game was “politically muddled and profoundly misogynistic,” which is very much a defensible position. Petit also made it clear she loved GTA V. Twenty thousand irate comments piled up beneath her review, many of them violent and hateful. Is this reasonable behavior? Sure, if you’ve come to regard anything that stands in perceived opposition to you as in dire need of eradication. What is that if not video-game logic in its purest, most distilled form?” – Tom Bissel (emphasis mine, edited for language)

“We have just witnessed the greatest entertainment launch in human history, though I suspect few of us noticed. We remember the buzz around James Cameron’s Avatar which quickly became the highest-grossing film of all time, raking in over $2 billion since its 2009 debut. Well, last week Grand Theft Auto V, a video game, put it to shame, raking in $800 million on launch day, and surpassing the $1 billion mark on its second day…Not only that, but a game typically appeals to a narrower demographic than a movie, which means a narrow slice of the population may be heavily impacted by it. This game is making a huge mark in a relatively small crowd—men in their teens, twenties and thirties…based on reviews, it seems clear that it pushes far beyond the boundaries of good taste or good satire. The game offers an exaggerated world of violence, crime and sleaze. It is unapologetically misogynistic and crude, the language is harsh, and “everyone you meet is a sociopath, narcissist, criminal, lunatic, sadist, cheat, liar, layabout, or some combination of those. “ Players will visit strip clubs and encounter explicit sexuality there, they will consort with prostitutes, they will be involved in a lurid scene of torture, and they will kill gratuitously, graphically and repeatedly.” – Tim Challies, blogger

“I don’t like games where you kill people.” – Every mom in the world.

Mom and Dad had a bizarre and arbitrary rule they enforced with all of their kids as we grew up. We were only allowed to play video games on rainy days. We lived in Virginia at the time, not Florida, so that rule meant we didn’t play much. Today and tomorrow I’ll be talking about why I’ll be enforcing that bizarre and arbitrary rule (well…a version that accomplishes the same thing, without being based on rain, of course) in my home.

Growing up I remember thinking that my parent’s reasoning was along the lines of, “We’re weirdo’s who homeschool, so of course we think worldly things like video games need to be limited as much as possible.” Just kidding. To tell the truth, I never thought much of the rule. The only time it annoyed me was when I was in the middle of a particularly good season of Super Tech and had to wait for the next rainy day to dominate my brother Jesse’s 49ers with my Bears squad. The rule was simply a part of growing up. Many of my friends got into various video games (I remember going to a friend’s house and playing a 007-based game called Golden Eye…at some point he looked at me and said, “You’re the worst player I have ever seen.” We only played a few minutes because I was apparently too easy to kill for the game to be fun.) I just never got hooked, so when I got older and could play as often as I wanted to, I wasn’t hooked and never got into it. Sometimes I go over to my in-law’s house and play with Matthew, who is a first person shooter savant of some sort I think. I get mercilessly destroyed every time. All that to say, (a) I recognize I see this issue from the perspective of an outsider, and (b) I don’t have a problem killing someone in a video game. Or, more appropriately, I don’t mind being killed.

There are 4 reasons I am going to do my best to make sure my kids are as bad at video games as me.

  1. 1.     I don’t want my kids to get addicted to gaming

To be honest, this is probably my biggest concern. Obviously, people can be addicted to anything. At least, if your definition of addiction is my very technical definition, which is addiction is a really big idol. My kids are going to have idol factories for hearts (thanks Mr. Calvin for that life-changing phrase) the same as me, and I want to help them avoid creating an idol of gaming the way my parents did, by limiting their involvement in it during their formative years. This is going to be more of a challenge for me than it was for my parents due to iPad’s, iPhone’s, etc. Games designed for educational purposes will not be given the same treatment as shooting games or football games, for instance. But we have to face it, being addicted to solving math puzzles is not as problematic as being addicted to killing people.

  1. I don’t want my kids to view gaming as an escape from reality

Now I am just being silly, right? For many people the whole point of video games is to escape reality. There is nothing wrong with that, at times. Books can be an escape from reality for some people. Movies usually function that way. Tolkien and Lewis had some great things to say about escaping and the importance of fiction. I just am not sure the type of escaping most video games provide is the good kind of escaping. There is a difference on the affect on the soul between getting lost in Middle Earth for hours and hours and getting lost in a video game world where the goal is to kill more times than you get killed. I am sure there is someone out there who is addicted to a Lord of the Rings video game who could argue that there isn’t much of a difference getting lost in the books verses getting lost in the game. I wouldn’t believe him, but I also will be more open to my kids playing LOTR than GTA V for any length of time.

  1. I want my kids to be active

Forgive me as I will sound like Michelle Obama for a moment. Jesse, take deep breathes. I’ll also sound like a cranky grandpa, but my friends won’t see that as anything new. The amount of time kids spend sitting down inside staring at a screen is incredible to me. Get outside and run…ride bikes…play sports (of course)…mow the lawn…anything! Stop sitting down and staring at screens so much. I stare at screens all day in my job working for an IT company. It drives me crazy and I am getting fat. Kids shouldn’t be doing that. This brings me my adjustment to Mom and Dad’s rule. My bizarre and arbitrary rule is that my kids are going to have to demonstrate that the amount of time they want to play a video game will never be more than 1/5th of the time they spend either outside or reading on a weekly basis. So if they want to spend an hour playing Madden they have to spend a combined total of 5 hours outside or reading. School doesn’t count of course. And by the way, there’s no excuse for it being hot. Florida can get super hot in the summer. But anyone who lives in the DC area knows it gets just as hot and humid as Florida; it just doesn’t last as long. The heat didn’t keep my siblings and I inside because if we ever used the B word (“bored”) or seemed like we had nothing to do Mom brought out the chore list and started making assignments.

  1. I want to limit the influence of the gaming industry on my kids

It’s not just the gaming industry, of course. It’s the entertainment industry in general. There are particularly unique aspects to the way gaming can influence kids (positively as well as negatively), just as there is with movies or any other form of entertainment. Limiting game play time is not the only or best way to combat the negative aspects of gaming…but it is a way. That first quote I shared was from a man immersed in the gaming industry. His perspective would be that the maker of the most popular video game in history knows very well what it is doing, and the message it is sending to the kids and adults who play it. Here is how his article concludes.

What would it even mean for something like GTA to “grow up”? Our most satirically daring, adult-themed game is also our most defiantly puerile game. Maybe the biggest sin of the GTA games is the cheerful, spiteful way they rub our faces in what video games make us willing to do, in what video games are.

Playing GTA used to feel like sneaking out behind school for a quick, illicit smoke. The smoke still tastes good, Niko; the nicotine still nicely javelins into your system. But when you look up, you have to wonder what you’re actually doing here. Everyone is so young, way younger than you, with the notable exception of the guy handing out the cigarettes, and he’s smiling like he just made a billion dollars.

I can’t protect my kids from every cynical, base perspective the world will bombard them with. That’s not even the goal. The goal is to train them that they don’t have to listen.

Tomorrow’s post will address a question this post should inevitably raise. Why pick on video games as opposed to any other form of entertainment?