Debate: Do you let your kids play violent video games?

by on November 15, 2011

The release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 last week (an 18 rated game) sparked some online discussion about whether kids should be allowed to play age-restricted video games. With stories of parents standing in line to buy copies for their 10 or 11-year olds, I was quite shocked. I’m of the opinion that age restrictions are there for a purpose. However are things really that black and white? In my first blog debate my friend Nickie from Typecast has agreed to share her view, which doesn’t entirely agree with mine! Read on to hear my thoughts and her response…

I must confess I worry about my kids’ exposure to video games. The geekdaddy is a keen gamer (he had downloaded Modern Warfare 3 from Steam as soon as he could and he was desperate to play it). Having seen him playing other games with the geekdaughter sitting on his knee I wondered if we might have a disagreement about what was appropriate for her to see and what wasn’t.

Thankfully we discussed the situation, and we agree completely on our approach. We’re not too worried about her seeing very simple “fantasy” violence (Minecraft is a perfect example of this, and I think I’d be happy with her watching me playing World of Warcraft as well), but anything with realistic violence or other inappropriate content is an absolute no no. I’m of the opinion that the age restrictions are there for good reason, and it does shock me that parents are buying copies of an 18-rated game for children as young as 10 or 11. Do these parents realise what the content of these games is? To be honest it’s stuff I don’t want to see, and I’m quite a bit older than 18! Are these the kind of parents who don’t understand technology, and don’t try to understand it? Do they allow the children to have internet-connected computers in their bedrooms? Do they know what their kids are doing on the internet? Oh, there’s a whole different rant there…

Anyone for Karting?

Our kids are going to grow up with an amazing selection of gaming devices at their fingertips. We have all three major consoles (despite my repeated attempts to persuade the geekdaddy to sell the XBox360!), we have iPads, we have the geekdaddy’s Mac, my PC and various laptops. With the geekdaddy’s love of first-person shooting games we will have age restricted games in the house.I will be fierce about what the kids do though. We won’t have gaming devices of any kind in their bedrooms – those will stay in communal areas. And whilst I won’t stand over their shoulders whilst they are playing, I will walk past every now and again and keep an eye on them. And I will certainly make sure that those 18-rated games stay in the geekdaddy’s hands until they are much, much older!

And now let me hand over to Nickie:

The males in this family are all big gamers.  My husband has a PS3 and an Xbox 360 (both online) and the two boys have an Xbox 360 each (one online, one not).   My sons are 18 and 12 and have unlimited internet access on the computers in their bedrooms and I have always let them play on games that may be rated above their actual age.   But let me explain why.

Whilst I am quite a strict parent in many areas I am also a very fair parent and have struck up a relationship with my children that is built on trust.  I work on the theory that if I let my children have (moderately supervised) access to modern technology and activities then they are less likely to try anything behind my back.  Also, having a six year age gap between children is difficult when setting age-appropriate boundaries, but we have managed.  Now our youngest is at high school and has more freedom it is even harder to control what he sees and experiences outside of the family environment.

Our 18 year old is a respected gamer amongst his online peers with a popular YouTube channel where he uploads recorded games and gaming techniques/advice.  He has always preferred to be in the house, playing on a computer game rather than wandering the streets.  Which is worse?  Worrying that he is sprawled out on a park somewhere with a bottle of beer (18 rated) or at home with a shoot-em-up game (also 18 rated)?

Because we openly discuss the nature of computer games – pretend, animated, team-building, networking opportunity – the boys have always understood that it is a situation in which to stay calm, respect other players and somewhere to make friends if playing online.  Luckily, they have understood our open-minded technique and never taken the aggressive nature of the games outside of the gaming arena.

Naturally this exercise works better with my children because they are older and more receptive to reason and understand limitations.  It has also worked with cartoons when they were younger (explaining the make-believe aspect) and films that may be rated inappropriate.

What works for us doesn’t necessarily work for another family and ratings are only guidelines, after all.

Thanks Nickie for sharing how things work in your family. I certainly hope I can bring my kids up in an environment of trust and open discussion just as you have yours.

Now what about you? Do you allow your kids to play age restricted games, or do you stick to the age guidance? Do you agree with my approach or Nickie’s? If you have older kids, like Nickie does, what advice do you have for me bringing my kids up in a heavy-gaming environment? Leave me a comment and let me know!


{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Alexander Residence November 15, 2011 at 7:36 am

I did a workshop in a primary a year ago where I took a group of year 5s to spend a day at a Video game company and then spent time at school designing games. It was a challenge because whilst we avoided using games with ratings above their age as examples, all they talked about all week was playing Call of Duty. I was quite taken aback they were playing it, even as a media teacher who has fairly liberal views on media effects.
We talked about the thinking behind the ratings and the difference between fantasy and violence portrayed realistically. I am a firm believer in involving children in debate and discussion. We had some great discussions and eventually created some creative game ideas, once we got beyond just killing people. The boys seemed to be under a lot of peer pressure to like COD. once we broke that down it was easier for them.
I would say parents should hold off longer with 18 games. The peer pressure is huge. There’s no way I would let a 9 year old near an 18 film, same with games. As is often the case kids are just getting things younger and younger. When it comes to older kids Nickie’s approaches seem really sensible.

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Alexander Residence November 15, 2011 at 7:54 am

When I taught this topic as a coursework unit at GCSE 5 years ago, this was much less of an issue. My students seemed to talk about a more diverse range of games, I guess that’s down to changes in culture and technology.

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Pewari November 15, 2011 at 8:35 am

I think there’s a huge difference between letting a child play an 18 game that you personally have played through to the end (40-50 hours of gameplay) and know the content inside and out and just buying one off the shelf.

I am against young kids of 10-11 (eldest son’s age) playing 18 games, but his mates all play them so I have a policy of “not under my roof” but not banning him playing them at his friends’ houses (after all, he’s going to anyway). I’ve also talked to him lots about self-censoring and if he finds something too scary, peer-friendly ways of backing out and asking to play something else.

That said, it’s very hard to go by the ratings anyway. Mass Effect is a game I’ll let him play. The BBFC on release was 12+. The PEGI is 18! That’s very different and doesn’t help parents make good judgement calls. What I’ve discovered is that PEGI basically hand the developer a tick sheet, don’t necessarily view the game themselves, and that forms the rating. The BBFC will see all the content and rate according to context. For example, drug-related references score towards a higher rating – but in context in a particular game, it might be anti-drugs and your role as the player might be to shut down the drug cartel. Another game, you might be running the drug cartel. Same references, BBFC would rate differently, PEGI would consider them the same.

For me, the kids playing a racing game where they were the police chasing down the bad guys would deserve a lower age rating than one where they were the bad guy mowing down people in order to escape from the cops. BBFC agree. I tend to go by the BBFC rather than the PEGI as a result – so yes, eldest son plays an 18 game (Mass Effect), but it really is a 12 which is only a couple of years out.

Of course, I’ve also played through Mass Effect myself about six times, so I know it’s fairly tame ;)

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Alex November 15, 2011 at 9:13 am

I don’t see how playing an 18 certificate game all the way through yourself qualifies you to know if it’s suitable for an 11 year old. I’m not just talking about Pewari’s comments but generally. I’m minded of a comment I read where a set of parents seemed proud that their 4 year olds favourite film was the expendables.

This makes it too subjective and is a convenient get out clause in my book. And if those of us who know better let our kids do it because all their friends with parents who don’t know better are doing it, what sort of parents does that make us?

Anyway, I’ve blogged about this in the past.

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Alex November 15, 2011 at 9:15 am

Yes, I know I sound like a stuck up sanctimonious prig and I would have probably jumped at the chance of playing Saints Row when I was 12 but fortunately when I was 12, the most advanced thing on the market was the C64, and even Rambo wasn’t very violent on that :)

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Nickie November 15, 2011 at 9:41 am

C64? You were lucky!! We were stuck with the ZX Spectrum playing Jet Set Willy and Daley Thompson’s Decathlon. ;)

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Alex November 15, 2011 at 10:34 am

I was 12 in 1987, so had (temporarily) progessed to a C64 from a Speccy. I wasn’t allowed Daley Thompson’s Decathlon when I was younger due to it being inherently racist on the speccy. Remind me what skin colour Daley Thompson had?

(NB that was a joke, I was too busy playing Manic Miner and the Hobbit for most of my spectrum using days).

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Rob... November 15, 2011 at 1:09 pm

(disclosure, I’m Pewari’s husband)

Alex,

When you say 18 certificate game, which rating system do you mean? PEGI or BBFC? Pewari’s point is that a BBFC 12 is a PEGI 18. One ratings body plays the game and one doesn’t. The one that played it rated it 12; the one that didn’t rated it 18…

The same thing is true for television shoes. There’s the concept of the 9pm watershed, but Dr Who is on a long time before then and we won’t let our 10 year old son watch it as it’s too scary for him, even though its also rated a 12.

We review for suitability for our child as the rating is merely a guideline anyway. I’m intrigued that you seem to think that a ratings body knows what will be too scary for our son, but we wouldn’t.

I think the really complicated area is what happens when your child is at a friend’s house. From last year at juniors, going to a friends house to play without you as parent also going becomes more common. I don’t see how you can ban a child from following the rules in his friend’s house. i.e. we think that in the real world, if his friend’s parents let his friend play Halo 3, then when our son is at his friend’s house, how do we stop him playing Halo 3? We could ban our child from seeing his friend or we can have discussions about it with him. He’s old enough to walk to his friend’s house now, so we choose to start teaching him about how to make his own decisions.

It’s a fascinating topic.

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Alex November 15, 2011 at 1:32 pm

I wasn’t really commenting on that specific post, more moving on from it generally. You only have to look at the comments on the PEGI rating for Mass Effect 2- “Extreme violence – Violence towards defenceless people – Sexual violence”, to see why they rate it an 18, baffled why BBFC have given it such a low rating personally. Not that I’ve played it I should add, my gaming time since kids is too limited to stick into something as immersive as that, so specifically I can’t comment with much authority on that particular game.

I think generally I’m so anti it all as I personally know so many people that let their primary school kids play virtually anything because they’re only videogames. And that scares the hell out of me. I think hidden behind the violence in a lot of these games is an attitude towards women that is really unhelpful to expose little boys to. It’s funny for adults, and I chuckled when I saw the Saints Row 3 trailer with the 4ft dildo but at the same time I know people who will buy that game for their kids who shouldn’t even know what a dildo is at their age.

I suspect we shall have many arguments as the boy grows up- I’m not intending in letting him have a PC in his room until he’s a lot older, and I’m sure he’ll be irritated at using one in a family area when all his 12 year old mates are surfing redtube and the like from the safety of their bedrooms whilst masturbating furiously!

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Rob... November 15, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Mass Effect is a really unfortunate example as it is one of the few games which have very strong female characters, including the protagonist. The BBFC have given it a 12 which in my opinion is about right as its content and attitudes are roughly the same as Dr Who which is also as 12. As you can tell, we have chosen to trust the BBFC based on our personal experience. It helps of course that both Pewari and myself play games.

The amount of info you get is more helpful too: BBFC vs PEGI The BBFC provides much more context about why the game has been rated as it has been.

Having said all that, your general point is spot on and I completely agree. They’re only video games is not a good attitude to have nowadays. It may have been find in the days of the Atari 2600, but definitely not now. Both Pewari and myself are feminist and so acutely aware of attitude to women which is one reason why we ensure that we know the content ourselves, for film, TV and games.

We also have no intention of computers in their rooms; family areas is where our computers are for us and our boys. Our eldest has internet on his iPod Touch, which is only available between daylight hours (controlled by our router) and we also lock down the sites he can visit using mobicip. We’ll obviously review the level of lock down as they grow up.

Pewari November 15, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Also Alex, you may be confusing ME1 with ME2 – ME1 was a BBFC 12, ME2 is a BBFC 15. Eldest son is allowed to play ME1, not ME2. Hope that makes things clearer :)

Nikki Thomas November 15, 2011 at 9:32 am

An interesting question! I am currently going through this debate with my 7th old, not just about games but also about films. He is cross with me as I will only allow him to watch and play age appropriate games and he struggles with it because his peers seen to be allowed to do what they like. I have seen the reaction fighting games have on him when he has played them elsewhere, he becomes rude and aggressive. I think it does also depend on the personality of the child too, computer games do not suit everyone!

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Beth Sutherland November 15, 2011 at 9:39 am

The same way I’m not going to let my 4 year old watch a 12 or 15 rated movie, I’m not going to let her witness a violent games. I will let her get a PG movie out of the library and it gets flagged up as inappropriate on the system. I’ve worked for a company that tests games and my husband still does. My daughter will play Warcraft on my husband’s account. Exposure to realistic violence and bloodshed isn’t ok in my book and it’s the actual interactive and immersive qualities of it that make it seem more real, as does the immersive quality of FPS compared to third person RPG or MMO, which may be much more ‘fantasy’ based.

Another issues is time spent gaming and I think it does have to be limited to the point that it becomes secondary to other priorities. I’m often more concerned about the amount of time spent in interactive environments, than the actual environment and interactivity (and that applies to all ages). Again though, my children wouldn’t play anything more than a PG or 12 rated until they were older (or what I would deem myself to fit those ratings).

Also, a game like GTA. It’s not just violence that’s an issue in terms of FPS where you’re running around shooting people in the head. You might want to turn the blood graphics down. You know in Germany it used to be a requirement that blood in computer games couldn’t be red. Back to something like GTA. It’s the context of the interactive story or game that is key. There are sections of that game that aren’t broadly violent because of the sandbox nature, but some of the key story elements wouldn’t be child viewing because of the context of the content. Violence aside, rating and age acceptability covers more than just ‘violent games’. It’s up to parents to use common sense in what children can or can’t see and experience. It annoys me when people that criticise the games industry for violence, miss the point of their own argument, that the issue is also about level of immersion, time spent gaming and context of content (like in any media form).

The difference might be when parents play games themselves they have a good idea of the content and context even if they haven’t played through a title. If you are just buying a game for your kid and you don’t play yourself, then you might not know any better how they are actually interacting. I’m still very careful about what I will and won’t allow to be played in front of our young child, but it’s more about game context than violence, probably because we’re not really into viewing particularly violent media forms anyway.

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Pewari November 15, 2011 at 10:35 am

The difference between playing a game through to the end is you can make your own judgement call as to why a game got a higher rating (same as watching something before a child views it). Personally, I have no issues with my 10 year old hearing swearing – he’s heard most of the words already, hell his Year 3 teacher taught him some new ones in the context of which words were banned in his classroom ;) Mild sexual content I also have no issues with – we’ve had “the talk” and tbh a mild snog and a fade to black scene in a video game can seriously bump the rating. It’s all about context.

Heavy, graphic violence I have major issues with. Hence I want to see the game myself to see why it got the rating.

I’ve always got in the habit of pre-vetting content of any kind, since eldest son was very small. We went to the cinema, saw a U film and he seriously freaked out and we had to leave because of what was rated as “mild peril”. All children are not the same and ratings can only give you guidelines as to what is suitable – you can’t beat seeing it for yourself first as you know your child best.

Bear in mind too, that as your child reaches Year5/6 sort of age, your ability to restrict content is much reduced. Teaching a child self-censoring skills is vital – whether it’s a book, a tv show or a game that scares them or unnerves them, having the permission and the ability to say “I’m not enjoying this” and switching off, putting the book down etc is vitally important. Another reason I’m anti school reading schemes which insist that you finish a book to the end regardless – it doesn’t foster love of reading and it doesn’t foster self-censorship skills. In our house, if you’re not enjoying it, you don’t have to finish it.

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Paula Maher (@PaulaMaher) November 15, 2011 at 10:57 am

much as i’d love to contribute to this discussion, i fear many would baulk at my response!
let’s just say i’m quite open-minded about the whole internet access issue as both of my lads have internet in their bedrooms and have had for quite a few years (they are now 15 and 14). as for shoot-em-ups, we have all play consoles in the communal living room and they both do play them. i wouldn’t consider the games we have inappropriate – we don’t have GTA which is a game i’ve had discussions with the lads about – but they are shooting games, they do portray death and blood. i do think that children are more desensitised than when i was a child. the media has a lot to answer for in this regard – the recent newspaper front pages of a dead Gaddafi were grossly inappropriate.
i would find it hard to explain the reasoning behind my decisions in such a short space, but i will say i talk to my lads. we discuss games, violence, current affairs, porn and everything else facing teenage boys. and i think, so far, it’s working for both them and me.
(have also posted this comment on Typecast’s blog)

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Rob... November 15, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Paula,

Doesn’t sound that unreasonable to me. There’s a step change between a child in primary school and a child in secondary school. By the time the child is 18, they have to be equipped to deal with all the life can throw at them and I’m sure it’s better that their parents teach them at home than they learn “out on the streets”

Nothing beats having a rapport with your children and being able to discuss things, especially when they are teenagers. We’ve started to think about this as it’s beginning to feel really close!

(I’ve read Pewari’s second post now, after my first comment, so I see that she wrote what I tried to say, only better!)

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HELEN November 15, 2011 at 11:23 am

I think this is a tricky one & one that you really don’t know what you would do until you’re in that situation. I always said I would never let my kids watch movies or play video games above their age. I don’t let them watch the movies but in reality I have found it hard to keep my 11 year old away from Call of Duty, all his friends had it & they were all playing it online on Xbox Live and there he was stuck with the likes of Pinata Party that I had bought him. I didn’t want him to feel left out & be laughed at by his friends so in the end I relented, but I did make him buy it out of his own money, I still refused to buy it for him. To be honest he hasn’t been on it in ages as he is more of a Fifa boy and is not one to be stuck behind a closed door for hours on end & much prefers to be out on his scooter.
I’m still not entirely happy that he plays it & have restricted the time that he does play it. I don’t consider myself to be a soft touch when it comes to parenting, far from it to be honest – he has been asking for Facebook for a while but, unlike some of his friends parents, I have put my foot down on that one…for now. It will be much harder next year when he’s at High School I’m sure.

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Nickie November 15, 2011 at 1:03 pm

“I did make him buy it out of his own money, I still refused to buy it for him”

So how did he purchase it from the shop? Even if you (or someone else) used his money, you still purchased it for him. And, to be honest, I’ve found Facebook much easier to control and keep an eye on than the gaming. I’m my son’s friend and check his page regularly.

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HELEN November 15, 2011 at 1:16 pm

I meant I refused to PAY for it.

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Blue Sky November 15, 2011 at 1:34 pm

My 10 year old son has aspergers so it’s hardly surprising that gaming is a huge part of his life and there’s no way I could keep up with all the games he is interested in. I have allowed him a couple of 16+ games for the Xbox, but I was upset by the violence, and still have a blanket ban on 18+ games. But I am under pressure, because all his friends have at least one 18+ game. I discuss my reasons with him rather than just laying down the law and that helps and I’ve explained that I will never allow games like GTA in the house because of their ethos, rather than just the violence. He has an older sister, but she is not a gamer nor is his other sister. If he had an older brother I might not be able to prevent 18+ games…

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Susan Mann November 15, 2011 at 4:50 pm

My hubby plays Call of Duty and all these types of games and I would never let it be on when my children are about never mind play. They won’t get to play anything about a 7 until they are 20 if I can help it. x

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Alex November 15, 2011 at 5:19 pm

Spotted this on another website I follow Children & violent videogames. Dunno if it’s a response to this post, but it certainly makes it’s point of view.

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Sian @geekisnewchic November 15, 2011 at 7:31 pm

What a great debate.

Nickie – I’m with you on this one. Trust and boundaries are whats needed when teaching our children about online content.
The games are getting more violent and under age kids will always want to play them. Perhaps the point here should be that the games creators shouldn’t be releasing such X Rated content?
No one died in Decathlon did they? It didn’t stop everyone wanting to play it.

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Alex November 15, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Three interesting facts from The Entertainment Software Association:

The average game player is 37 years old and has been playing games for 12 years.
The average age of the most frequent game purchaser is 41 years old.

Forty-two percent of all game players are women. In fact, women over the age of 18 represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (37 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (13 percent)

That’s why these games have ratings, to make sure they’re played by age appropriate audiences. Its a $25bn annual industry in the USA, its not going away.

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Nickie November 15, 2011 at 11:20 pm

And as I said to Sian over on my blog, I still say the responsibility is with the parents, i.e. it’s us, ultimately, who go out and buy the games if the child is underage (or looks underage). I don’t want to become the gaming police and say “you can’t make this” or “you can’t allude to that” – that prevents creativity.

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Him Up North November 15, 2011 at 7:38 pm

*stands up* My name is Garry and I’m a bad parent. *sits down again*

I appreciate the arguments over video games being “active” experiences rather than “passive” ones, the desensitising influence and portrayal of certain sections of society as fodder.

However I have one advantage over everyone else reading this, and all those playing games, selling games, creating games. I know my children. Game producers and retailers don’t. To my mind, the BBFC label is there to protect retailers who don’t know my kids and, should one of them walk into the store to buy, the retailer would, on the strength of the law governing classifications, be well within their rights to refuse sale.

From a content point of view, for me the BBFC classification is also a flag. It prompts me to do a bit of research and the BBFC website tells me exactly why a game has been given the certification it has. In the instance of something like CoD: Modern Warfare 2 the game as a whole was certifiable 15 but for one scene. Yeah it deserved its 18 certificate because of it, but if you don’t research you don’t get the context.

So you can read all of that bo***cks and I’m still a guy who buys his kids video games over and above their age range. Judge me if you like. :)

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PetitMom November 18, 2011 at 11:16 pm

Excellent blog post on gaming, Ruth. :)
We are also gamers (as you know!) as we play games such as World of Warcraft, Batman Arkham City, Battlefield 3… you name it we’re probably playing it or have it on our rent/wish list. Naturally the thought of video games around our son has always been a concern for us both and we have full knowledge of the parental controls we have on Xbox 360, PC and PS3 and as he grows older we WILL be using these to stop him trying to use daddy’s violent games that he’s far too young for. The same goes with the internet too (another blog post, perhaps?).
In the end of the day we are living in a very technologically advanced world now and it’ll only continue to grow, so why stop technology being allowed with kids? It’s best we make sure we moderate how much time they play and what games are played.

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DGS January 22, 2013 at 12:08 am

I am going through this issue with my son right now. He is 10 years old and has a Wii U. He wants to get M rated games and I don’t think he is old enough. My feeling is that the games are rated M for a reason! He is telling me all the other boys in his class are allowed to play M rated games.

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Cory June 26, 2013 at 3:03 pm

I think that children at the age of thirteen at least should be exposed to violence and drugs and all of the ills of this world. I think that video games are a way to do that without letting them find out themselves. Maybe I am wrong though, after all I’m only a new father to fraternal twins so I might have alot to learn.

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