When I was a kid I used to play video games where 'killing' was involved, and they ran the spectrum of 'innocence' from Super Mario Brothers (where you are simply squishing mushrooms and strange creatures into invisibility) to James Bond (where the whole game is geared around shooting people for some reason that you have bought into for the purposes of the adventure). Probably there are extremes further on the spectrum on either side, but that's my range of personal experience. I don't recall that these made me particularly more violent than I would have been otherwise (although I'm not sure), nor do I remember being all that cognizant of any moral issues involved in what I was doing (but perhaps it is because no one prompted me to). All in all, it was fairly 'innocent', I suppose.
Nowadays I simply don't play video games at all anymore. There came a point where I couldn't keep up with the gamers and simply wasn't good enough for it to be fun. Fine. This isn't about me.
We have a seven year old and a six year old who play video games and who are increasingly aware of the options available to them. More and more the attractive options are the games their friends talk about at school, and more and more these involve violent scenarios where the player is mainly interested in shooting others.
What I want to know is this: Does anyone actually consider this a good thing? Does anyone think about it? Or has everyone thought about it and come up with a better rationale for it than I have been able to come up with?
Now, to be clear, I am not a Luddite nor a home-schooler. If you want to argue for something in that direction I'm open to hear it, but you should know that (while I imagine there are scenarios where home-schooling is the best option) I am heavily resistant to the general idea that Christianity recommends we shield our kids at all costs from the messiness of their societal context. As the kids grow in discernment I want to give them an increasing range of freedom to meet the world and to exercise those muscles of (preferably Christian) discernment further; even to be positive influences in their respective realms. Thus, while I can't think of any good reason for the existence of Lego Star Wars on the Nintendo, I have been able to come up with good reasons to allow our kids to play that game (albeit not others).
They know we don't think violence is the answer. They know we think shooting is a very-worst-case scenario. I think they even know why we think that. They know we let them play this particular game if they want to because it is fictional robots and lego characters rather than real people. They know that the moment we get the sense that it is transferring into a violent approach to real people they will have to take some time away from the video game to restore some sanity.
They know all this, I think, and we haven't even had to nag them (much) - just return to it from time to time. We are making a concession, but I hope we are doing so in a potentially redeeming way that turns it into as a discernment exercise and a teaching opportunity (hopefully without being overbearing).
Of course, I am fully aware of the fact that when I was a kid I didn't really think much about the killing that was going on in video games so I should probably not make a big deal out of it as if the kids are bloodthirsty for wanting to play them. There is, admittedly, a kind of innocence about kids that can actually make the games themselves sort of innocent.
But, let's face it, we'd be pretty naive if we dismissed the possibility that the movies and video games that children spend hours on may in some way effect reactive and instigative outbursts of violence in child-play and relationships. We'd also be pretty naive if we pretended that the hours they spend now aren't in some way shaping their worldview.
Certainly, 'rough-housing' and so on is probably a natural part of growing up, and so I think there is a mode and an extent to which this is appropriate on the playground and maybe even on-screen. But how we could then turn around and argue that a shoot-em-up video game is healthy in that regard is beyond me. And what unhealthy habits and approaches are spurred on unnecessarily and undiscerningly by such brain-feed?
I don't mean this as a criticism of other people's parenting decisions. I am asking an open question. Is there something good (or neutral) about violent video games that I am completely unaware of? Let's not pretend this is just a parenting question, either, even though in my case that's all it is. I know plenty of adults play these games.
My question is: Why? Without going all the way back to moral viewpoints and Christian values and such (since I imagine you can guess what they are), I've given some perspective on where I'm coming from and what my concerns and my leanings are. But I do want to make it an open question and hear out the possible answers. How is it enjoyable in the least to commit 'virtual murders'? And even if it is mildly enjoyable, how is it good? Is it neutral, harmless, or otherwise justifiable?
To be fair, I watch plenty of films and read plenty of books that contain violence. To me discernment means avoiding those films which are more interested in glorifying violence than telling a story that involves it (even depicting it rawly and brutally where necessary). My greatest respect goes to those films that can capture the disturbing effects of violence and the complexities of conflict without showing us every drop of blood and passing sword-swipe to the gut. But I've seen some garbage, I'll admit. I'm open to rebuke in that regard.
But I do think the discussion happens on another level when we move from hearing/seeing/reading a story and actually playing a part in it - in the role of a violent aggressor no less. Thus I raise the question. I don't know if anyone wants to help me with this or not.
(By the way, I've had this question in mind for a long time. Nothing has really triggered it for me recently other than the fact that what was a moot point for me personally has through my children become a live issue to think about again.)