What is it about a video game that can make it off limits for kids? Is it the violence in games like Call of Duty? Or perhaps the glorification of being a gangster like in Grand Theft Auto? Or maybe even the sexual encounters in games like the Witcher and Mass Effect?
Now that I am older and mature enough to play the games that have an M rating, I have a few thoughts on kids playing such mature-rated games revolving around the difference between fantasy or cartoon violence and realistic violence.
The M rating, akin to the R rating for movies, is a rating that can be assigned to a game for varying degrees of mature content. According to the Entertainment Software Rating Board, the rating “M” is given to games that “may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and-or strong language.” But do all M-rated games contain such content?
Take a first-person shooter game like Team Fortress 2 — it has violent content for sure, but much of it is very cartoonish. Plus, swearing and innuendoes from the characters are experienced far less in this game than most other M-rated games.
On the other hand, you have games like Far Cry 3. While it is not the most extreme example of the M rating, it contains all of what classifies an M-rated game. Intense violence and gory content? The game has plenty of it, and it is all from a first-person perspective. Sexual content? Yes, absolutely. Strong language? Of course.
So what am I getting at with all of this? What I am trying to demonstrate is that some M-rated games are more M-rated than others.
Does that mean kids should be allowed to play them? Not necessarily. There should be a level of maturity that a child needs to achieve before he or she can play mature-rated games. Such maturity, however, is something that should be taught.
That being said, 10-, 11- or even 13-year-olds should not be playing something like Call of Duty. For example, the opening scene to the story mode in Call of Duty: Black Ops II depicts a soldier burning alive inside an overturned vehicle.
To be exposed to that kind of violence that young would definitely impact the development process of a child’s mind.
If your childhood was like mine, you saw your fair share of TNT blowing up in a cartoon character’s face, characters getting flattened by anvils and characters falling off cliffs while in pursuit of a meep-meeping bird. I believe the key is knowing the distinction between fantasy or cartoon violence and realistic violence.
Watching, or in the case of video games, pretending to enact violence, is one thing, but it is a whole other deal when children seek to emulate such actions.
Children can distinguish fantasy violence from real-world violence by the time they reach 7 years of age, according to the ProCon.org article “Do Violent Video Games Contribute to Youth Violence?” But does that mean the violence does not affect them psychologically?
If you type “video games, desensitizing” on Google, there are numerous articles and pieces about whether or not violent video games can be desensitizing. As a result, there is never a 100-percent consensus on the subject.
There was no difference in how gamers and nongamers reacted to negative or violent images in a test conducted by Canadian researchers, according to the U.S. News Health article “Violent Video Games May Not Desensitize Kids: Study.”
Another study, however, showed that participants who played violent video games were less reactive to violent images than people who had played nonviolent games, according to the psychologytoday.com article titled “Violent Video Games Turn off the Compassion Instinct.”
For a debate that is so rooted in individual experience, it is quite difficult to get a solid answer on whether or not violent video games cause violent behavior, or at the very least desensitize the players of them.
Although it is impossible to completely shield a growing mind from the violence and negative things in the world, I do not think a child’s mind should be bombarded by the likes of killing, profane language and overtly sexual content until they can maturely handle it. When that will be depends on the child and the discipline he or she learns.
While I can only hope that kids will begin to play M-rated games once they reach a certain point of maturity, I do not think it will be too long before a 12-year-old starts yelling at me for not giving him the bomb on Counter-Strike.