I have a ten year old son, my oldest. A few days ago, he was introduced to Halo, a first person shooter video game. My son really liked this game and was excited to return to his friends house to play it. I knew next to nothing about the game and so called someone who did and did a little research online. This is when I found out that the game was “first person shooter” and that the main objective was shooting and escaping violent attacks from robots, aliens, and, I think, people costumed like robot/aliens. My son reeeally wanted to play this game, so naturally, I wanted to please him, but I was forced in a parenting “call” that left him disappointed. I just could not get past the idea of a gun toting first person shooter game; no more Halo for him.
Truthfully the reviews mostly touted the mildness of the violence and graphics. There were reviews with people letting their 3 year olds play the game (!). I let my 10 year old peruse the reviews by parents and articles with professional- psychological- input with me. He pointed out that many of the parents thought Halo was no big deal, many did not think it deserved the M (Mature) rating it got. (I also pointed out how in many of those reviews, the parent could not put together coherent sentences that were spelled correctly, which might indicate the intellect of those writing the review). One reviewer even pointed out the high morals and self sacrifice of the lead characters and how they paralleled the life of Jesus. (!!?!? I’m gonna have to let that one drop for now.) The M rating means a recommended age of 17 – there couldn’t be a more glaring red flag.
Next I found myself in a philosophical discussion with my kids. I explained to them that I don’t like war, or shooting people, they countered that they don’t either and that, video games are just games. They pointed out how Mario cart pushes people off of the track and they “die”, they pointed out how I found Plants vs. Zombies acceptable and that involved killing zombies, albeit comically and creatively (not with guns). It was important to me and my son that he was heard about this issue, he felt strongly. I wanted to hear what he had to say, but I explained to him that as a parent, I was responsible for programming his brain properly, and I know there are lots of messages that get through to him that I already disapprove of. I didn’t want to add this message – that hunting down humanoids and shooting them is fun.
Later in the day my kids asked me about 9/11. It just so happens that for all of my 10 year old’s life, the United States has been making war on Afghanistan. I explained to them that I did not feel like making war was the right decision, that I felt we should have dealt with those that supported the attacks in a police like selective way, not a wholesale bombing way. I explained that many people feel that the United States is correct, simply because it is the United States. By the end of the conversation, the boys were indignant and totally on my side (kids are very persuadable, media creators know this too). They found war unnecessary, killing wrong, and were upset with the United States for perpetuating violence. The numbers of dead people don’t even make sense in case someone wanted to make the “eye for an eye” argument – and that is erroneously assuming that all of the terrorists during 9/11 came from the same country and were representing that country’s policy.
I couldn’t resist circling around to our earlier discussion about Halo. In the middle of my 10 year old’s indignance at the United States for bombing Afghanistan, I told him that that was one reason I couldn’t allow shoot ’em up games. I hated war, hated shooting people, and hated that war had become so boring, unimportant, and unremarkable for our country (for his whole life!) that no one really talked about how awful it was for the people on the ground. I hated that making war was actually seen as a light hearted fun game appropriate for toddlers according to some. My son saw my point.
Children cannot possibly process all of the media and messaging that goes into their eyes and ears. Even if they say they know the difference between fantasy and reality, they are not equipped developmentally to do so. This is also true of adults, but even more so for kids. There are such things as subliminal messages, there are such things as a planned desensitization to violence by making militarized entertainment.
I showed my boys some of the screen shots of military training videos and asked them if they could tell the difference between the “real” military video games and the “pretend” ones. They couldn’t. I tried to explain that by making killing fun, future recruitment of soldiers is much easier. They found this hard to believe, but it is true.
A few years ago my friend’s son returned from a trip with the school’s ski club with America’s Army video game in hand – the kid was in middle school. He had been given the game by military recruiters that had a table at the resort. A middle school kid was hit up by Army recruiters on a ski field trip!!! This wasn’t an isolated incident. America’s Army is officially a recruitment tool used by the military to attract children to combat. The NewStatesman cites $50million dollars being spent by the US military to develop games and use them in PR and recruitment.
Using tax dollars for this purpose makes me very angry. The target market is kids.
Americans tend to look at other countries that use child soldiers as “less civilized. Try googling images for “child soldier” and you will find a rainbow of skin tones representing countries all over the globe that take the vulnerable and easily intimidated and put guns in their hands. This is, of course, a travesty – often these children are the very ones that have already endured a short hellish life during wartime. Many times the children have no choice in the matter, it is kill or be killed. (I encourage you to learn more here). We see these images of shorties toting AK-47s and shake our heads with a tsk tsk. Americans do things in a much more sophistocated, high tech way, several times removed from the dirt and gore. We fund our military to turn the horrors of war into fun electronic games, and we support our corporations that do the same by buying their products as “gifts” to our kids.
War and video games look more and more alike for many US soldiers, especially when you can just program a faceless drone to do your killing for you. Halo is not the same, but in my mind it is like a gateway drug to romanticizing killing.
Update: Mass murderer says he used video games to practice for the massacre he perpetrated. Read about it here from RawStory.