Parental Guidance: Because parents really DO need guidance
- The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
- Irrational Games
- Gears Of War 3
- Epic Games
- CD Projekt RED
- Call of Duty
- 2K Games
It's 9.50 on a fairly gloomy September morning, and I'm standing in a field at the car-boot sale in my local park, trying not to think too hard about the rising wind and threatening rain, ignoring the jostle of mums and buggies, dads with toddlers on their shoulders, the occasional foul-mouthed hoodie, while I flick through a selection of pre-owned games on a stall operated by a young blonde lass who I know doesn’t have a clue about gaming.
I know she doesn't have a clue about gaming because she just said this to a potential customer:
Sigh. And facepalm.
This is what Bioshock made me do to Andrew Ryan. But I'm an adult and understand it's just a game. Also, he's a bastard anyway
Several seconds later, a young girl appears beside me, no older than 9. Her mother is one of those busy housewives that always look harried but cheerful and talk in a voice that's an octave too high - and bustle. She bustled a fair bit. The little girl is finger-flicking through a pile of low-priced DS games, before moving on to the 360 stack. By now I'm holding God of War 3 in one hand and The Orange Box in the other, trying to determine if I want classic sci-fi or brutal mythology for my tenner, but I almost drop both Kratos and Freeman instantly when this happens:
“Try this one,” says Clueless Salesperson, handing over a green-edged box. “This one's great.”
The mother takes it, turns it this way and that, bustles over it, then waves it under her daughter's nose like she's asking an opinion on a new Barbie outfit pack. The little girl takes the offered game, appraises it, raises an eyebrow.
At which point, I intervene, rather – I felt at the time – like Spider-Man would intervene when faced with a heinous crime against the good people of NYC. I swoop. Boy, do I swoop.
Nico Bellic is a very likeable chap, but I really wouldn't want my 11-year-old idolising him
“You can't buy that for your daughter,” I say, pushing a nervous chuckle into the sentence to seem less forceful, less blatantly angry than I suddenly feel.
“Why?” asks Busy Mum as though I've just told her she can't watch Jeremy Kyle anymore. Clueless Salesperson says nothing, though I feel sudden heat, smell sudden sulphur, like a match ignited, or the fires of Hellish wrath stoked. No one likes to lose a sale.
“Because,” I say, expansively, “it's about an underwater city filled with genetically-mutated psychopaths, that on more than one occasion gives you the option to shove a nine-inch syringe into an 8-year-old girl's neck. Killing her. And, unavoidably, you'll have to beat a man to death with a blunt instrument. Oh yeah,” I add, tapping the box with a vehemence that makes me realise how close to full-fat rant I am, “and it's an EIGHTEEN.”
You know what Idiot Mum says next (yes, she's now designated “Idiot”)? She says, and I quote:
“But it's only a game.”
What the actual fuck does that mean?
Seeing the look in my eye, Idiot Mum harrumphs, drops the game back on the pile, snatches her daughter's hand and leads her away to look at some Nancy Drew shit, leaving me with Vengeful Salesperson. "I hope you're happy with yourself," she hisses. "You twat."
“I am actually," I say, because I am. "And your stuff's overpriced anyway. 15 quid for Matt Hazard is taking the piss.”
“Fuck off,” she instructs, in the way a bulldog would instruct you to leave its bone the hell alone. I acquiesce. But I feel good, because I feel I've done my bit.
This is one of the tamer screens seen during Ninja Gaiden 2's combat. Look at the pretty splashes of claret.
I don't buy into the idea that games and films and music influence people to kill and rape and steal. I think it's absolute bollocks. I'm a family man, happy, content, straight-headed, but I've done absolutely unspeakable things in games, and it's never spilled over into how I conduct my life. But I still don't believe a 9 year old girl, or any minor, should play a game wherein you brutally beat an unarmed man to death or are even given the option to murder already-traumatised little girls.
People like Clueless / Vengeful Salesperson and Idiot Mum perpetuate the problem, feed fuel to the Daily Mail's righteous fires. And while I don't believe an adult – or a child, for that matter – will suddenly go on a killing spree because Niko Bellic did, I worry about the desensitising effect such things have on our children. I worry they see too much, too soon, and childish innocence is no match for the brutal, graphic violence in many games.
I've witnessed three times (and intervened once) a similar thing occur in a GAME store, and it's inexcusable. Videogames are not exclusively for children anymore - if they ever were – and there's a certain breed of parent out there that needs to realise this. You only need look at the disproportionate number of under-18s playing Modern Warfare 3 weekly to see that something is wrong.
I spent a year making sure my 11-year-old cousin never played anything remotely adult-themed on my 360. I even took pains to hide Gears of War, GTA IV, Bulletstorm, whenever he visited after the first few times I caught him trying to sneak one into the tray while I was otherwise occupied. Then on his twelfth birthday, his mum takes him into Gamestation to spend his birthday money and what does he select? A 360 with Gears 1 & 2, Modern Warfare, GTA IV and Ninja Gaiden 2. Oh, and FIFA, just because. And what does his mum do? She buys them. Not because he's spoilt, or because she doesn't care what she subjects him to – because she does – but because like too many parents, she thinks that big red 18 means something different in a game than it does in a film. She thinks they're all still about bouncing plumbers and super-fast hedgehogs.
Triss Merigold spends a good deal of time in The Witcher 2 naked. It's not ideal for a minor to witness so much jiggly-fun
That the staff in that store should sell those games when they're clearly for a minor is questionable at best, downright irresponsible at worst. But it happens.
Parents need to understand what they're subjecting their children to, or rather allowing their children to subject themselves to – and they need to stop blaming developers when their 12 year old starts cussing and actively contemplating car theft. Or worse. Sure my daughter plays my Xbox and PS3, she dabbles on my Vita, but I carefully select what she plays and how much and wouldn’t dream of even letting her see some of the games I play.
So, this is for the parents: stop it. Monitor what your kids are playing, pay attention to classifications. Don't buy your child a game like Modern Warfare 3 just because otherwise he or she will suffer some ribbing from their friends. Be aware that if you wouldn't let your child watch something like Spartacus: Blood & Sand, you shouldn't be letting them play The Witcher 2 for the same reasons.
And to the salespeople: stop it. You have a responsibility, too. You can refuse a sale to anyone with good enough cause. Stopping a ten-year-old from walking away with the new Saints Row or Prototype is probably good enough cause, don't you think? Buck up your ideas, or see games (those things you sell that help fund your living) continue getting the stick for your complacency.
And to the kids, well, if your parents are on the ball you shouldn't be reading this anyway. I've been swearing and all sorts.
Words by Mick Fraser (Twitter: @Jedi_Beats_Tank)
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