Today after church service, I had the opportunity to speak to a godly, Christian woman who is also a teacher. We spoke about the violent nature of some children today (certainly not all) and the possible link to violent entertainment…particularly video games. As a Christian, I am admit that I am also a gamer. My games of choice are the sports genre, particularly the Madden football games and the NCAA Football series. I am not a prude by any means. However, it must be admitted that many games cross the line. With the advent of high definition and the increase in computer processing capabilities, games are more realistic than they have ever been. Most games are fine and allow children of all ages to pass the time with their friends, loved ones, or even by themselves. However, there are some games that are gory and not recommended for children. It must be asked why anyone would enjoy these gory games. These games are among some of the best-selling games. Are they good for people to enjoy particularly children? Towards the end of the article, I present to you some parental tips to help you choose safe games for your children. One of the best ways to decipher the content of a game is to read the ESRB rating of the game. I will give you the ratings and their meanings towards the end of the article.
I am not advocating prohibition or anything of the sort. I do believe there need to be restrictions placed on children purchasing gory games, though. Nonetheless, there is a great concern that games like BioShock, Silent Hill, Bulletstorm, and especially Grand Theft Auto are producing a desensitized population. Some say, “They’re just games.” However, many including psychologists state that there is a link between violence in children and playing violent video games. The American Psychological Association reports, “Research has shown both the deleterious effects of violent video games on children and the ease with which children can purchase mature-rated games (e.g., FTC, 2003). These combined types of studies have influenced several major retail stores (e.g., Sears, Target, Walmart) to create policies preventing children under 17 from buying mature-rated video games. Researchers are continuing to study how effectively stores enforce such policies” (APA 2004). In military training, individuals must be desensitized to do the tasks necessary in combat. This desensitization is occurring with many children, teenagers, and even young adults by their participation in realistic simulated executions on gaming systems. There are three concerns that this writer has with the desensitization that occurs in playing violent video games.
1. Desensitizes the Value of Mercy.
In the game Skyrim: Elder Scrolls V, gamers claim that the player cannot spare people that beg for mercy. If the person shows mercy, the victim will strike back. One gamer even said, “This game produces an ‘I kill everything’ character in mind.” How is this healthy? Jesus had the exact opposite character in mind in the Beatitudes when He said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Do games like these train individuals to show mercy. Again, some will say, “It is just a game.” However, Jesus also said, “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man” (Matthew 15:18-20). The point is that what you set your mind on says a lot about your inner character. Even in entertainment, why would someone enjoy participating in acts of brutality unless the person had a mind set on violent acts?
2. Desensitizes the Value of Honesty.
Games such as Grand Theft Auto also desensitize individuals to the value of honesty. The goal of Grand Theft Auto is to lie, cheat, bully, and steal. How is that for good wholesome entertainment? Well, it is not. How is it that the GTA developers thought that the glorification of evil (theft, violence, and dishonesty) made for good entertainment? Everything is a teaching tool. Movies have messages. Games present the developers’ ideology. Everything is done with a teleological purpose…a certain end in mind…a certain message that is being communicated. The GTA message is a message that should make even the biggest gamer leery. As Proverbs states, “Honesty guides good people; dishonesty destroys treacherous people” (Proverbs 11:3, NLT).
3. Desensitizes the Value of Humanity.
When games seem to present human beings as a disposable nuisance, one has to wonder if the value of humanity is being disposed at the sake of entertainment. In the video game Gears of War 2, it is said that there is a scene where the player uses a chainsaw to cut a person from their bottom up. There is another game by the name of Postal 2 in which the gamer performs random acts of ruthless violence upon unsuspecting, innocent citizens. This may be seen as a form of entertainment. But, let us not forget that the ancient Romans had a version of entertainment: it was at the expense of enslaved gladiators fighting to the death, or watching innocent Christians being devoured by wild beasts. Entertainment or blood thirsty satisfaction? This is a far cry from Jesus’ teaching on love. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:43-45).
Many opponents would say, “This is just innocent fun. It is a harmless time killer.” In a society infiltrated with increasing gun violence and acts of random aggression, the time has come to stop taking aggressive forms of entertainment lightly. As we mentioned previously, there seem to be a link between violent games and violent acts. It is in my opinion that gory video games and even gory movies may be desensitizing young individuals. Impressionable people with disabilities in being able to decipher between fantasy and reality may very well be re-enacting their favorite horror scenes or their favorite violent games when they commit horrible crimes against humanity. Mild violent or comic violence is not being addressed. So, we are not speaking about comic mischief like when Bugs Bunny pulls a prank on Elmer Fudd or when Mario jumps on a mushroom. We are speaking of gruesome, excessively violent games. These games and movies may in fact be a training ground for the next young killers.
Parents can do little when their children become old enough to live on their own. However, while the child is living with the parent, there are steps that the parent can take to protect their child from gory, violent games. Be responsible in what games your child brings home. As a parent, a pastor, and a gamer, I present to you four tips to help you make intelligent and responsible game choices for your children.
1. Learn the game’s ratings.
In California, there is legislation being introduced which would make it illegal for stores to sell adult rated games to children. While this is an excellent idea, parents can do a lot about what games their children bring home. Parents need to know that there is a rating system for games just as there are ratings for movies. The following comes from the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) (http://www.esrb.org/ratings/index.jsp.):
“E10” is for “everyone over 10 years of age.” This rating is comparable to the “PG” rating at the movies. These games may have some content that is not appropriate for young children, but are generally safe. These games may contain mild violence with some suggestive themes. There could be mild language in these games.
“T” is for “teenagers and up.” This is comparable to a “PG 13” rating at the movies. These games are only for individuals over the age of 13, however the parent may want to examine these games before allowing their children to play these games. Certain companies, like GameFly, allow the customer to rent the game before purchasing it. It is strongly recommended that the parent investigate these games before buying them for their children. “T” rated games generally include: violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, some blood, gambling, and the use of mild to strong language.
“M” is for “mature.” This is an “R” rating for video games. These games are for individuals 17 years of age and older. The “M” should be a strong red flag for the parent. Most gory games are found in this category. These games include: intense violence, blood, gore, sexual content, and strong to explicit language.
“AO” stands for “adults only.” This is comparable to an “X” rating at the movies. These games are extremely gory and/or sexually graphic. These games include: prolonged scenes of intense violence, sexual content (on the level of being pornographic), and could involve gambling with real currency.
2. Be proactive in researching the game.
Research the game. It is not that difficult. If you are reading this post, it is likely that you have internet access. Look up the game. Check out the game’s website. You may learn all you need to know by checking the reviews of the game and observing some of the game’s scenes.
3. Explain the reasons to your child why you do not feel that such a game is appropriate.
If the game is not appropriate for your child, explain to him/her why you feel that such a game is inappropriate. The child may claim, “My friend plays it, so why can’t I?” This would be a great time to explain to him/her the values that you want to instill within them. Explain to them that the game goes against the morals in which you believe. Be prepared to give reasons to back up your answer. Do this in a loving, compassionate way.
4. Don’t be afraid to test the game yourself.
Many parents are guilty of purchasing the game and giving their child free access to play without even considering what the game is teaching them. If you are not a good gamer, you may want to simply sit and observe. You can learn a lot about the game and also spend quality time with your child in the process.
All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.
American Psychological Association. (June 8, 2004). “Violent Video Games – Psychologists Help Protect Children from Harmful Effects.” http://www.apa.org/research/action/games.aspx. (Accessed September 22, 2013).
Federal Trade Commission (2003, October 14). Results of nationwide undercover survey released. [Press release.] Washington, DC: Federal Trade Commission. Quoted in American Psychological Association. (June 8, 2004). “Violent Video Games – Psychologists Help Protect Children from Harmful Effects.” http://www.apa.org/research/action/games.aspx. (Accessed September 22, 2013).
Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007.
The following are some scenes from some of the more violent video games on the market. One is a poster advertising a particularly violent video game. These scenes are not the most gory scenes found in many video games today. Nonetheless, they may be disturbing to some viewers. Proceed with caution.