The Average Gamer

Kids These Days

Censorship and parenting go hand in hand. Just the other day I had to elaborate on the end of Murphy’s War for my 3.5 year old son, giving it the alternative ending of “..and then they all swam to the beach, made friends and had a barbecue”. It’s not just about stopping kids from seeing or hearing things, it’s about attributing some kind of context to it. This is a challenge, not least of all because cognitive thought appears to evaporate from the skillset of many parents when it comes to evaluating the messages they themselves are seeing and hearing.

Take, for instance, the video of a 3 year old girl playing Skyrim and getting her avatar stabbed to death. We don’t really know what happened in the hours and minutes leading up to this, what her day to day life is like or, indeed, what happened afterwards. Yet plenty of people leaped upon it as a prime example of parenting gone wrong, of an exposure to violence so unreasonable that the ability and choices of the responsible adult should be passionately brought into question.

It’s such utter Daily Mail, kneejerk reaction bullshit of the highest order I fear for our ability as a race to function outside of clearly defined rules and regulations. Not one person understood the context or full story of the video. “Who knows what damage has been caused?” tweeted one observer. Who knows indeed? Not you, nor any of the other jurors out there. None know the child, her relationship with her father or the discussions that took place before and after. You know your own child if you have one and, frankly, if you don’t have children or regular contact with them, you pretty much know nothing.

I mean, I first realised the true negative impact videogames can have on a child when my son kicked his Nan. His response when asked why he did it? “I was playing like in Daddy’s games”.

CallOfDutyMW3_ParisExplosionWhich was weird, because I hadn’t actually let him play any games with kicking in. Shooting, yeah. He likes the booms you see (and, in fact, gets annoyed when his gun runs out of them). I load up Call Of Duty, stick the two of us in a split screen multiplayer map and he basically just lets rip with the gun. If I stand in front of him and beg him not to shoot me he laughs manically as he does. The strawberry jam on the screen doesn’t phase him, what with it just being strawberry jam.

Harm’s Way he loves, but that’s just racing. Well, it’s supposed to be racing but to him it’s an opportunity to drive up a mountain until the rockets rain down upon him because he’s gone out of the perimeter. He’d also played a fair bit of Crackdown, which does feature kicking. By using the keys to the city DLC, though, I was able to turn off traffic, pedestrians and enemies. He was just running around and driving the tank that I’d spawn for him every time he drove into the river. Then I remembered – I’d been playing Crackdown the weekend before and he’d watched a bit. Yes, I’d shot some people, but I’d also kicked some as well.

I know, I know. Some of you are probably holding your mouths shut now, unable to truly comprehend what a monstrous parent I must be. I can only respond by saying I generally know my son better than you do. We’d done the whole talk about bad guys and good guys and all that shizzle and the truly violent games, the gory ones, the ones with swearing stay firmly in the drawer. I actually played Battlefield 3 with the French audio when I was doing one level the other week, thanks to the swearing in it. He liked driving the tank, though. Wait, that’s violence isn’t it. Ooh, videogaming with children: such a grey area unless you lay down absolute definitions.

So, yeah, the one bit I didn’t know was that he’d act out the kicking. I do now, so those kind of games are off the table. Parenting’s a learning game, ain’t it? So’s growing up though. As I know that my son has a pretty good grasp of the fantastical, I’m happy that he can learn lessons in-game that he can’t or is forbidden to in real life. Like what happens when you throw a grenade.

Anyway, our latest escapades were in Skyrim, much like the girl in the eponymous video. It doesn’t feature kicking, but it does have lots of caving in of skulls. Taking on my first giant spider that came from a ceiling, my son was coming up with ideas on how to beat it. “Get underneath it and hit it with your sword” he said. That didn’t work. “Shoot arrows at it” he said. That didn’t work. “He can’t get through the door, stay there and hit it” he said. That did work, especially once I remembered I had a scroll of massive explosiveness. That big boom impressed him. You may think this all sounds very wrong, but when the arachnid race starts its takeover bid, think of my son as John Connor. These are key survival skills he’s picking up.

Later, he walked us down a river and wanted to jump off of the waterfall. We did, and we died. Or, in my explanation to him, we twisted our ankle so had to reload. He was cool with that. He was also cool with hitting the mud crabs because they were monsters who snapped at out heals first. There was another bit that really engaged him though. The local farming community was something awe inspiring to him.

And he’d seen their windmills.

We went into one which, unfortunately, didn’t show us the fully working cog mechanisms that enable a turning wind sail to grind corn. He understands cogs, though, so I drew out what it should look like. IN THE BLOOD OF MY ENEMIES! I jest, on paper with a pencil and IRL. We looked from the outside into the building, and I explained what happened with the wheat which got crushed by the grindstone which got turned by the wind sails.

“Get some wheat daddy” he said.

Unfortunately the local farmers didn’t plant their corn near to the windmill, which seemed like an oversight. We tried an assortment of vegetables but none worked. My son was momentarily sad, but then he remembered the waterfall and we embarked, once more, on our base jumping quest.

On the way there we saw another waterfall feeding the river we were in. He asked where all the water was coming from, which seemed like a great opportunity to explain the water cycle to him. I could look straight up at the mountains, over which the clouds hung in a grey and ominous manner, and tell him all about it. He wanted to follow the river to the sea, but it was a bit of an ask so I zoomed out to the map instead and showed him it on that.

He understood that so much that when I took him to Magna in Sheffield, he talked me through a physical model of the same cycle in one of the exhibits there.

The hitting and kicking, though? He doesn’t do that in real life so much, even with the toy sword he has. We engaged him and, over time, he came to understand. He does like the toy shotgun with realistic sound effects and lifelike reload action I got him though.

At the end of the day he’s almost 4 and boys that age are trying to figure everything out. Though he does occasionally lash out in anger, we’re managing that as his parents. As a gamer, and a responsible parent, I believe that videogame worlds give him the opportunity to do things outside of his own world of restrictions and rules, as they do me. It’s my choice as his parent to decide how that works and I do it by screening it all and adding that much needed context and control to his interactions with them.

That may be shooting guns in Call Of Duty, or hitting mud crabs with a mace (if he can line it up), or sorting out the crocodile’s bath in Where’s My Water?. Whatever it is, he does it supervised and as an activity we all participate in. “Yay teamwork!” is our motto, and we cry it with every celebratory high five we do.

Don’t you dare try to call me out on that, and I’ll leave your parenting skills unquestioned in return.