The ESRB Rating System: A Gamer’s Perspective (Part 1)

This is Part 1 of an article published in The Journal of Advancing Technology, Volume Four, Summer 2006.

Video game publishers are releasing games today that are filled with intense scenes of violence, sex, and profanity, and these games are being played by young children and teenagers in ever-growing numbers every day. Why is this a problem? Because video games are beginning to look more real today due to advanced 3D graphics technology. Thus, playing a realistic game is similar to a real-world situation.

That the U.S. Army is using first person shooters for recruitment and training is a telling point. The Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA), a major trade association for the video game industry, succinctly describes the problem with the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) ratings system:“While the industry is making the same efforts to protect children it has over the past few years, research and anecdotal evidence show that the potential for harm from video games is much greater than previously understood. Increasing power (i.e. realism) of technology is one factor; our increased knowledge base is another. Despite some commitment to implementing our past recommendations, the industry is slipping backwards by standing still.”

Studies(1) have shown that there is a direct correlation between the consumption of violent media and aggressive behavior in children–and yet, industry-backed organizations such as the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) deny such allegations and continue to praise the increasingly violent nature of games, citing freedom of expression and artistic license. The rating system currently in use is only partially effective at informing the consumer about the content of a video game, while publishers are continuing to push the limits of acceptable content to new levels each year (and thus, further negating the usefulness of prior ratings–which follows the IDSA statement above). I’m not concerned with debating one research study over another. Common sense dictates that children should not be exposed to scenes of violence, sexuality, or profanity. As far as I’m concerned, there is no relativistic debate over this issue. Anyone who exposes a child to such things should be treated in the same manner as those who commit child abuse–which can manifest itself in many forms.

There exists a serious gap in the marketplace for an intelligent, informative guide to the video game rating system. Why are the current ratings growing more ineffective each year? I believe violent video games are acceptable in the same context that violent movies are acceptable, when the rating system in use is effective at warning parents about the content. The video game rating system, ESRB, has described a rating system that, in the past, has been confusing and contradictory, and the terms are not explicit enough to be taken literally. As a result, ratings have not been used as intended by consumers. Most adults today grew up playing benign video games such as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, while the games today are more accurately compared with films than their pixellated ancestors.

 

PROBLEMS AT THE SOURCE

I wish the ESRB should adopt a more aggressive stance on video game content, make recommendations for stronger enforcement of the ratings, and try to increase awareness of the existing system. Retailers should adopt a means for consumers to better protect their children from inappropriate content. The desensitization of a child toward violence, sex, and profanity has an adverse affect on that child’s development. In particular, several of the highest grossing games in video game history have focused on extreme violence against women, which is of particular concern to many parents. Decoding the video game ratings system is therefore a problem with many consumers. There are many games that have been inappropriately rated for their content. Here are the video game ratings today, established by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB):

· EC – Early Childhood: (Age 3+) Contains no inappropriate material.
· E – Everyone: (Age 6+) Minimal cartoon, fantasy, or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
· E10+ – Everyone 10+: (Age 10+) More cartoon, fantasy, or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.
· T – Teen: (Age 13+) May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or frequent use of strong language.
· M – Mature 17+: (Age 17+) May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
· AO – Adults Only 18+: (Age 18+) May include prolonged scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity.
· RP – Rating Pending: Awaiting final rating.

This list of ratings now used to rate video games is confusing at best, and useless at worst. About the only thing a concerned parent can do is limit their child’s exposure to “E – Everyone” or “E10+ – Everyone 10+”, since games in these two categories, along with the obvious “EC – Early Childhood” are going to be very safe for children. However, why is there a need for three ratings in this category in the first place? The differences among them are negligible and simply add to the confusion. These three are equivalent to the movie industry’s “G” rating. The “T – Teen” rating and “M – Mature 17+” rating are both abused by publishers, as far too many games are being released under the “T” rating when they belong in the “M” category. Likewise, you will find an occasional game rated “M” when it is clearly not offensive.

For an example of the inequality that leads to confusion, the game Halo is rated “M” while containing mild to moderate violence (against aliens, with purple blood). Halo is a science fiction game with a deep and complex storyline that plays out very much like a movie; however, instead of simply watching passively, viewers interact with the game world by assuming the identity of the protagonist–a Marine hero who is known only by his rank: Master Chief. There are many situations in this game where humans are killed, often brutally, but the violence is not seasoned with gore. There is none of the limb-severing effects found in movies like Aliens and Starship Troopers.

At the same time, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, also rated “M”, contains explicit scenes of violence against women, sexuality, prolific use of profanity, and illegal drugs, murder, and cop killing–all of which are part of the storyline in this game. Clearly, this game belongs in the “AO” category. There is a problem with the ratings system if two vastly different games (content-wise) are rated in same. It is analogous to rating the movies Monsters, Inc. and Pulp Fiction in the same category (such as PG) because Monsters, Inc. has fictionalized scary scenes. Does this make any logical sense? This is why consumers have been so confused about video game ratings, and why they have largely misunderstood the ratings–which renders them useless.

While the movie industry has done a decent job at regulating itself, the same cannot be said of the video game industry. One might argue that the R rating covers a wide range of movies, from relatively benign action films like The Matrix to the other end of the spectrum with films like Phoenix and Pulp Fiction that have intense scenes of graphic violence and sexuality.Allow me to disclaim that I’m not arguing for or against any genre of film or video game; I am simply addressing the rating systems. The movie industry was forced to undergo change just as the video game industry is destined to do in the near future. Originally, prior to 1968, there were four movie ratings2:

G – General audiences: All ages (including children).
M – Mature audiences: adults and mature young people (parental discretion)
R – Restricted to ages 16 and over (unless accompanied by an adult)
X – Restricted to ages 18 and over (no admittance for minors)

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) was only instituted in 1968, after four decades or more of self-regulation that mirrored today’s video game industry attempts at self regulation. The new rating system established in 1968 was in response to a new generation of films that pushed the limits on violence, sexuality, and profanity. After a few years, the confusing “M – Mature” rating was replaced with an even more confusing rating called GP (General audiences, Parental discretion advised). However, even this antiquated movie rating system is better than what the video game industry uses today.

Over several years, this evolved into what we recognize today as “PG – Parental Guidance Suggested”, which is supposedly suitable for ages 8 and over. Some of the obvious problems with these early ratings include the films Planet of the Apes and 2001: A Space Odyssey, both of which were rated G, but which would have been rated PG had they been released a few years later.

A few more years passed, and 1984 saw the introduction of the PG-13 rating, which resulted from complaints about Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which contained a lot of violence. Likewise, the ineffectiveness of the X rating (which was never intended to describe just pornographic films) was renamed to NC-17, while the adult entertainment industry retained the X rating for itself, though this is no longer a real rating. NC-17 came about as a result of George Romero’s film Dawn of the Dead, which contained horrific scenes of violence but no sexuality. Since most theater owners refused X-rated films at the time due to the connotations they invoked, the NC-17 rating was meant to describe films intended only for adult audiences, but not necessarily pornographic.

Obviously, the film industry has accepted the need to make significant changes to its rating system numerous times over the years, starting with the dramatic change in 1968 with the adoption of the MPAA rating system. The video game industry has not seen fit to take the matter as seriously as the film industry has, although that is likely to change in the near future as games become increasingly more realistic and influential.

While some parents may feel apathetic to exposing their children to violent content, it should be discouraged when possible. Video game publishers should discourage parents from buying adult-themed games (such as Postal 2) for children under the age of 18. Indeed, one clear flaw in the ESRB is declaring Mature for 17+, while Adult-Only is 18+. That makes no sense, and is directly responsible for most of the confusion on this matter. Mature games should not include any adult themes, but the lines are blurred. Any game that depicts violence against women, promotes drug use, encourages violence against police officers and other public servants (in particular, but also including violence against other humans or animals in general), uses vulgar profanity, or pornographic text (as in an adult book), should clearly be rated for Adult-Only. But as was the case with the old X film rating, it attained an ego of its own, so that no game publisher will release an “A-O” game due to the connotation that it contains pornography, even when the rating was not intended for that exclusive niche.

Unfortunately, the M(ature) rating has been grossly abused and for the most part, nearly every mildly-violent to very-violent game released now is rated M. That further degrades the usefulness of the ratings–in other words, there is no clear delineation between T(een) and M(ature) ratings, and most publishers lobby to keep their games below the A-O rating, even when they belong there.

For the most part, parents care greatly about what their children are consuming in the media, and are very concerned about video game content. However, there has never been a thorough and effective guide written that clearly shows what the ratings mean and how a consumer can use those ratings effectively. Comparing video games to movies is a very useful method to compare how similar content should be graded on the ratings scale. While the video game industry has more ratings than the movie industry, it is actually a benefit, because the rating scale can be more informational to a consumer if understood. The ESRB ratings are insufficient because they are not effective. One obvious solution would be the adoption of the MPAA rating system. Unfortunately, those ratings are trademarks of the MPAA, and are therefore not usable unless game publishers join the MPAA. What the video game industry needs is the adoption of comparable ratings that parallel those in the movie industry to alleviate the confusion.

There is a lot of amazing talent in this industry, and there are many extraordinary games being made every year. What the game industry needs is not more Congressional legislation and oversight, but rather, more self-governing, more responsibility, and more sensitivity to the public. To a certain degree, the game industry deserves criticism, for lack of effort in these areas (in fact, for maintaining a hard refusal to acknowledge that the problem even exists).

 

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

I have been playing video games since around the age of six, when I first discovered Space Invaders. Discover is perhaps too decorous a word, for it was actually through older cousins that I was exposed to my first experience with a video game. How can I describe the feeling upon first gazing at the little space ship being bombarded by aliens? Exhilaration. Fascination. Curiosity. Surrounding these feelings, and marshalling them in a sort of stream, flowing through my young mind, was an impression, and a certainty. The impression was that nothing in this world could possibly be as cool as Space Invaders. The certainty, which is a word that is synonyous (in my mind) with absolute truth, was the fact that I would one day make a game like that on my own.

Of course I had no idea how a television worked, let along how a video game worked. But that didn’t matter. I knew that this was something I would be involved in. It didn’t matter what my parents expected from me in my life, it didn’t matter how much work would be involved, or what sacrifices would have to be made…none of that occurred to me. And at such an impressionable age, of course such things were not even within my awareness. All I knew was that first, I would play this amazing thing called Space Invaders. Second, I would beat it. Third, I would find other games like it. The moniker €œvideo game€ was not widely used in the late 1970s. It would only be years later that large-scale arcades would start showing up, first in the big cities, then in smaller towns (often first through pizza restaurants and the like).

As a youngster, basically just graduated from toddlerhood, I didn’t get many opportunities to play Space Invaders. When my family did go out to eat, and the Space Invaders cabinet happened to be at the restaurant where we were dining, it would glare at me from the corner of the dining room (usually in the back, somewhere by the ubiquitous pay phone), and was usually usurped by newer games, such as Star Castle. It would not just glare, it would tease me, tempt me, harass me, with its engendering sound effects. The bright light shining from the screen (a 19€ television) would beckon me, as if a portal promising treasure, toys, and limitless fun. Space Invaders had me. I was a prisoner of my own desire, the product of a free country of opportunity, expecting to get whatever I wanted at any time. Naturally, the real world works differently, as did my parents. I was rarely allowed to play Space Invaders. At least, not at the bright young age of six, barely out of diapers. Surely my mom and dad were familiar with parlor games, such as pinball machines, and perhaps had even played Pong at one time or another. But the €œvideo game€ was something more likely found in a bar€”which was frowned upon. I’m sure my parents directed me away from Space Invaders that first year, focusing my attention on more €œproductive€ things, such as cars, trucks, tree forts, swing sets, sand boxes, and often, just plain dirt.

 

ON BEING A KID

Do you remember when dirt was fun? A few blades of grass, a few twigs, a few leaves, and some dirt, and one has all the tools needed for a battlefield. My, what fun a child has with a big rock, a group of natural soldiers made of plant parts, and a smoothed-over pile of dirt. It makes quite a splash, and leaves quite a crater. Kids do have such amazing imaginations, and it is a shame that we inevitably lose them with age. Some are unwilling to give up this gift, and do retain it to the joy and benefit of others, creating works of art (while the rest of us are relegated to what a child would consider the punishment of hard labor). We simply must give up part of the imagination in order to get work done each day, and in a way it is a welcome thing, for daydreaming might be thought of as painful in an abstract sort of way. When I finally got a chance to play Space Invaders regularly, it was with one of the smaller table-sized cabinets. I still had a hard time reaching the buttons and joystick on a full-size standup cabinet, so the smaller video game machine was much more accessible.

To a middle-class child in the 1970s, a 25 cent coin is a significant amount of money, very difficult to come by. If mom or dad happened to have some change, I was granted one as charity on occasion, but more often than not, it required doing chores and earning an allowance. I was able to log some actual hours of playing Space Invaders, over a period of weeks, as a 7-year old! Amazing, what I dared to imagine the previous year was bountiful. I realized, or rather, saw a glimmer, of what it means to learn patience. That a desire (or perhaps need) may sometimes be satisfied in due time, if it is not outside the field of reason. Another important lesson is learning about timing.

 

KIDDIE GAMES OR GAME-PLAYING KIDS?

I was nothing short of dumbfounded when my favorite Pizza Hut added another game next to Space Invaders. Aghast, awestruck, blanched…there are so many words that perfectly describe the sensation. Another Space Invaders? Not exactly, it was another video game. Something completely new called Donkey Kong. Now, there were other video games built after Space Invaders, but in the small town where we lived, video games were not prevalent at first. The video game industry was growing rapidly, as one company after another got into the fray, building more and more game cabinets: Taito, Nintendo, Atari, Namco, to name but a few.

The problem with “quarter-sucking” games is that it was often very difficult to get to the point where one realizes what the game is all about. I played these early games to the point of realizing its basic nature, and was then able to move on. But the addiction, the drive to get far enough into the game to determine if it is indeed a quarter-sucker or if there’s a legitimate plot to the game, a storyline, was an intensity that is almost certifiable (as in, mentally). After playing video games for a number of years, I began to see a pattern in my own behavior…yes, even as a youngster, an early teenager! That tendency was to see something through absolutely to completion, no matter what, at any cost. The result, in most cases, was consistenly blown allowances one week after the next.

The addiction€”or perhaps I should describe it as a drive, a desire€”became a compulsive disorder in me, personally, and I know that many kids my age suffered from the same drive.Where is this leading, you may ask? Video games are a form of interactive entertainment, far more engrossing than any passive movie. A video game affects different parts of the human mind than a passive movie does, which lacks even the benefit of the viewer’s imagination since the story plays out according to the director’s vision for the film, not the viewer’s imagination. From a certain point of view, a book is more interactive than a movie. A video game, on the other hand, is completely interactive, fully engaging the player’s ancient and instinctive desires and emotions to survive, to win, to conquer, or even simply to solve a puzzle. This sort of interaction is an order of magnitude more significant than a passive film.

Why, then, is the video game rating system, implemented by the ESRB, less effective than the movie industry’s MPAA ratings?

 

EXPOSURE TO VIOLENCE = FEELINGS OF VIOLENCE

Years later as I ponder the emotions (feelings of aggravation more often than feelings of victory), they remind me of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The key being more of a need to conquer something, perhaps, more than a need to count every pixel on the screen (which is more like the tendencies of an obsessive/compulsive person). It affected other parts of my life, how I responded to situations, reacted to events. A threat was never taken seriously, because I saw everything in the abstract, not sure if it is a real threat or a proposed threat meant to draw me in. In other words, the strategies and skills that I developed while playing video games were not just useful in real life, but had an serious effect on my thought processes.

You may disagree with my assumptions, and that completely expected. We all have differing opions that developed out of widely different backgrounds, molded by our parents, those who have influenced us, by possible abuses or even an abundance of affection, and by religion (or lack thereof) in many cases. Perhaps you also grew up playing video games. Perhaps you were exceptionally good at it, and were able to beat many games that I (on the other hand) floundered at. Perhaps you remember the dawn of the video game industry, but were not involved or not interested, and only now you are concerned about your own impressionable children.

As a proponent and an antagonist, I have a somewhat difficult job of remaining objective on both fronts while keeping these opposing polar views relevant to each other. As a life-long gamer, I can relate to just about any and every significant event in the history of this industry. For a good many years, I may have changed my opinion of one or more genres, or of the industry as a whole. But now I am a husband and father, and that has completely turned the subject upside down for me on a very personal level. Our individual perceptions of what constitutes €œacceptable€ and €œunacceptable€ vary as widely as our political and religious opinions, and these differences are absolutely huge. Imagine a society of homogenous citizens? A game was written about that subject: it was called Lemmings.

My own early experiences with video games parallel those of many others (perhaps yourself?). Although the overtone of the previous paragraph was somewhat negative, there are many, many positive benefits to a lifetime pastime of playing video games. The obvious benefit of becoming a computer programmer (which has given me a fascinating viewpoint on the subject of video games as someone who can see €œbehind the screen€ so to speak) as a result of my love for video games. This translated to computer games, and then on to writing software in general, providing me with a good career. But aside from that, there have been many benefits that I can share with you in retrospect, benefits that I am enjoying even today.

 

LONG-TERM EFFECTS OF GAMING

If you ask just about anyone who loves video games what positive attributes and skills they are proud of, almost universally you will hear €œI am good at solving problems.€ This is without a doubt one of the greatest benefits to long-term gaming, along with hand-eye coordination, mental fitness, and so on. Creative problem solving is something that I have enjoyed in life. I believe that there are many ways to accomplish a goal, to solve a problem, to get work done. I relate to Samuel Clemens’ aggrandized and ethereal charcter, Tom Sawyer, who was given the task of painting a fence, and managed to not only do none of the work, but even turn a profit out of the work of others. Kids love to paint, right? Well, only if it’s fun. If you give them a job to do, it probably isn’t going to be much fun. Point of view is key!

Samuel Clemens had the mind of a gamer, and might have been a programmer or game designer, had he been born a century later.The ability to solve real-world problems in a creative way is a skill not easily developed. How does one practice creativity and problem-solving? A challenging career or hobby (such as video games) is one way to foster creative problem solving, although that depends on the hobby. But does everyone benefit from an increase in problem solving skill as a result of playing video games? I think it has a lot to do with the types of video games that one plays. Today, the emphasis is on first-person shooter (FPS) games. Although one can practice creative thinking in order to ambush an opponent or defeat a team of adversaries in an FPS game, this type of gameplay is hardly conducive to fostering creativity since the average shooter is just about, well, shooting things. It really doesn’t take a very agile mind to point a gun and pull the trigger. So this argument is entirely dependent on the types of games played.

Chess, for instance, is a highly cognitive game that will foster the development of pathways in the brain conducive to creative problem solving. The thought processes required to think several steps ahead in order to formulate moves and counter-moves is not pre-wired in the human mind. A person who is able to do this instinctively is called a prodigy, because his or her brain developed the neural connections without training and practice. These sorts of skills are not developed by an FPS game unless complex teamwork is involved. For most FPS players, it’s simply a matter of running around in circles faster than everyone else. 

 

DISSECTING THE SENSES

What is a sound? We have theories that have been proven to a level of degree that we accept as fact that sound is a wave that vibrates through the air or other medium, and without a medium of transport, sound cannot persist. How do we make use of this? We duplicate, simulate, sounds using one or more speakers that convert an electronic version of a sound into a €œreal€ sound. Sounds can be captured and stored, and then repeated over and over again. There is a certain immortality to what was once quite mortal, if you will allow me to anthropomorphize a sound wave to a small degree. Evolutionary improvements to sound creation and duplication technology have allowed us to increase the perception of sound using two or more speakers positioned strategically around the listener, resulting in unbelievably realistic environmental audio that rivals the real world. What is sight?

Reach your hand out to an object nearby and lightly brush a finger on that object. The mental processing power required to do that simple action is extraordinary, and yet it is absolutely taken for granted by billions of people every day. Consider the amount of processing that would be required to teach a robot to lightly touch something (and yes, there are very sophisticated robots that can do just that, but the research has taken many decades, and we are only now just beginning to see some practical applications for robotics). The processing involves looking at the object to estimate the distance required to reach out to it. As your hand grows closer to the object, your mind increases the precision of your arm’s motion (which is somewhat how game engines work, by increasing the detail of an object as it becomes closer to the player or €œcamera€).

We humans are experts at judging distances thanks to our stereoscopic vision (two eyes set apart and facing forward provides the mind with a 3D view of the world). Imagine having just one eye, and being able to move quickly without stereoscopic vision? In case you weren’t paying attention while watching Jurassic Park, all of the predators have forward-facing eyes, which is necessary for hunting other animals. Herbivores, for the most part, do not need a 3D view of the world, and are mostly slower-moving, relying on herding instincts for survival. Herbivores seem to (more often than not) have widely-set eyes, often on the sides of the head, providing a 360-degree view, which is helpful for watching out for predators. Now, I’m not a biologist, and am generalizing here to make a point. What is the point? To determine how our perception of the world determines how we visualize a scene in a video game. As for touch, taste, and smell, these are more difficult senses to record and duplicate, and have for the most part been impractical to recreate.

There is a certain level of diminishing returns involved in duplicating the senses, which is largely (I would speculate) the reason why touch, taste, and smell have been ignored while sight and sound have been given the lion’s share of attention. After all, sight and sound account for the vast majority of our communication, socially, interpersonally, and so on. What sense does it make (no pun intended) to provide taste in a simulated environment? Taste is, after all, not essential to personal survival€”which ultimately determined which senses did receive most of the neural connections in our brains. It is true that infants discover the world almost entirely by feeling and tasting things with their mouths, so this is a skill that we learn very early on.Understanding the senses leads to our next topic… 

 

DESENSITIZATION AND PLAY-ACTING

By definition, desensitization refers to reducing one’s senses. One of the inherent problems that arise out of a desire to apply ratings to a medium such as video games is the level of desensitization in the reviewer. Desensitization is a process whereby one moves from one position or belief to the polar opposite (or on the way to it) through a gradual erosion of inhibitions to the subject. Have you ever gone to an animal shelter to adopt a pet dog or cat? Do you remember how your nose was inundated with unpleasant odor, but you seemed to get used to it after a few minutes? This is desensitization at work. When our senses have been immersed for a while, they no longer report the change. If you stand still in a swimming pool for a few minutes, your skin may not even report the feeling of cold water, unless you move again. Desensitization occurs in our perceptions as well, in how we respond to situations. A common desensitization occurs with most moviegoers on the issue of metaphorical language (or just profanity). I have experienced this condition myself, and it is extraordinarily difficult to sensitize oneself to something one has been previously desensitized to.

This is just a property of the human mind, which excels at pattern recognition, and causes us to be particularly prone to desensitization€”sometimes with very negative results. Desensitization applies to foul language, violence, and sexuality as well. Indeed one remarkable concern that I consider absolutely justified is the rightful effort of many lobbying groups to prevent young (and therefore, impressionable) children from being desensitized to profanity, violence, and sexuality: things which are highly subject to subjective interpretation. A young mind should be able to mature and develop opinions, beliefs, and a sense of morality (in either direction) without being barraged by influential things at an early age. Objectivity is only truly possible when your mind has not been influenced strongly in one direction or another.

For instance, imagine the difference in attitude and perception between Hugh Hefner’s children and the children of a Baptist minister. Surely you can’t call either truly objective because they have been shaped and molded by their environments. Extremes that would otherwise be avoided are easily accepted when one has been desensitized to them. It is difficult enough for a mature adult to deal with some of the more extremes of popular culture and society in general, so how much more difficult is it for a youngster to categorize adult themes without the benefit of experience? If you scoff at that statement, then you are already fully desensitized€”consider that! One simply cannot take an opposing view of this situation without being subjective, it is simply not possible without reconsideration (and I am speaking from personal experience).

An influential book by Gerard Jones, Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence, points out that children will indeed play-act things that they see; however, play acting is not the same as real life. What children are doing by pretending, play-acting, imagining, is testing the limits of their concept of reality. Just as crying is a natural way to expunge bad feelings, play-acting a scene helps a child to categorize it on several levels: whether it is right or wrong, what consequences may result, how it affects one’s life. A child might be chastised for spilling his or her cup at the dinner table, so that child may explore a fantasy of spilling things at an imaginary table as a means of release and a way to judge various outcomes without the negative result of trying such things for €œreal€.

This play-acting may very well determine what kind of adult a child will become, and the levels of play that are tolerated in a child’s upbringing lead to that child’s tendency to push the limits later, for lack of satisfying limit testing during formative years. What, then, is a video game other than a medium for exploring limits and strengthening one’s grasp of reality? Children lead frustrated lives for many years while they determine all of the various limits imposed upon them in a particular environment. Frequent crying and outbursts of frustration are normal and should be encouraged in a child that is learning to deal with such emotions. To repress and withhold these emotions does not cause them to go away, but simply belays the inevitable for rebellious behavior during later years.

To deny a child the freedom to explore limits on his or her own is a recipe for bad behaviour later on, but that does not imply that a child should be left to his or her own ideas for testing those limits. A well-balanced adult should guide that child to help develop the skills needed to judge situations and decisions in the right way. Leaving a child alone to come up with his own worldview may be dangerous, because popular culture, media, and society is meant to supplement our lives, not direct them. We should not be getting our education entirely from movies, television, video games, but from mentors, good books, teachers, and influential elders (which may even be an older teenage sibling).(continued in Part 2)

 

Leave a Reply