Video Games: How Young Is Too Young
A few months back I saw an argument on Reddit (at least I think it was on Reddit) about whether small children should be allowed to play video games or not. The argument started when a site user posted a question asking other users what kind of games they would recommend for their 5 year old. Many users went on to suggest things such as Lego Star Wars and Little Big Planet, while other users began to berate the parent for allowing his small child to even think about playing video games.
I think what's odd about this whole scenario is that, for the longest, playing video games was considered to be a children's hobby. Even to this day I know many people who still cling to such ideologies. However with the rise of "Rated M for Mature" games, and the constant attack of ignorant politicians who'd like to blame all of society's evil on video games - regardless of their ESRB rating, we've begun to find ourselves entangled in a great debate over whether children should even be allowed to play games or not.
I myself was first introduced to gaming at the tender age of 3; Doom on the Sega Genesis 32X was the game. Nowadays if someone were to catch a 3 year old playing a game such as Doom they'd flip their wig. But back then, no one really seemed to give it a second thought. Now of course I played other games on my dad's Sega Genesis as well. There was my mom's copy of Ms. Pac-Man and my dad's X-Men and X-Men 2: Clone Wars games. And of course I can't forget Streets of Rage and Eternal Champions. I played these games on a regular and I think it's safe to say I turned out fine. However now that my son has taken a serious interest in video games (he's 7) and my husband and I have to welcome another child into the family (our 1 year old), I've been thinking a lot about what is and isn't age appropriate.
When I look back on a lot of the things I grew up on, most of it in today's day and age would be considered terribly inappropriate. I mean I grew up on those old animated Disney movies and not once did my parents or grandparents ever blink an eye when one of the many Disney villians was brutally murdered at the end. I used to ride all around town in my dad's red pick-up truck with no car/booster seat (sometimes no seat belt) while listening to 2pac music on the radio. In the summer I got to play outside until 9 o'clock (when I was just 5) as long as I stayed in the field in front of our home. My friends and I played Mortal Kombat together when were only 7 and his pastor father never had any objections. I regularly watched The X-Files and Tales from the Crypt with my dad. And my mother and I couldn't get enough of Xena (hence the profile pic) which was indeed pretty violent and had many lesbian undertones. And even though modern society says that these things are wrong, and admittedly even I wouldn't allow my children to do some of these things now, for arguments sake, I was a well-adjusted child.
While I do believe that some games just shouldn't be played by younger children, and while I do think that my dad was absolutely bonkers for letting me watch Tales from the Crypt (I had nightmares for years), I also think that modern society shelters children way too much. The reality of it all is that we do live in a war torn world where people die peacefully and violently every day. We do live in a society where not everyone is attracted to the opposite sex and regardless of where you stand on the issue, we should accept it and move on with our lives. We do live in a world where the unexplained happens and where government conspiracy has at different points in history been proven to be real; maybe not on the scale of The X-Files and Tales from the Crypt, but you get the point.
No, you won't be catching me letting my son play Doom or any of the Grand Theft Auto games any time soon. And for a few more years his primary gaming console will continue to be one created by Nintendo (sorry Sony and Microsoft). But as he and his little brother grow, I won't shelter them. I won't expose them to anything they're not ready for. But I also won't shy away from the hard hitting issues just because they're kids. The same goes for video games. Right now my 7 year old is not ready for anything outside of Nintendo games and a few racing and skateboarding games we have on other consoles. But when I feel he's mature enough I'll begin to introduce him to some of the games my husband and I love. Games like Kingdom Hearts (probably the first on the intro list), Skyrim, Heavy Rain, Gears of War, and Grand Theft Auto.
I think it's a huge stretch to say that kids shouldn't be allowed to play any kind of video games simply because they're kids. I think that the better answer would be to say that the parents should decide based upon that individual child's maturity level. I think that by placing the responsibility back on the parents instead of handing it over to the gaming community, society might begin to see a shift in consciousness. Perhaps we'll see parents actually taking the time out to research a game before buying it for their kids. Perhaps politicians will stop blaming every single atrocity that happens in this country on our beloved hobby. And perhaps we'll see more of the youth take an interest in actual mature games - because maturity isn't determined by how much blood, gore, profanity, and sexual innuendos you can pack into one game.
So anyway, thanks for reading! And as usual, I'll leave you all with a few questions. How young would you consider too young to play video games, and how young were you when you first started playing? How do you/would you approach introducing your children to video games, rated E or otherwise? And do you think society is sheltering our children and as a result is it placing a negative stigma on our hobby? Anyway, feel free to leave feedback in the comments section and happy gaming!
Previously posted at my blog at gameinformer.com.