Whenever there is an upsurge in moral panic around violence in the media, the focus becomes more polarizing than pragmatic. Despite the overwhelming research (such as these articles) that shows weak if any links between video games and violence, media pundits whip up mental health providers and the parents they work with into a frenzy. Feelings such as a passionate urge to protect children and adolescents are often to intense to be suspended to look at data. In the midst of all this, moderate and practical ways to address the graphic content of some video games are overlooked in favor of heated philosophical debates. So for those of you who are parents and/or work with them, here are a few tips and links on how to handle violence in video games:
1. Set console parental controls. You can set your game consoles to only play games of a certain rating. If you haven’t done so and are complaining about violence in video games, take some action here. Here are the how-tos:
Playstation Parental Controls (Video from CNET
These are password-protected, and will allow you to set the ratings limits, which brings us to:
2. Know your ratings. Although I have mixed feelings about the Entertainment Software Rating Board, it’s what we’ve got. But the ESRB is only as useful if you familiarize yourself with it. This means not only looking at what each rating means, but using the other resources they have, including mobile tools, setting controls, family discussion guides and other tips for safety. The message here is that there is more to understanding and moderating access to your child’s gameplay than a rating system, including discussion of in-game content.
3. Make use of graphical content filters. Many parents, educators and therapists don’t know that a growing number of games have options that can be set to filter out violent graphics, profanity, and alter the experience of game content to a more family-friendly level. If your child wants a video game, have searching online to see if the game has a GCF be part of the process. Not only will you be teaching them about consumer choice, but digital literacy as well. Here are some popular games that have GCFs:
4. MOST IMPORTANT TIP: Parenting has no “settings.” Parents and educators often want some expert to rely on–don’t try to “park it” that way. Most games can be rented before you buy them from services like GameFly so you can test drive them. That’s right, I’m suggesting you play the games yourself so you can make a personally informed decision. At the very least you should be watching your child play them some of the time, not to be nosy, but because part of your role as a parent is to take an interest in their world. If you can spend 2 hours going to their Little League game, you can spend an hour watching (if not playing) Borderlands 2.
If you’re an educator or therapist, you’re not off the hook either. If you are going to offer opinions on video games and their content, make sure you are playing them. Chances are you don’t say things like “reading Dickens is dangerous for young minds” if you have never read any of his work. If you did, you’d probably be out at a book burning rather than reading this blog. By the same token, don’t presume to opine about video games if you have done nothing to educate yourselves about them. And please note that asking children about them is a place to start, but by no means sufficient for educating yourself. If you are a play therapist, please start including 21st century play materials like video games in your repertoire. And be sure to provide parents with the resources they need to help them make sense of this stuff, such as the resources this post gives you.
Look anyone can have an opinion on video games and violence, but we need practical processes to help people be informed consumers. This is one parenting issue that has practical, doable options, and is rated “O” for “Ongoing…”
Mike Langlois, LICSW
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