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H-Bombs: Parental controls, controlling parents and R18+

Posted by Matthew Hewson On Wednesday 31 July 20138 COMMENTS

Whenever Matt Hewson feels like going on a killing spree, he comes here instead. In other words, we have the H-Bombs column to thank for our very lives.

When I was a much younger chap I used to have quite a bit to do with Junior Rugby League. I worked at coaching clinics and was a junior referee for quite some time. While I was helping these keen kids and steering them around the park I made a discovery about junior sport. This discovery was that junior sport would be perfect if it wasn’t for the parents holding it back. Why am I bringing this up I hear you ask? Well it seems that the above piece of advice translates to gaming quite well. Gaming would be almost perfect if it wasn’t for the parents holding it back.

Throughout the whole R18+ debate we all kept hearing from groups such as the ACL that if violent, risqué, criminal content appears in videogames then regardless of classification, children will get access to it. In my naivety I thought surely no parent will let their child play an R18+ game. Surely that big black sticker would be enough to warn even the most inattentive child carer that this piece of software was not for their child. Well I must sadly say that I was wrong on all counts. It was during my Thursday ritual of heading to the shopping centre to have a coffee/hot choccie with my son that I witnessed something that made me question objectionable game content in a way I never have before. It got me asking myself if we should really be “thinking of the children” and not ourselves in regards to what happens in video games.

The incident occurred as I was checking out the shelves at my local video game store. During my casual flick through the bargain bin, a man walked in with his son. Now this boy, I am guessing to be about 10 years of age, walks straight to the sale table picks up a copy of God of War: Ascension and clearly says to his dad “This is the one Dad, it is the one I want.” I must admit my ears pricked up so I could hear the father tell his son “no” after spying the R18+ sticker on the game box. Boy was I disappointed. “Righto” was the only response given as he walked to the counter with the game in hand. When he reached the counter to pay for the game the store manager informed the gentleman that this game was rated R18+ and was not intended for children. The man responded with “It is for me, not the kid.” He then, despite the store manager’s protests paid for the item and as he was walking out the door handed the bag with the game in it to his son.

I stood there stunned. I simply couldn’t believe that what had just witnessed and not only did the father buy the game for his child but he lied to the store manager to do it. Looking back on it now, I regret not saying something myself. Why didn’t I give him a piece of my mind as to his lack of parental skills? Why didn’t I call him out about his choice of entertainment for his impressionable son? I can’t answer that, but as time goes on I really wish I did. My perceptions of the R18+ rating and its use as a protection for children had just been shattered by a terrible (and I am not afraid to say it) parent.

It then got me thinking that how would I know if my own children were being exposed to R18+ material? I know they don’t in my house, but what happens if they are visiting friends who have a parent as negligent as the man I saw? I don’t vet the families of my boy’s friends before he goes for a play date so how would I know if this is a normal occurrence in their house? What happens when he comes home and tells me about how he had a great time playing Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto with his friends? These questions haunt me and I really have no answer to them.

What I have decided to do is talk to my eldest about these games. He now knows what an MA15+ and an R18+ sticker looks like and he knows that he is not supposed to be playing them and even though I trust him I have made sure all my consoles have the parental controls activated. I have also talked to him about what happens if he plays them at a friend’s house and how he needs to talk to me about what happened in the game when he gets home. Finally I have reinforced with him that no matter what he may see, it is only a game and not real. This course of action seems to be the only one open to me but I am not always convinced it is enough. Perhaps schools could run educational sessions for parents or newspapers could run articles explaining the differences between the ratings in a fair and unbiased manner, but no matter what society does it will always come down to the parents, their ability to educate themselves on the topic and their willingness to say no to their kids.

I really am at a loss. I love playing violent video games, gaming in general is a massive part of my life and I think adults should have the right to choose what media they consume. This is all at odds with the predicament I find myself in. I can ensure that my kids are not exposed in my house, but once they are in someone else’s care my influence is limited. Do we as a society really need to “think of the children” over our own wants and desires or maybe we encourage parents “think of their OWN children” and hope it is enough? I am at a loss, what do you think?

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8 Comments

  1. Ben N says:

    Well, we wanted video games on par with movies and TV in terms of ratings, and we are now on par with irresponsible parental choices. The freedom for parents to be bad parents.

    FREEDOM!!!

  2. Stephen Foote says:

    As sad as it is Matt, as a teacher it can be difficult enough to get some students parents to come in and talk about their child’s progress and/or future career, let alone what media they should be consuming at appropriate ages. Unfortunately, while there are fines for stores and salespeople that sell this material to minors, there aren’t any fines going out for crappy parenting.

  3. Hewso says:

    I am wondering if the next step is that R18+ games be treated like smokes and booze in that the store person is allowed not sell the item if they suspect it is being provided to a minor. I would welcome that sort of move and I am pretty sure that Retail wouldn’t be too upset with it either.

  4. Kratos says:

    I would’ve loved God of War when I was 10 but instead I had Wizard of Wor. Video games still look like video games (excluding those horrible FMV games) and are clearly not real. Movies and TV shows often look real though, for all I know those could be real dead bodies in CSI, logic says they are fake but visually I can’t tell the difference. A video game can make me wince but not nearly as much as TV/movies. I don’t think it is always bad parenting to give a 10 year old a game rated 15+ or 18+, it depends on the game and the child.

    R18+ games are still far from being on par with R18+ movies. Games still can’t have drug use related to incentive or rewards (it’s considered fine in movies, so it should be fine in games). Sexual violence is tolerated more in movies than games but some movies have been banned for that.

  5. Erin Marcon says:

    It’s a difficult issue with plenty of shades of grey. The only thing we can be certain of is that Wizard of Wor is indeed a much better game than God of War.

  6. Sigh says:

    I’m tired of the debate being focused on video games. There is adult material everywhere. This debate is always about video games because they are perceived as entertainment for children. Kids consume film and music as much as games, let alone what they can find on the internet. I’m a 27 year old male and I have dozens of friends who are gamers who are over 18. The average age of the gamer is nearing 40 years old now!

    Parents need to be responsible for their child. If a parent let their kid walk out onto a road and get hit by a car, the conclusion wouldn’t be ban cars. It’s a ridiculous band aid solution to a deeper social issue. I guarantee that kid you saw could access way more harmful stuff than God of War if his dad is a dropkick.

    This of course assumes that media really has a deep impact on kids anyway. Myself and most of my friends growing up were able to access a whole lot of stuff our parents wouldn’t want us having access to. Violent games, porn, violent horror films and we all turned out as functioning adults at the same level as everyone else.

    As an Australian, we’re still battling for adult content in games and I’m getting really sick of the censorship. I believe we should have the freedom to do whatever we want as long as it doesn’t impede on another persons freedoms.

  7. Hewso says:

    Now Sigh,

    If you read my article I am very clear in saying that I am all for adult content in video games. I am simply saying that I find myself troubled that in my role as a parent I can see things that are inappropriate finding their way into my 7 year old son’s hands.

    I never once said ban these games or even censor them, I merely presented my problem with a couple of possible solutions. I suggest you read it again because the last thing I want to do is create more censorship.

    What I do have a problem with is the attitude that they will see it all anyway so why bother. I am not talking about 12 or 13 year old kids here I am talking about 4,5 and 6 year old’s who have impressionable minds. If you were watching porn and violence r18+ material at this age I would be surprised.

  8. Jason Imms says:

    This sure is a difficult issue, but as parents, we have little choice but to invoke a common refrain that provides solace and discomfort in equal measure: “We can only do our best.”

    There are an incalculable number of decisions that parents are required to make in bringing up their children, any number of which could have an unforeseeable and profound effect on those children. Which school, or manner of schooling will you choose for them? Will you take a stance on gender-normative issues? Will you bring them up under your chosen religion? Will you enforce strict screen-time allowances? I could go on.

    As parents, when it comes to difficult parenting questions, we have very little choice but to research our options and make an informed decision. What comes next is somewhat up to the child. For example, due to my parents’ financial position at the time, I went to a fairly rough public school, but have emerged from that pit of despair with a clean criminal record, despite what jovial public opinion of that school would have us believe about its attendees.

    Would I be in a better position had I attended a high-end private school? I don’t know, and my parents can’t have known either. They did the best they could with what they had, and I am the result. When I look at my own children and think about their respective futures, all I can see is a chaos of opportunity. It is up to me to use my best judgement and resources to pick a path for them from amongst that chaos, and hope that I have instilled in them the values they need to safely navigate the minefield of decisions their parents can’t make on their behalf.

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