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?