For me, edging close to thirty and he, being in his fifties, my dad and I get along quite a bit. Some would argue too well; as we both have a penchant for being a complete smart-asses. Nonetheless, he and I have always had a strong relationship. Thus, it’s not that surprising that he has an opinion on this whole, “violent games” thing. This might be because he bankrolled my early exploits, or he has a pretty good head on his shoulders with some good ideas. He recently emailed me his thoughts on the matter, and what follows are one dad’s perspective on the argument. I hope you enjoy….
Before you talk about the evils of video games and how they hurt our kids, maybe you should listen to my story.
My first and only video game “console” was an Atari 2600™. Every “console” that came after that was not mine, it was my son’s. His first “console” for his third birthday was an NES. I wanted the best for him and he had mastered my Atari 2600™ games and it was time to move forward. The NES™ was followed by the Super Nintendo™, Game Boy™ and the Nintendo 64™. However, I couldn’t be satisfied…I mean HE couldn’t be satisfied with just one console. So, it was 1995 and my son wanted a PlayStation™. It was important. It was great father-son bonding time to sit on the couch and play video games; I mean sometimes he would even let me win; it was quality time.
My son quickly learned that the more buttons on the controller, the lower the odds of dad winning the game; which is why I felt we should only play racing games. Steer, gas and brake; I could handle that. I was an adult, I had a driver’s license and had been driving for years. Yet, even on the driving games, he beat me like a drum; except when he would stop on the track and let me pass just before I wrecked crossing the finish line. First person shooters were completely beyond me: what do I push to walk, run, jump, look left, look up or even how do I aim the gun? But for my son, these things were all second nature. Fighting games were again beyond what I could do; with their need to press X,X, O, ∆ to do the super move and take down the opponent. In those moments how I longed for my 2600 joystick with just one button.
I will admit we did share more quality time “father-son bonding” as we would play through all the characters in Soul Caliber, Tekken, Street Fighter, or what have you. I would start in the upper left hand corner of the character screen and he would start in the lower right and we would fight until we had gone through all the characters. I was a button masher and he was a tactician, and sometimes I got lucky and hit the buttons fast enough in the right sequence and would pull of the super move. We bonded, we laughed, it was good.
He continued to play more and we moved on to the PlayStation 2™ and eventually to an X-box™. In Halo™ I was the “Old Man” and I learned about spawn killing the hard way. I don’t know, was I a bad dad? Should I have allowed my son to spend so much time on video games? Should I have allowed his friends over to play well into the night and supplied them with pizza and Cokes? I knew his friends (they never let the “Old Man” win), they knew me, I know they didn’t get into drugs and I know they are all doing well as well-adjusted young adults; many with kids of their own now. In the end, maybe I didn’t do too bad and maybe it is HOW you play the game, and how you see it. It’s bonding time…
Whenever I’m able to visit my folks, I always try to make sure that my dad and I find time to do a race together. Recently, it was Split/Second, as our inner middle-schoolers were delighted to be bringing down buildings as we circled along the track. For the longest time it was Hot Pursuit 2, where we’d claim that the Opal Speedster was the greatest car in video game history. I don’t get to see the family all that often, which is why those small moments of stupid fun seem to reverberate through my own personal memory. The more I consider it all, the more I believe that in some small way, my father stumbled onto part of the answer to this “violent media” issue.
He simply took enough time to care what I was doing…
There have been so many times where I have seen parents take no interest in what their own children care about; take no interest in the content or substance of what their kid is putting into their head. It makes no difference if it is Mario or Grand Theft Auto as long as it is occupying them just a little bit longer. There is no problem with kid playing a violent or “adult” game; the problem is when the parent doesn’t care and has no clue what their child is playing. For my friends and myself, there was never once that our parents didn’t know what “nonsense” we were putting into our heads. They could talk Halo strategy, Final Fantasy spells, and Risk tactics along with all of us; all because they took a vested interest in what their kids found fun. We all played violent games, we all shot fireworks at each other, and we all turned out relatively well adjusted.
Obviously, not everybody has a solid family life; and there will never be one definitive answer to this sort of issue. Yet, every little bit of what we can offer in the way of solutions can only help. We live in a world that is coming together more and more because of technology, yet it is that same technology that insulates us from each other on occasion. So, if you’re a parent reading this, talk to your kids tonight. Find out WHY they play what they play; what’s in it, and what makes that so damn fun for them. You’ll probably learn something, and if you’re lucky, find something that you can share with them.