Hate Box: Ignoring Age Ratings Can Be Child Abuse

Matt Reynolds returns with another controversial opinion piece; this time focussing on irresponsible parenting when it comes to children and gaming. Agree? Disagree? Let us know.

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I still remember when I first played Mortal Kombat. I was 12 years old, and received the game on floppy disc when my Dad bought my brother and I an Amiga 500 from the local newspaper. I loved the game for its looks and competitive aspect, but I also loved the fabled gore. Fatalities were something hallowed – whispered about in the playground and striven for with gusto; our inexperienced digits lacking the requisite dexterity to pull them off. When I finally executed (pun fully intended) Sub Zero’s spine rip fatality I was triumphant, and it remains a highlight of my gaming life.

Nearly twenty years on and I’m a man in his thirties; a father of two girls and still an avid gamer with another two decades’ experience under my belt. I’ve seen gaming trends come and go; lived through the era of the ‘video nasty’ and seen the rise of Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. I’ve watched proudly as my passionate hobby has matured, expanded and grown far beyond the boundaries once placed upon it both by technical necessity and social acceptability. My problem is; I’ve also become increasingly worried about the next generation of gamers and the possible effect that lax, irresponsible parenting is having upon them.

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Working in games retail quickly makes you realise just how widespread the breadth and depth of ignorance still is when it comes to the age ratings on games and what is acceptable for children to play. Even today, the majority of parents view games separately from films. Mothers who wouldn’t dream of sitting their six year olds in front of Hostel or Saw have no problem buying little Johnny GTA V or The Darkness. The attitude is still prevalent that it is ‘just a game’.

Maybe I’m just getting old. I like to think that I’m a pretty right on liberal guy – I am welcoming of all races, genders, and sexual orientations; I’m have an extremely broad sense of humour and very little offends me. But it is my honest opinion that by exposing very young children to the sexual violence, explicit swearing and just general nastiness of our most adult games we are depriving them of a childhood – something every child needs and deserves. I would go so far as to say that I believe exposing young children to these experiences is child abuse.

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Back in the nineties Mortal Kombat was about as horrific as you could get. It featured digital representations of real actors getting brutally dismembered. At the age of twelve I knew it wasn’t real; it was just a thrill – I was emotionally mature enough to recognise it was entertainment and nothing more. Many of you reading this will have had similar experiences in your youth I’m sure. Nowadays of course; that original Mortal Kombat looks ridiculous compared to what is currently available – as does the original GTA. A far cry from the exuberant visuals of GTA V; the original GTA was a top down, pixellated affair. The violent intent was much the same – you could steal cars; run over pedestrians and got bonus points for hitting Hare Krishnas. I don’t believe, however, that you can genuinely compare the two experiences.

GTA V features fully realised; voice acted characters that take drugs; murder people; have anal sex and throw around words like fuck, cunt and nigger with reckless abandon. It is NOT acceptable to buy this game for your eight year old child. Children of that age should be collecting Pokemon cards and going out to play football with their mates; not immersing themselves in this very adult world which is ugly; violent and misogynistic. It is one thing to play Mortal Kombat as a twelve year old and quite another to let your three year old play Black Ops 2. At the age of twelve I had discovered girls and the joys of ‘self-pleasure’; I also had the foundations of my internal moral compass in place – I knew right from wrong; fiction from reality and had begun to come of age at a correct, steady pace. The customer who came into my shop and explained that his three year old ‘walked around pretending to headshot people’ after becoming obsessed with Call of Duty was oblivious to the potential damage being done to his beloved child.

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It’s very difficult to quantify this argument – everyone is different and what one child might emotionally be ready for, another will not. We have community members and regular contributors who are actually minors, and shouldn’t really be playing 18 rated games in the eyes of the law. They also happen to be extremely articulate; intelligent and well-rounded individuals. Research has found that playing videogames does not have a negative impact on behaviour in young people. But the next generation of gamers are growing up in an age where violence, pornography and all manner of disgusting things are just a mouse click away; and games are near photorealistic and extremely adult.

You wouldn’t indulge in anal sex with your partner in front of your five year old child, would you? You wouldn’t take them to a strip club at 1am, or give them liquor, weed and a beretta? At least I’d hope you wouldn’t. And no; this isn’t reality its recreation. But it’s not what a young child should be experiencing in any way shape or form. There is so much ugliness in the world; so much hate, prejudice, antagonism and hurt – shouldn’t we be allowing our children to enjoy their innocence while they still can? We are children for so little of our lives. There is plenty of time to put away childish things.

If the parents of this new generation don’t wise up to the kinds of things they are allowing their very, very young children to indulge in, then I worry for the future.

– Matt Reynolds @TheLostMoment

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