Why did the kids put beans in their ears?
No one can hear with beans in their ears.
After a while the reason appears.
They did it cause we said no.
(from The Fantasticks)
Like most folks over the age of 50, I have a problem with violent computer games, such as “Grand Theft Auto.” I’ve never played any of them, but, like many young folks, my 13 year old grandson does.
On one occasion, I look over his shoulder as his avatar – a strong, white, adult male, – climbs into his Super Sport Bugatti and sets off on a heist. The bank robbery hits a snag and he and his partner have to shoot their way out, killing the security guard. He makes it back to his virtual apartment with the designated “payout” stashed in his virtual account. He will use those earnings to buy more cars. Or maybe a helicopter or a yacht, depending on how wealthy he becomes. The graphics in this virtual world are realistic and compelling, a quantum leap in design and process from the “Space Invaders” arcade game of my generation.
“Hmpf.” I say to him. “I don’t like these killing games.”
“Grammy,” he says, with a patience that belies his age. “It’s like playing a part in a movie script. It’s fantasy. I know the difference.”
I know, and his parents know, that if he is forbidden to play, he might find a way to do it anyway, and the stress it would put on family relationships would not be worth it. The answer to this dilemma is not for the adults to say “No,” but rather to try to understand what this gaming culture is all about and how to ensure that the young players don’t internalize a wrong message.
For my home schooled grandson, well versed in morality and ethics, his gaming goal is not to kill anyone but to complete the assignment (although characters can get killed along the way). Granted, there are other gamers who get delight in escalating the violence just to see what they can get away with. That’s what I have a problem with out of a concern that they will become inured to the horrors of violence and start confusing fantasy with reality. Hundreds of contradicting studies have been done – and continue to be done – that both affirm and deny the ill effects of playing violent computer games.
The culture of my family is to try to understand where the other person is coming from before any decision is made, so my grandson has explained to his parents his approach to gaming and they have shared their concerns. It reminds me of when my 10 year old son became obsessed with comics during the time in the 1980s when many of the publications began to use illustrations with hyper-sexualized female superhero bodies. I remember having a long talk with him, expressing my feminist disapproval of such depictions of women and reminding him that it’s all fantasy.
I have embarked on a long learning curve that involves my grandson explaining how the game works, which is a complex process, on the part of the gamers, that involves planning, coordinating, and cooperating in setting up each heist. While the game program itself establishes parameters, the gamers make specific choices and have to deal with the consequences.
There are other modules that are available for GTA, my grandson tells me. His favorites are the ones in which his character is a fireman or policeman or emergency medical technician. While the scenarios for those modules can include violence, it is always because the protagonist is trying to rescue someone.
What I am learning gives me a more informed appreciation and understanding of why my otherwise non-violent teenage grandson likes to play “Grant Theft Auto.” And the conversations continue.
I see that what he is taking away from playing these games is so much more than I would have ever considered. For example, he has to budget and manage his virtual money so that he can afford to buy the new luxury items that he wants. In the process of researching cars, he has developed a knowledge of automobiles – both ordinary and classic – that is encyclopedic. He experiments with designing the appearance of his cars, playing with colors and shapes. He has forged online friendships with other players his age from around the world as they work together to develop strategies for their heists. He is honing his reading skills as he keeps up to date on understanding the evolving rules and improvements in the game.
Because he was not told “No” and instead was invited to share his gaming experiences with the family, the problem other families might have with the issue of violent computer games is not a problem for us — although I still really don’t like them. It’s probably a generational thing, as it often is with music, fashion, language, and etiquette. But I learn to appreciate it all. Like Walt Whitman, “I contain multitudes.”