My son, Nathaniel was probably 8 or 9 years old when he approached my wife and I about playing a Mature (M rated) game, Modern Warfare 2, a first person shooter game. Like the movies, video games are rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). A “M” rating means the content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up.
The game may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language. The Pretty Lady and I drew the line at sexual content and strong (obscene) language. This particular game had none. We also restricted who he could play with while he was online.
Writer Guy Foster presents several excellent points parents should consider when deciding at what age your child should be allowed to play violent video games.
The question of if and when children should play violent video games largely depends on the individual child. A child with a history of violent behavior might be more susceptible to negative reactions to violent games. The degree or context of the violence could also be a deciding factor. A closer look at each question reveals even more points to consider.
It isn’t necessarily the age of the child that matters so much as the child’s development. Children generally have difficulty separating fact from fiction and might be scared by a violent game, but fear isn’t the only issue here.
In a game, a character who dies is usually able to return to life; a character who is shot in the chest might heal easily with food or drink. A child who doesn’t yet understand the true consequences of violence might misinterpret this as a depiction of reality.
The context of violence in a game might also be considered. Cartoon characters whacking each other over the head with a mallet is not as serious as a realistic animation of one person decapitating another.
Also, a character that kills a villain is, arguably, more easily justified than a character that kills innocent passersby. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rates each game to warn parents of inappropriate content. This information is almost always found on the back of a video game case.
A child’s behavior sometimes gives insight as to whether or not he’s ready to play violent video games. Is he honest and responsible? If a parent feels the child is mature enough, it might be easier to trust him when he says he’s ready. If he’s disrespectful or cruel toward others, violent games might be a negative influence.
Psychology definitely plays an important role too in the effects of violent video games on children. This topic has been particularly controversial since the tragic shooting at Columbine High School by two boys who regularly played violent games like Doom. Studies show that children are, in fact, more aggressive than usual after playing a violent game.
However, this is only proven to be a short-term effect. A child’s psychological health is likely a more reliable indicator of whether or not he will commit a violent act. Research supports this theory: Most children who play violent games and go on to engage in violent crimes were already psychologically unstable.
Without a doubt, one of the most common arguments parents hear from their children involves the phrase, “but my friends are allowed to!” If a child isn’t allowed to play violent video games at home, he or she might be playing them at a friend’s house anyway. As usual, parents might want to check out what their children’s friends are approved to play to avoid the possibility of peer pressure.
The age at which children should be allowed to play violent video games will, perhaps, always be debated. Some parents won’t ever expose their children to the violence in games; others believe exposure is healthy. It’s unfortunate children are the primary targets of video game marketers, because as long as violence sells, it will be sold to children. On the other hand, maybe it’s an outlet children benefit from.
Guy Foster loves to talk about the more controversial topics in gaming. If you enjoyed this article and want to find more great gaming topics, Guy recommends visiting GamerSciz.com.