ESRB: Not Nearly Enough

I’m the videogame dad.

That’s how everyone at my kid’s school thinks of me, at least. This time of year, my inbox is full of notes from parents who I know tangentially by their handles — their children. “I’m Aiden’s dad” or “I’m Hannah’s mom.” They call because it’s the holiday game buying season, and they have children, and no idea what’s appropriate.

It makes me, sadly, the local game sommelier. And the ESRB makes my life miserable.

Don’t get me wrong: I would far rather the ESRB be in the game-rating business than the government, and the ESRB does at least provide a guidepost for the truly clueless.

My typical game sommelier session usually goes like this:

Me: “So, I’m happy to recommend a few games or a new console for Christmas, but I have to ask:Do you know what he already has, or has played?” (Sadly, yes, it’s almost always for a boy.)

Them: “Not really. I think we have an Xbox, and there’s this game with a lot of guns in it … .”

Me: “You know, games these days aren’t just like the arcade — they can actually be really amazing. You should think about playing with him.”

Them: “Well, I’m just not a gamer.”

Me: “OK, walk over to the TV and tell me what games you have lying around.”

From there, one of two things happens. They rattle off a bunch of Wii Shovelware, and I feel deeply sorry for the poor kid, or they rattle of a list of M-rated Xbox 360 titles and I feel even sorrier for the kid.

And that’s when I can mention the little label on each and every game that’s supposed to tell them whether the game is appropriate for their kids. Most of the time, I feel fairly confident in telling parents that they can trust the ESRB. I feel confident, for instance, that most E-rated games aren’t going to offend anyone, and there are a ton of fantastic games on every console that fit that bill. Most Zeldas. Pokemon. Racing games. Sports games, music games, the Lego series. There are whole genres that nobody has really any issues with.

But if you’re an 8– or 9-year-old boy, chances are you’re looking up the food chain at the big-boy games, and you’re asking your parents for something outside the “E” or “E-10” box. Much like movies, it’s the middle ground of the ratings system where things fall apart. The “T” rating from the ESRB is supposed to mean “13+,” thus being a rough equivalent of an MPAA “PG-13” rating. But the problem is that an absolutely enormous swath of content gets caught up under that “T” rating. Does Let’s Dance really belong in the same bucket with Heavy Fire: Afghanistan? Is Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess more or less mature than, The Bachelor: The Video Game?

But if I’m being honest, with my own 8 year old — a full 5 years junior to the rating’s intention — there are scores of T-rated games that have been great. Toy Soldiers, Rocksmith, Rock Band, Magic: the Gathering, Super Smash Brothers — these are T-Rated games that have been awesome fun with my son, and which I don’t have any issue letting him play with his friends, with their parent’s approval.

But you know what else is T rated? Arkham City. Arkham City is a great game. My son loves Batman, so I have let him play bits and pieces. But is it in any way really appropriate for an 8 year old? Not mine. Not really. The violence is up close and personal, with Batman just laying waste with his hands on everyone. It’s fun, for sure, but it’s also very real and in your face. It’s precisely the kind of violence he would walk out onto the playground and try to mimic, going “bam, boof, pow” as he mocked taking down bad guys.

And then there’s the hypersexuality of Catwoman and Harley Quinn. I’m not a prude by nature, but I am hyper-sensitive that I’m trying to simultaneously raise a strong, self-confident young woman and a young boy who’s not a dick. I want them both to have rational, real-world respect for everyone as people, not objects. And frankly, both the visuals and dialog in Arkham City were enough to make me skip scenes or even whole chunks of the game with my kids in the room.

To be fair, a lot of this is buried in the ESRB rating for Arkham City. It calls out in a full 250-word description exactly, with quotes from the game and detailed descriptions, how the game pushes the boundaries. So a diligent researcher can discern that Arkham City earns its T rating for tight-fitting outfits and dialog like “Sure could go for some porn right now,” while Twilight Princess gets it just for “Animated Blood” and “Fantasy Violence.”

But there’s really no way a non-gaming parent is going to suss all this out. The amount of time it would take to research all of the available wishlist items is time they could actually just sit down and play the games with their kids.

And then there’s Halo 4.

I guess I understand why it’s rated M. According to the ESRB, it’s rated M because of the Blood and Violence. And sure, those things are in there. But how do you weigh the violence of shooting aliens at range in Halo vs. the brutal hand-to-hand, personal combat of Arkham City? And as for Blood, well, there’s a bit of gore in a few cutscenes, but my kids have watched Raiders of the Lost Ark and all the Marvel movies, and there’s far bloodier, scarier stuff in those.

Both of these ratings lack something incredibly important: context. Both Batman and Master Chief are noble warriors, fighting the good fight. They’re superheroes. But Batman’s plotline is about how horrible people do horrible things to each other, and how sometimes Batman has to do horrible things to stop them. (If you’ve played through the Solomon Grundy fight, there’s little I can imagine more horrifying and gory than how Batman ultimately dispatches that particular big lug.)

Master Chief, on the other hand, is an action figure. While Halo 4 introduces some nuance and pathos for the first time, Halo 4 is, above all else, mechanical. It’s fun. It’s extremely well designed. But it’s about as bloodless and mechanical a “shooter” as I can imagine, and certainly more detached than T-Rated shooters like Ghost Recon.

The ESRB tries. They really do. They put as much as they can into their long-form descriptions, available on their website. But ultimately, all the consumer really sees is the big giant letter in the corner of the box, and maybe — maybe — a few words underneath.

So here’s the thing, parents-of-budding-gamers: You only have two choices. Either sit there on the couch with them, play the games, see how it affects them, and talk about the uncomfortable parts, or throw them to the sharks. If you don’t play Halo or Arkham City with your kids, they’ll just find them all the more titillating when they play them at their friend’s house, whose Mom doesn’t even know what console they own.

90% of parenting of is showing up. And you can’t outsource that to the ESRB.

Comments

rabbit wrote:
CannibalCrowley wrote:
Aristophan wrote:

The King's Speech is rated R for language and True Grit was PG-13 for western violence, including cutting off a finger. Guess which one I'd show to my kids?

True Grit, what kind of young kid is going to sit through The King's Speech?

It's my 13 year old daughters absolutely favorite movie, and my son quite enjoyed it too.

To be fair, they also think Life of Brian is the funniest movie ever made, so my kids are weird.

Nah not too weird, at 13 years kids should be enjoying more developed story lines. It's the 5-10 year olds who I can't imagine sitting through The King's Speech. Although they are all a bit different.

rabbit wrote:

And you can’t outsource that to the ESRB.

This. 1,000 this.
As a parent you need to be involved 100%.
And everyone knows you can't be involved 100% in anything. Even with your kids.
It's taking an interest in what they've becoming interested in. Things can change from one week to the next (from Horses to Pirates to Knighs in their toy castles, to video games).

My nephew and niece, 5 and 7, respectively, come to visit about once a week and at some point it's "mosquito time!" And we play the Rayman Origin mosquito levels and they love it.

They don't play much video games, but whenever they feel like playing mosquitoes; I'm there playing as the 3rd player making sure they can finish the level. I've played it about 1000 times, and I love playing it with them. Playing videogames with and for small children is a totally different experience because you play through their eyes.

I play with them, not only because I feel they need an adult involved, but for my personal enjoyment of the kids, not the videogame per se.

Great article, and definitely a problem. As others have mentioned here though, it's not a clear cut solution.

- Private industry self-regulating means they regulate to the sales channel. Certain retailers won't sell M to under 18 nor stock AO at all. And generally it's the big chains that have such rules because their deep pockets are tempting for consumer litigation.
- Government regulating the industry comes with a different problem: culture swings. What's culturally taboo in the U.S. in one half-decade becomes the norm in the next, due to the voting cycles. We'd be relabeling every game every few years as the cycle shifts, and especially now that we have such long-tail content with browser based game ports and apps. And we already went through that a few years ago when so many states tried to play parent.

There is a slippery slope here. I could see someone arguing that ALL entertainment, from books to music to TV, movie and games be labeled against some grand apolitical cultural acceptability metric. THAT scares more than some politician having a temporary agenda, because there just isn't a good way to do something like that without it succumbing to political will.

Wow, this was a very timely mind-reading article for me.

I just got a copy of Halo 4 and was explaining to my wife why I thought it would be okay for my 7 year old son to play it with me. I actually used Arkham City as my comparison argument. The fact that people could yell "I'm gonna get you bitch!" at me while playing Catwoman in that game just about destroyed any trust dad credit with my wife concerning which games my kids could play. It offended me, let alone them, and made the whole experience of the game worse for me.

Much like movies, I feel like there are games that just throw a few "edgy" things in there that do nothing to make the game better, but rather are just an attempt to make certain potential audience members think that it's cool.

Nathaniel wrote:

Suggestion:
"Gamers With Kids" subsite. (I notice someone has a Gamers with Children podcast, but I'm not really into podcasts). We rank kids games:
a- How much fun our kid had
b- How much fun WE had
c- 2-P playability
c- Sexiness (how much sex generally)
d- Bad gender roles / bad sexual themes (objectification, stereotypes, etc)
e- Gore
f- Violence

If we can get writers to get into this, I wouldn't mind making room for them somewhere around here. I will bring it up with the Founding Shawnders.

rabbit wrote:

my kids are weirdAWESOME.

Edited for accuracy.

wordsmythe wrote:
Nathaniel wrote:

Suggestion:
"Gamers With Kids" subsite. (I notice someone has a Gamers with Children podcast, but I'm not really into podcasts). We rank kids games:
a- How much fun our kid had
b- How much fun WE had
c- 2-P playability
c- Sexiness (how much sex generally)
d- Bad gender roles / bad sexual themes (objectification, stereotypes, etc)
e- Gore
f- Violence

If we can get writers to get into this, I wouldn't mind making room for them somewhere around here. I will bring it up with the Founding Shawnders.

http://www.commonsensemedia.org has been my go to site for things like this. Their age levels aren't always accurate, but the breakdown they do for things like violence, sex, and language is a really good primer on which to base your own decisions.

For movies my wife and I check Kids-In-Mind

We don't have kids yet, but my wife has issues with gore. So anything that's horror or some R-rated action stuff, we have to check and see if it's going to gross her out or not.

But they have very specific descriptions. That site taught me what a scatological reference was.

Stele wrote:

We don't have kids yet, but my wife has issues with gore. So anything that's horror or some R-rated action stuff, we have to check and see if it's going to gross her out or not.

Mine used to, but a few seasons of Walking Dead under her belt and the fallback of whispering "it's fake, it's fake, it's fake" to herself when necessary has cured her. Now we just need to figure out the appropriate age for our forthcoming children to do the same.

Keithustus wrote:
Stele wrote:

We don't have kids yet, but my wife has issues with gore. So anything that's horror or some R-rated action stuff, we have to check and see if it's going to gross her out or not.

Mine used to, but a few seasons of Walking Dead under her belt and the fallback of whispering "it's fake, it's fake, it's fake" to herself when necessary has cured her. Now we just need to figure out the appropriate age for our forthcoming children to do the same.

Based on my playing of the Walking Dead game, I'd say I'll be ready around forty or so...

wordsmythe wrote:
Nathaniel wrote:

Suggestion:
"Gamers With Kids" subsite. (I notice someone has a Gamers with Children podcast, but I'm not really into podcasts). We rank kids games:
a- How much fun our kid had
b- How much fun WE had
c- 2-P playability
c- Sexiness (how much sex generally)
d- Bad gender roles / bad sexual themes (objectification, stereotypes, etc)
e- Gore
f- Violence

If we can get writers to get into this, I wouldn't mind making room for them somewhere around here. I will bring it up with the Founding Shawnders.

This is what we used to do for GamerDad, before the catalog got bought by WhatTheyPlay. I think Cary Woodham and Dr. Matt Carlson are still holding down the fort over at GamingwithChildren.

I would try, but I'm not sure I am a good one for this anymore. My kids are all old enough to drink, and so I really haven't looked at stuff in a long time. I would be worried I would be too out of touch and miss something.

I find it interesting that private sector organisations (compulsory or voluntarily) set ratings and decide ratings systems in some countries. In Australia we have a statutory authority responsible for rating film, television and computer games, while Government (particularly Attorny Generals) play a role in making changes to the system of classification, the Classification board http://www.classification.gov.au/Pages/Home.aspx sets out principles and standards and process and it is subject to public scrutiny and debate. Ultimately it is a statutory authority that applies those guidelines and principles. We did have a long battle to get an R 18+ category introduced for games, but it was a public one that politicised gamers, required public debate about standards and age and a review of research on the impact of video games, and was ultimately successful. As frustrating as that debate sometimes was, and as slow as change was, it at least one that occurred through a relatively democratic process. Sure industry played a role as an interested stakeholder, and they certainly helped organise a public campaign promoting change, but they were not the only influence. I'm still learning the intricacies of the decision making process, but that's because I'm fascinated by how they are applying principles. For most punters the end ratings system is easy to understand and gives you a pretty good set of details about why a game got the rating it did- high impact for violence, low impact for sex and nudity, includes drug use etc. The classifications are only legally enforceable for anything rated M15+ (restricted to those over the age of 15) or above, and PG (parental guidance for those under 15 is recommended) or M (recommended for those over 15) are advisory only. So while Toy Soldiers gets a PG rating, Batman:AC gets an M, both can be played by those under 15 but different levels of parental guidance are recommended. This enables parents to make decisions based on what they understand the maturity of their child to be across a range of areas ... Well, as long as they bother to look!
I'm not saying the system we have in Australia is without fault, but the process of appointment to the board is a public one, with a commitment to gender, geographic and cultural balance, and significant debate happens over controversial ratings decisions- generally when something has been refused classification or given a R18+ classification that is considered undeserved by stakeholders. I'd much rather have a classification system that encourages accountability and debate, that explores and pays attention to artistic merit, publicly debates community standards and plays a role in educating the public about the rating system (which the Board does through a variety of media campaigns) than one driven only by industry.

Ok, so my very first post looks a bit like an essay now ...

Whimsical_1 wrote:

...first time awesomeness....

Don't worry - if you're going to drop a wall of text anywhere, this site is the place to do it.

As far as your post, thing is, in America that kind of government structuring runs right into the First Amendment. None of that, outside of what is defined as pornography, can be restricted by the government. This is why they've had to leave that sort of thing to industry bodies, created for the purpose. Since it's also illegal for a non-government entity to create or enforce a law, they can't make the independent ratings systems judgements as to a piece of content's rating enforceable by law.

It's that way for all games, movies, and television.

Getting parents to pay attention is the cure for the problem, across the board, no matter which system you're using.

So Whimsical, it sounds like some things have changed there in Australia. Can you now get unedited versions of all major releases, without having to import?

...and why do I hear about games costing so much more there? Like $80 instead of $60, if random internet chatter is correct. VIt can't be because it has to ship a bit further, can it? Maybe your government has an extra game tax there?

momgamer wrote:

As far as your post, thing is, in America that kind of government structuring runs right into the First Amendment.

Yes, I understand the first amendment issues, and one of my concerns about the Aust system is that it is able to refuse classification (which is the Boards code for censoring or banning a title from being sold in Australia). Nonetheless the ratings system for age appropriate material doesn't seem completely unreasonable. Does having an age based, enforceable, ratings system contravene first amendment rights?

Keithustus wrote:

So Whimsical, it sounds like some things have changed there in Australia. Can you now get unedited versions of all major releases, without having to import?

...and why do I hear about games costing so much more there? Like $80 instead of $60, if random internet chatter is correct. VIt can't be because it has to ship a bit further, can it? Maybe your government has an extra game tax there?

Yes, it has changed- or just about. The new classification system will be implemented on 1 Jan 2013, which means that new games can be classified as R18+. Previously, unless a game fit the M15+ or a lower classification, it was refused classification. I think L4D2 was banned and was then modified by EA to get a M15+ classification ... so we all imported! It was one of the issues that sparked the review of the system.

I'm not sure if games previously refused classification will get revisited or not, but certainly from 1 Jan we'll be able to buy games that have an R18+ classification!

As for the cost thing- it's mainly the publishers and games retailers that keep costs high. Its a bit of a sore point here and there is a similar issue with music, books and DVDs. Although its also partly because retailers have higher labour costs here-paying reasonable wages to employees means consumers pay more. I'm actually OK with that trade off though.

Whimsical, yes it does. Unless you want games classified under the same rules as pornography, under a very strict definition. That's the only case where the government is allowed to limit speech. That's why the industry here has to self-regulate.

I think it's pretty clear by the box what type of game you're getting your kids. It's the really limited scenarios when it becomes hazy and that gets into themes and narratives. The article mentions that context is important, and in these cases, it's clear that is the hardest thing for a parent to discern from the box or description.

Similarly, it's this context that will be vastly different for everyone. I personally can't understand the "shooting humans is terrible, shooting aliens is fine." logic. Using this logic, to me, is the foundation of creating arbitrary classes that are used to justify us-vs-them violence and cruelty. Humanoid or even animal figures in games may as well be fully intelligent people in the "other" group.

This follows with issues of sex, violence, sexuality, cruelty to animals, other "sins" and all sorts for messaging the story might have (if it even has one).

At the end of the day, especially having no children myself, I can't point a finger criticizing people for how they raise their kids. I wish we could all live in a world where children aren't shoved in from of a TV and where parents have perfect knowledge of what their kids are exposed to and know how to manage that, but I don't see that as being very realistic. I can hope the "risks" are really very small and that most children will turn out ok if not wonderful.

Maybe the kids will see the latest Call of Duty and be turned off at the whole idea of 'real' war the way I was when seeing Saving Private Ryan and similar films.

PandaEskimo wrote:

Maybe the kids will see the latest Call of Duty and be turned off at the whole idea of 'real' war the way I was when seeing Saving Private Ryan and similar films.

I read your thoughtful post Tuesday morning and was off-put by this last comment. I could not reply sooner, however, because it seems that your and my beliefs about violence are centrally important to us, and quite different, and I needed time to mull over how to approach responding without breaching your respect.

From your whole post, I have to assume that you fall within some category of pacifist; maybe you don't oppose violence or war for certain ends, but it appears that you feel that the world would be much better if we could remove aggression and morbid content from where it is unnecessary. That is commendable, and I ascribe to that to a certain degree, and wish truly that there were more conflicts solved in the daily news not by guns but by butter.

But I'm concerned when at the end of your comment you assert that maybe exposure to more graphic depictions of combat--the Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers style instead of the John Wayne, The Longest Day style--will turn kids off from 'real' war. I have two responses to this, one with which I believe you will agree, and another which I predict you may not.

First, the realism in more recent games and films, I believe, is an important contribution to the education of our democratic body, necessary to our nationwide discussions of foreign policy and military options. Perhaps, it may be, that a graphically educated constitutiency would be more demanding of our leaders to execute sound diplomatic and economic policies to avert our military force, than a public unaccustomed to real violence. Maybe, among other things, this more-aware populace was one of the big drivers of discontent prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom. (I don't want to go down that rabbit hole, though, since there are so many ways to get lost in that discussion)

Second, especially for "kids", or at least those approaching adulthood--let's say somewhere in the range of 15-17--I would insist that as they choose what to do with themselves in life, whether to drop out of high school or not, whether to attend college, to start work, to join the military, to become an entrepreneur, to perform other NGO or government service, that it is all the more important for them to truly know about war and its costs. Whether recent films and games do that task well is certainly debatable, but certainly there has been progress since decades ago. Here's really where I suspect I, and probably many others, disagree with your stance; I am actually more interested in real war because of these media. I don't mean because of the "hell ya, kill stuff!" effect, because there are certainly quite a few who get hooked on the adrenaline rush from playing CoD or watching We Were Soldiers and may or may not join the police or military or become enamored into strategy games or military history partly because of that. What I mean is how I responded to seeing Saving Private Ryan, and which is probably not unique to me: the movie was so heart-wrenching and so brutal that I could not be but amazed and humbled by the perseverance and toughness, mentally and emotionally as well as physically, of the millions from many countries who participated in that and any other combat. No number of sanitized propaganda war films could have made me think so much or so hard about Veterans Day or Memorial Day or what our service members actually do than when I first saw Saving Private Ran when it was released when I was 17. Maybe realistic shooters do or don't have that kind of effect, but I would not want to not have them around now that they are. They could certainly deal with death more responsibly, though, instead of just hitting respawn or some such.

As an aside, the habit of service members to be drawn to these films and games is an interesting phenomenon in both predictable and, to the public, unpredictable ways. Predictably, there is a high affinity for service members, even of they are not "gamers", to play shooters, especially the realistic ones (though I've encountered precious few in the service who are familiar with the Arma series). What many people do not expect is that service members are drawn to realistic war films for the very starkness that repels the public. Oh what an experience it is, I've found out, to watch Full Metal Jacket with a bunch of young Marines around; they all have the drill sergeant's lines memorized and act out the whole movie in good fun! These films and games are, for the veteran, not antiwar but preparation for war. The helicopter assault of Apocalypse Now is not an abomination of overwhelming force and too loose rules of engagement, it's how to control your excitement and fear and destroy the enemy, even if you have to commit war crimes against the civilians, before he can do the same to you. Band of Brothers is not "I'm glad I'm not a WWII paratrooper" but instead "will I meet the expectations of the paratroopers who came before me?" In other words, the very realism that can, in my mind, make for a better informed voter, also has the potential to be learned from, for better or for worse, by those in whom society entrusts violence. Managing these issues and expectations responsibly is not only a parent's duty, but also a military leader's.

Brief background: I joined the military when I was 20 and still serve today. Saving Private Ryan was certainly a contributing factor, though only a small one among many. I watch every mainstream war film but don't play modern realistic war shooters but for very rarely, like when asked to join by real-life acquaintances. Realistic war shooters, to me, are more emotionally draining than fun, and have too little applicability to real tactics to be worthwhile. Ironically, I have been a massively committed player of the Left 4 Dead series, because I feel that its versus mode, when played competitively (two groups of four friends pitted against one another) is actually superior to realistic shooters at testing and developing those skills demanded of junior military leaders: understand the perpetually changing situation, make a decision as/for the team, communicate effectively and efficiently, and execute your plan.

Keithustus wrote:

The helicopter assault of Apocalypse Now is not an abomination of overwhelming force and too loose rules of engagement, it's how to control your excitement and fear and destroy the enemy, even if you have to commit war crimes against the civilians, before he can do the same to you.

I hugely appreciate your perspective, and it rings true with many conversations I've had with servicemen, but is this really what your standing on? That war-media is good because it shows young soldiers its ok to commit war crimes?

I also said "...the very realism ... also has the potential to be learned from, for better or for worse, by those in whom society entrusts violence. Managing these issues and expectations responsibly is not only a parent's duty, but also a military leader's."

Prior to any deployment, there is extensive training in the principles behind the laws governing armed conflict (LOAC) and the rules of engagement (ROE) in place in your region. Despite this, other influences such as certain films (and probably games) promote or imply the acceptability of violating LOAC/ROE. Although there are zero-tolerance policies in place, incidents occur too often. I hate to speculate why without a comprehensive review, but lean to the explanation that the lack of leader intervention in small, inconsequential events leads to a subordinate belief that they can take actions to the next level. As an example, an NCO or officer who overhears and does nothing when soldiers refer to the enemy by derogatory names and/or describing demeaning acts of retribution to be taken is implicitly okaying said dehumanization. Poorly led and supervised troops may feel that if dehumanization in words is acceptable, then dehumanization in actions is as well. By extension, a leader who knows that his/her personnel are committing atrocities in games would be best to discuss with them the clear distinction between game-isms and their real conduct, lest some 18-year-old fail to properly think about what he or she might do on a tough mission. These opportunities for worthwhile discussion spawned by the hyper-violence of games and films are one reason I would not be pleased to see the violence excised.

Keithustus wrote:
PandaEskimo wrote:

Maybe the kids will see the latest Call of Duty and be turned off at the whole idea of 'real' war the way I was when seeing Saving Private Ryan and similar films.

I read your thoughtful post Tuesday morning and was off-put by this last comment. I could not reply sooner, however, because it seems that your and my beliefs about violence are centrally important to us, and quite different, and I needed time to mull over how to approach responding without breaching your respect.

I wonder if you may not be mis-reading the statement.

My wife is a high-school teacher and, through some volunteer work I do with kids, I think that what Panda is talking about is an attitude amongst some kids that war is "cool", "awesome" and all that sort of opinion. And that exposure to Saving Private Ryan (and other movies/media that present war in a real manner as opposed to a glorified manner) will tech these kids (or give them an inkling) that war is not something to be glorified.

Rather, it is something that changes you greatly, more often than not for the worse, and has lasting repercussions upon not only the person, but for those around them as well. Note that I am saying this as someone whose father was in the military (Canadian military, 33 years) and who himself spent 6 years in the Artillery Reserve.

(Forgive me Panda if I am putting words into your mouth.)

Quakers Unite!

Just kidding. I imagine Rabbit and I have some similar background. I went to a Quaker school from K through 12th grade (same school) and while I'm not Quaker and don't support all their beliefs, there are some values I do support.

I appreciate the comments from everyone. I considered not writing mine, but maybe someone got something out of it.

I do see a glorification of many parts of our lives that I feel comes from ignorance. I would love for people to have exposure to all sorts of things and make up their own minds.

My reaction to Saving Private Ryan (among other things) was that it was a horrible thing and that we should avoid it at a very high cost. Similar exposure to things like bayonets, trenches, and muskets in the Civil War and World War I support that idea. It doesn't however make me think soldiers are monsters. I think there are a set of people who feed on the 'power' of violence and maybe a lot of them are excited by what I see as horrible events and perhaps some of them gravitate towards service. To summarize, I think service is a great sacrifice that is sometimes necessary, but is still a purely upsetting reality.

I'm not a vegetarian either, but I have pretty negative feelings towards violence towards animals and almost every time I eat meat I do have a pretty bad feeling looming over me. I don't think anyone should necessarily feel bad about it, but I think it's great for people to be informed about what's going on so they can make their own choices. Do you feel bad about this when it becomes more personal? What do you do with those feelings?

To bring in a gaming example, I started playing Syndicate (new version) yesterday and there is a scene (or set of scenes) in particular where your partner goes through a crowded train and casually murders everyone. I think it's intended to make you hate the organization you belong to (and your character is clearly a horrible person just like them), but I wonder if some people think it's awesome to have such power. The first civilian you see in the game is a homeless person and when you walk up to him, there is a prompt in the middle of the screen that offers you the chance to murder him.

To be fair, I've smashed peoples' faces into the sidewalk in Saint's Row and shot civilians in the legs to watch them limp along in other games. I've watched the horrible murder scenes in Kill Bill and even painted artwork about it (in high school). Violence can be a fun topic, probably because it's such a loaded topic in society and such a terrible thing (and when we make something a sin it becomes exciting). I think it's fun, it's cool, and I don't have a problem with it.

But I don't for one second see it as reality. At some point, I had to think about what I was feeling. For the most part after that, I didn't.

Times do come up though, like in Syndicate, or when watching Breaking Bad. In Breaking Bad, I thought Walt was a horrible person from the start and that the show was purposely glorifying and justifying the horrible things he was doing. It ends up that this was exactly what the creators wanted. They wanted people to sort of be on his side and then have to wrestle with the justifications themselves. I wonder if viewer's actually do this or if they see him as a super hero.

In all of these scenarios, it's all about context. Context for the game, and context for the player (child). The parents are the one's who may be in the best position to judge all this, but for those scenarios where it's tough, I don't know if any ratings or parent research will help them out. Do you sit next to them with Syndicate and have a discussion about the actions? That sounds like a pretty awkward conversation, but I'm no parent.

mudbunny wrote:

I wonder if you may not be mis-reading the statement.

That's certainly possible, which is why I tried being as deliberate in response as I could, even if I was responding to the wrong perspective.

mudbunny wrote:

I think that what Panda is talking about is an attitude amongst some kids that war is "cool", "awesome" and all that sort of opinion. And that exposure to Saving Private Ryan ... will tech these kids ... that war is not something to be glorified.

Rather, it is something that changes you greatly, more often than not for the worse, and has lasting repercussions upon not only the person, but for those around them as well.

Well said. Let me challenge your assumptions, however, and propose that Saving Private Ryan and any other media that forces viewers/participants to recognize the horrors of violence does, in fact, glorify war/violence precisely because they must confront that it will change them greatly. That is why I believe them as advancing to a well-educated constituency.

PandaEskimo wrote:

My reaction to Saving Private Ryan (among other things) was that it was a horrible thing and that we should avoid it at a very high cost. Similar exposure to things like bayonets, trenches, and muskets in the Civil War and World War I support that idea.

Absolutely. In the words of Jonathon Shay, M.D., Ph.D., author of Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character: "Learn the psychological damage that war does, and work to prevent war. There is no contradiction between hating war and honoring the soldier. Learn how war damages the mind and spirit, and work to change those things in military institutions and culture that needlessly create or worsen these injuries." Or in the case of WWII, the American Civil War, or WWI, better use the tools of foreign policy to prevent the need for those conflicts, if that had been at all possible.

PandaEskimo wrote:

It doesn't however make me think soldiers are monsters. I think there are a set of people who feed on the 'power' of violence and maybe a lot of them are excited by what I see as horrible events and perhaps some of them gravitate towards service. To summarize, I think service is a great sacrifice that is sometimes necessary, but is still a purely upsetting reality.

I don't think there is such a strong link as is evident in that statement. Yes, there are certainly those in whom the power of violence draws them to service, but they make up only a small portion of the military. The majority are drawn to service out of patriotism, tradition, or economic needs (e.g. few other opportunities and/or need to pay for college). We don't want psycho killers. We want smart, tough recruits who can learn when it is appropriate to use proportional force and when it is appropriate to use other tools, and to do either option safely and efficiently.

propose that Saving Private Ryan and any other media that forces viewers/participants to recognize the horrors of violence does, in fact, glorify war/violence precisely because they must confront that it will change them greatly. That is why I believe them as advancing to a well-educated constituency.
"There is no contradiction between hating war and honoring the soldier."

This combo is the trick, I think, even in works that show the horror of war. The problem is that most of those works go beyond honoring the soldier to valorizing and glorifying the soldiers (who are differentiated from others by their actions), which leads to a desire to imitate those actions. It's difficult sometimes to give honor and respect while stopping short of calling someone "hero." And I think we even want to use that label, but that term carries with it an undercurrent of "role model," which leads back to audience members feeling the urge to imitate.

Keithustus wrote:

Well said. Let me challenge your assumptions, however, and propose that Saving Private Ryan and any other media that forces viewers/participants to recognize the horrors of violence does, in fact, glorify war/violence precisely because they must confront that it will change them greatly. That is why I believe them as advancing to a well-educated constituency.

I am not sure that your use of the word glorify is proper. SPR and other films of that style do not glorify war. Glorify, when it comes to a movie or other media, is to attempt to make it appear more glamorous and attractive to people who aren't aware of the reality. I don't think that SPR can be said to do that. Rather, it sets out in stark reality what happens in war, warts and all, and hides nothing. It makes it clear that there is much more bad about war than there is good in war.

This was an interesting article to read coming so soon on the heels of rabbit's:

http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/arc...

kazooka wrote:

This was an interesting article to read coming so soon on the heels of rabbit's:

http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/arc...

I have found that parenting decisions do not have right or wrong answers, and events in Newtown, Connecticut have made this parenting decision even more complicated.

Such crap. If you truly believe parenting decisions do not have right or wrong answers, then just make your kid happy. I hate this kind of hedging: "I don't know what's right or wrong, but I'm going to behave exactly as I would if I did and avoid all personal responsibility for my decision by pleading ignorance."

This looks a lot more like her personal issues with depictions of violence than concern with the culture of violence. I hate when people try and justify their own agendas and then hide behind important questions.

Yeah, the article isn't interesting so much as the attitude. Especially since rabbit spent a good two weeks saying that Halo 4 was a great kids game. (I'm greatly paraphrasing here.)

kazooka wrote:

Yeah, the article isn't interesting so much as the attitude. Especially since rabbit spent a good two weeks saying that Halo 4 was a great kids game. (I'm greatly paraphrasing here.)

Yeah, I agree that part of Rabbit's article was great. "Halo 4 is, above all else, mechanical." is a fantastic way of putting it.

TO be fair, I don't think I said it quite so bluntly. It was a great experience for ME and MY KID. That's a big difference from saying I think it's a great kids game.

It's fair to say my kids are growing up with a LOT more nuance, discussion, and direction when it comes to media of any kind than any other child I know in their circle of friends.