A breakdown of two books that deal with the question of what effect video games may have on young players.
It is unfair for me to write about the issue of games and violence without acknowledging that I am not inclined to believe there is a causal relationship. I have played games my entire life even Wolfenstein when I was barely old enough to understand basic DOS. I learned to read and write by playing adventure games. I also do not have children, so these thoughts are all coming from a person with no experience raising a child. So go to your kitchen and fetch a salt shaker. Now lick your wrist. Pour salt on that spot then lick that.
From South Park
The book ends with a lengthy section about how parents can better understand the content of games and how kids will manipulate their parents into buying violent products. It’s difficult to be sympathetic towards these complaints because parents will usually refuse to play the game themselves to get a grip on what’s going on. I’m not really inclined to support that attitude. At least the Mom who played GTA IV for an hour before banning her children from it understands what’s going on. The book draws on this discussion to emphasize that most kids absorb their parents values and that the more that they discuss banning something, the more attractive it is to a child for potentially generating artificial thrills rather than in its actual appeal. In other words, they’re just playing it because you made such a big deal out of it. The last few chapters are a weird glossing of various issues like the idea that games are blamed for obesity or stupidity. As with the games and violence argument, the chief function of the book is to disprove the causal relationship by pointing out that we don’t really know either way.
Frankly, in the case of both books, I don’t think anyone involved understands a thing about video games or even the nuances of individual titles. Neither of the book’s authors actually plays games, though Grand Theft Childhood did a solid effort at getting a basic understanding of distinctions between genres. I have trouble praising it since most of its arguments are just a rehash of the things Henry Jenkins was writing about long before anyone else. The problem is that there are cultural norms and preconceptions built up over the past thirty years that are rarely accounted for in these studies. For example, someone going on a massive killing spree is not odd in an FPS. I realize that visually it looks like I’m engaging in mass murder but that’s barely even a conscious thought for the average gamer who is engaging in a ludic experience. However, someone playing Tomb Raider but only progressing so that they can find unique places to make Lara Croft drown is definitely behaving in a disturbing manner. That’s the main problem with either book. They’re written by people who don’t play games enough to explain them to other people who don’t play games. That works about as well as you’d expect.