One of the more interesting aspects of all the mainstream coverage about how video games and their impact on parenting children is just how little we see of parents, gamers or children. When 60 Minutes covered the Devin Moore shootings, there was no Devin, there wasn't Devin's parents and there was scant sign of anyone who really played games (except for some brief clips so that Ed Bradley could scuffaw at more gore during GTA).
Cathode Tan suggests reversing this trend and kicks off the movement by sitting down with Andrew Bub ... AKA GamerDad. Gamerdad.com is precisely the kind of website which should be flashed at the end of any show covering this issue. It's a place where parents and gamers get together and talk about the industry, their children and how it all fits together. Very often, the parent and the gamer is the same person. So without further adieu, here's a few words from someone on the frontline of trying to help parents get information about the games their children might play:
Just for the record - how long have you been a gamer and how many kids do you have?
You've been reviewing games for some time. When did the idea for GamerDad come about?
It seems that the controversy about whether games are bad for kids has raged on since the days of Atari. Do you think there were notable moments where it escalated? The first person shooter genre perhaps, or the quick evolution of graphics?
Graphics are the most obvious cause for concern. I remember my dad being shocked at the “realism” of Wolfenstein 3D back in 1991, but now that game looks crude and inoffensive when compared with modern shooters. Doom too. But I’d argue the real escalator of the controversy boils down to content. With Deathrace it was concerns over driving over people, with Mortal Kombat it was the fatalities, and with Grand Theft it’s the complete freedom and amoral nature of the gameplay. (Please note that I used “amoral” not “immoral” here.)
Manhunt and Grand Theft Auto are often given as examples of video games, but games like Halo 2 are also rated in the same category of "Mature". According to some, the ESRB ratings are too soft ... but you've been quoted as saying games like Halo should be rated for teens. How skewed do you think the ESRB system is overall?
What I don’t like is the disparity between TV and movie ratings, and videogames. Movies aimed at 13 year olds are FAR more violent than most videogames; more violent than Halo, for example. Y7 is the TV rating that says gunplay is okay for kids so long as it’s animated and nobody dies, but games get a T-Teen if a gun makes an appearance. I think the inconsistency between the ratings can be confusing to parents. Then there’s the other line in the sand – blood. Medal of Honor from EA is rated Teen despite having an extensive D-Day recreation that’s truly horrifying. It’s T because they removed the blood. Meanwhile the body count in a shooter like Halo 2 is much lower, but there’s purple blood. Blood = M. Violence does not. The ESRB has to do things this way, there are so many games released, but I’m not in favor of “line in the sand” ratings. I believe parents deserve as much information as possible. GamerDad isn’t an attempt to replace the ESRB – we’re here to enhance it.
In general, does the industry give parents enough information about games for purchases? Is the boxing informational or misleading? Will a big sign describing the ESRB ratings help?
I think the ESRB signs are helpful, I think a lot of parents could benefit, but I also think too often politicians and the industry figure its ignorance that prompts a parent to buy Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas for their 8 year old. Often, from what I’ve seen, it’s not ignorance, its apathy. Some parents either don’t care or don’t believe that violent videogames are harmful. Why? Well, how many Rated R movies did you read as a kid? How many adult books did you read? Did it harm you? Maybe, maybe not but there’s definitely a class of people who just expose their kids to anything and that’s where their involvement ends.
Is this a bad thing? GamerDad says no. Ultimately it’s the parents right to choose the media and intensity their kids experience. GamerDad is just here to encourage them to make informed decisions and to watch, or play, games with their kids. I believe that parental involvement is MUCH more important than mindlessly protecting your kids from anything controversial or disturbing.
As a parent, how do you feel about the way lawyers and politicians have framed violence in gaming? Does it seem like they are voicing real parental concerns or generating new ones?
Recently the mainstream media has made a lot of connections about violence and gaming. Do you think that in general this is being done with accuracy and clarity or does it just leave parents with a lot of very scary unanswered questions?
I’ve spent a year thinking about that line and I can’t find any reason why that might be bad news – unless you hate games and hope they’ll get banned. Any other way of looking at it is positive. Has to be positive! This isn’t bad news and I think it takes a pretty unprincipled reporter and editor to write a line like that. Look, there’s a real bias against games in the media. Books like “Killing Monsters” by Gerard Jones are ignored against the latest anti-gaming screed. Statistics are ignored if they’re in favor, and the methodology of the studies that prove games are bad is never scrutinized. But it’s getting better, especially when they call on GamerDad to help with the article. (grin)
If a man (a completely random and nameless one, of course) arrived at your door and told you that the PlayStation was capable of loading your children with a cranial menu and manipulate them into being unwilling assassins, would you think he might be insane?
When it comes to influencing kids, how do you feel video games rank compared to other aspects of popular culture like movies, music or celebrities?
In general, what tips do you have for parents before they go purchase a new game?
Finally, what have you been playing lately and do you have any new recommendations for parents?
Of course after the kids go to bed I’m all about Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Battlefield 2 baby. When the kids are away, then your friendly neighborhood GamerDad can really play!
Thanks again to Andrew for his time and answers. The URL is once again, gamerdad.com. Kids, if you're reading this ... do us all a favor and pass it on to your parents. Trust me, you'd rather have them reading Andrew than listening to lawyers on the television.