Author's Note: This is another assignment that I wrote for a university course. The idea was to write a shorter front-of-book piece that might appear in a general interest magazine. The demographic we were to write to was described as "upper-middle class professionals or parents." This type of article has been written a million times, so I decided to not pursue publishing. As always, let me know what you think.
A gunfight erupts in Times Square amidst the abandoned police cruisers and cement barricades. The shots echo down the cavernous trenches between buildings, interrupted only by explosions and the screams of the dying. Giant, smiling models on the billboards overhead are a stark contrast to the chaos below.
This scene isn’t from a news report or even an action movie, but from one of 2016’s most hotly anticipated video games: Tom Clancy’s The Division. The action role-playing game is made up of the same fabric as other installments in the Clancy universe of movies and novels, with an emphasis on military gadgets and high stakes global conflict. Coming out this March, the game does not shy away from violence or mature themes and has garnered a Mature rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). The ESRB offers parents a way to easily discern which games are suitable for their children, much like the ratings systems in place for movies or television. In this age of digital excess, it can seem like an insurmountable task for parents to review every piece of content their children are exposed to and to prevent them from accessing media that may not be suitable for their age. Where then does the responsibility fall? Critics may point the finger at the developers and creators of these games. However, the artists, programmers, and managers working in this field are often parents themselves and can at times struggle with these same questions.
“I can see the addictiveness,” admits Clint Jorgenson, co-founder of Righteous Hammer Games and father of two. “I find myself saying, ‘No more Minecraft!’” Jorgenson has spent twelve years making video games. Even if at times he shows hesitation, he also points to the positive aspects of the medium that his eldest daughter is now exploring. “It’s a gateway to programming. She started by writing one line scripts to be able to build a plane of blocks because it was faster. If the kids are going to play anything, Minecraft seems to have more positive aspects to it: problem solving, engineering, even doing scripts.”
“I’m selective about her iPad games,” says Christi Rae when speaking about her 3-year-old daughter. Rae has over 12 years of experience in the games industry and is currently the Development Director for Capcom Game Studio Vancouver, known for the zombie survival franchise Dead Rising. “I’d be hypocritical if I didn’t let her play. Games taught her to read. Educational games can be very instrumental.”
Video games may not just benefit young children learning to read or code. Mounting support points to the benefits of gaming in technical related fields as well. Experiments conducted at the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York show that surgeons performing laparoscopic surgery that also regularly play video games can perform anywhere from 33% to 42% better than their peers. Gaming may not just play a role in training and skill building, but in actual treatment as well. Akili Interactive Labs is developing video games to measure and treat a number of cognitive disorders including depression, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and even brain injuries. Their first program, Project: EVO, has already completed a number of clinical tests and is seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.
This young medium of entertainment and technology changes at a rapid pace. It can be a struggle for parents to discern what is and is not appropriate for their children with no one-size-fits-all solution. Shooting maniacal outlaws on the streets of New York may be harmless fun for a teenager, but it could also be nightmare inducing for a preschooler. The Entertainment Software Association of Canada advises parents to use the ESRB’s rating system when selecting games for children, and to also have open conversations about the content they are consuming. By being actively involved with what their children are playing, parents can foster discussion and critical analysis of the media that their kids are exposed to.
Video games are a part of our everyday lives whether we like it or not. By arming them with the right tools, we can trust that kids are ready for their digital adventures.