Tis the season for it. As people who do important things get distracted by baubles, the press starts to look for anything to fill their pages, and canny PR companies begin sending out headline-filling anythings to fill the void. So it is that today we've been contacted by babies.co.uk to let us know that mums (just mums, apparently) are most scared of their precious ones playing GTA V. Even more so than Killzone Something and Dead Rising: Dead In The Title.
Managing Director of babies.co.uk, James MacFarlane, explained the situation:
"It became apparent that our users were very scared of the level of realism found in a game like Grand Theft Auto V. While it is hard to see a child relating with a zombie first person shooter, as is the case in some of the other games in the poll, parents are clearly concerned that a game which rewards murder, arson, torture and theft in the way that GTA V does, might make the same actions in real life more acceptable."
Let's not get into the discussions over the validity of such fears, because there just isn't useful data to say definitely either way. (Beyond the population-wide anecdotal evidence that there are fewer violent crimes taking place now than 30 years ago, perhaps pointing away from a murder pandemic created by videogames, we really don't know if such depictions cause children to change their views.) But instead let's focus on the fact that none of these games is aimed at children. Nor indeed babies. In fact, every game in their list of games they hadn't heard of before being asked about them comes with a big fat red BBFC "18" sticker on the front of the box.
The press release goes on to point out that 80% of their site's users accept that games are an appropriate part of child's life. However, the website version of the story hurriedly moves on from this topic to emphasise just how awful games really are. In fact, the web story is ghastly from top to bottom. Sub-headings like "Appropriate Games?" don't feature anything about appropriate games, while "Help for our Children?" appears above a paragraph that explains how parents are concerned about Killzone.
I understand the story. It's designed to get a mention (and thus a plug for the site) in the Mail and the Telegraph, where the fears of parents were likely discovered in the first place, as the self-enforcing circle of fear and profit continues. But as inevitable as it might be, it still is of concern.
There is undeniably an issue with parents not seeming to understand that BBFC game ratings count for games as well as films. But it's not one that's going to move forward by reinforcing the notion that games are this invasive pervasive danger in their children's lives. Fear doesn't breed understanding, just more fear.
As I rather rudely replied to the press release, have they similarly surveyed about which cars they don't want their children to drive this Christmas? Which alcoholic beverages they least want to find in their child's stocking? Why is what adult entertainment they don't want their children to have even a question being asked? This could be a constructive conversation. Why can't this be a survey of the games parents most hope their children receive this Christmas? With an audience of parents, it would seem far more sensible and productive for the question to have been reversed, to ask whether they would prefer their son or daughter receive Scribblenauts or Lego Marvel this Christmas. The results would then prove useful, a helpful buyer's guide for their users, and help point parents away from the grown up games in favour of the appropriate products.
By framing this debate constantly as one of which game is most likely to turn your child into a raging psychopath, we simply reinforce the idea that games are a negative presence in children's lives, and to be scared of. (And it really doesn't make any difference if you tack on a caveat at the end about how parents accept gaming will play a part in their child's life, once the damage is already done.) The equivalent survey for DVDs would be preposterous, suggesting that the only choices out there for kids this holiday are Saw VI and Insidious 2, maintaining a denial of Peppa Pig and Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2. So why is this angle taken with gaming? Because headlines. That's purely it. Run this survey and your site gets a plug in the papers. Run something constructive, asking whether you'd like to see Disney Infinity or Pikmin 3 in your kid's stocking, and it'll get entirely ignored by the mainstream press.
But you might make a useful difference. You might help this conversation to move on past the initial grunting confusion, and start to give parents some confidence when deciding what games they want their children to play.
Top image by Kyle Flood.