THE major topic under discussion in our house lately has been whether or not I should pre-order the Xbox game Call of Duty:Black Ops for our eldest two sons.
They’ve saved up their money by selling their used video games, and want to get it ‘pre-ordered’ for once (I usually make them wait until games come down in price).
The biggest issue at hand is that CoD-BO (yes, get with the lingo Grandma) is certificate 18. Surely “no”, then?
Ah, well, we’ve already started out of shaky moral ground here, because we’ve allowed them to play the previous six versions of these games, which ranged from certificate 15. Our eldest sons are aged 11 and 13. So already, Very Bad Parenting.
I might scramble back some foothold by saying we didn’t buy the games for the kids. Bloke bought them for himself, and the boys were allowed to play them after he did.
Would we let our boys watch 18 rated films? Er, no. So why the double standards?
For the uninitiated, Call of Duty is a series of visually stunning, reasonably historical, scarily addictive first-person shooter games. Essentially war games with you as a soldier with a gun.
We’ve had versions set in the Second World War, ones set in the modern Middle East, with levels in deserts, Arctic landscapes, shopping malls and dusty favelas. There is usually a ‘plot’ of sorts, which sees you having to make decisions about preserving yourself and your brothers-in-arms. But this doesn’t alter the fact that the game is about shooting people. You can even play online and ‘talk’ to other players via headsets, but this doesn’t happen in our house.
There’s no doubt that teen boys have a weird fascination with war and soldiers. Bloke is a total military history nerd. From an early age he was setting up armies of toy soldiers and replaying battles with his brother. He can tell you the formation of troops from Bosworth to Blenheim, how military strategies saw millions of men gunned down in the two world wars and yet is a card-carrying pacifist in real life. This, he argues, is because he’s well-informed about the realities of warfare, a view he came to through play.
Video games might be waved in the air by the scaremongering media as the reason for our violent society. And it’s certainly true that allowing your kids unfettered access to unlimited hours sitting in a darkened room shooting people on-screen isn’t healthy.
But ultimately, CoD is a game. It’s a well-rendered modern cartoon. It’s paint-balling without the mud and sweat. The boys are in no doubt whatsoever that what they are watching in CoD isn’t ‘real.’ The news reports and television documentaries showing the dreadfulness of actual war are real, and scary, and awful, and ultimately avoidable. CoD players have to problem-solve, make choices, plan and work as a team. They learn.
I’m not sure they do so from other games, like the ones where they take pot-shots at various mentally unstable cartoon rabbits (suitable for 3+).
I hasten to add at this point that when the older boys are allowed on CoD games, their younger siblings are elsewhere. We don’t allow any computer games on ‘school nights’ and usually restrict access to weekends. And they don’t have games or TV in their rooms, only in the living room where we can see what they’re doing.
We had a moment, last time a CoD game arrived in the house, where a level showed civilians being gunned down in an airport. We had prior warning of this moment from a gaming geek who told us that when we got to this level, there was a ‘skip level’ option. We skipped it.
Some parents argue that because their friends play the games, they should too, to avoid being left out of their social circle. I don’t buy that argument. Plenty of the boys’ friends are allowed to watch 18 horror films, and stay up every night until stupid-o’clock. But we censor post-watershed telly and everyone has sensible bedtimes (much to their disgust).
I also think its worth noting that 18 in movie terms means a lot more than 18 in video game terms. It’s still a voluntary system in the UK, with only the most extreme of games having to go up in front of censors. The game companies get a lot more media exposure, hype and sales for an 18.
This doesn’t alter the fact that we, as parents, have ignored the recommendations and allowed our boys to play CoD games before. Even the ones rated 15 are ‘too old’ for boys aged 11 and 13, despite their maturity.
Which leaves me on slippery footing. We know that our boys are not changing their behaviours due to a couple of hours war-gaming of a weekend. But am I being a ‘good’ parent by not stopping them playing an over-age game that involves killing?
It’s a decision I can delay at least a little longer. The game isn’t out until next month.
What would you do?