Friday, February 27, 2009

Laying Down Groundrules

Entertainment is everywhere these days, and as parents we need to be careful what our children are exposed to. My kids are still pretty young, but already we need to keep a close eye on things. But how do we keep an eye on our kids and still show them we trust them?

Well, these parents seem to have struck a decent balance:
Evan Spencer wanted to play “Call of Duty: World at War.” So he asked his dad.

Hugh Spencer wasn’t initially thrilled about the idea of his son playing the World War II-based game. “I’ve never really enjoyed first-person shooter games,” he confesses. “They’re just not my favorite aesthetic.”

But the elder Spencer agreed to his son’s request, on one condition: Evan would have to read all four treaties from the Geneva Conventions first. And then, agree to play by those rules.

An important piece of information is glossed over here, but his son had to ask to play the game. That implies that the parents have established control...but that they're still open enough to their children's requests that they feel okay about asking rather than just going behind their backs...well, much. The son did admit eventually about having played the game at a friend's house first. But still. He seems to have sensed that the game would be controversial but still trusted his parents enough to give asking a shot.

The father agrees to do an interview, in which the reporter asks how they keep tabs on their kids' playing habits and wonders if the dad plays, too.
I have hopeless hand-eye coordination, I don’t play anything (laughs). One thing is that you listen very carefully. We do actually monitor what they play quite extensively. It’s not a serious monitoring and we have to trust them, but I think the fact that they actually ask us about ratings (shows) that they’re carrying through on what we’re trying to do.

Did you catch that? He and his wife "listen very carefully". I've already noticed that with my kids. If they're interested in or excited about something it'll come up in their conversations with each other, even if they never talk to us about it. Parents can't be too wrapped up in their own lives to not be paying attention to what their kids are doing and saying.

You mentioned that your son is “relentlessly reasonable” and outlined his reasons for playing the game. How did he present his case?

...He presented the merits of the game as being good as a game, in terms of interactivity. He did actually ‘fess up and say that he’d played over at a friend’s house but hadn’t played it very much. He knew that the violence wasn’t too graphic. And he said that he really liked the fact that he could play online with his friends and they got to work cooperatively, and he enjoyed that. …

I felt that I had to take this request seriously. So I looked at the game … I didn’t play it, I looked at the box at the store and thought about it, contemplated it … and said “OK, you can get it.”

Again, they're showing trust in their son. When he says the game isn't too graphic the parents believe him. I don't know the game personally, so I can't speak to that, but it sounds like they have standards to measure by. And it sounds like the kid didn't just asked, but asked in a respectful, thoughtful way. The dad picked up on that and took the request seriously. In return, when the dad raised the "Geneva Convention" stipulation, the kid took it seriously.

But I think the main thing was that I didn’t want (Evan) to go into a scenario that was clearly in violation of that, and you slaughter a bunch of prisoners. They usually don’t set up the scenarios in that way, so it was more just to have that discussion and to have that basic check.

So, he has to play by all of those rules?

Well, sort of. Whether he actually incorporates that … I don’t think he actually holds up the page, but he’s aware that there are things called “Rules of War.”

It seems to me that this is metaphorical, really. Don’t just mindlessly go in and do anything in life, but think about the rules and moral implications of your actions, even in play. Is that what you were getting at here?

Yeah. I didn’t expect him to paste the thing by the console. He’d get killed immediately, checking his notes! (Laughs.) It was more like, give it some thought, particularly because it’s based on something real.

Bingo. Dad recognizes the difference between reality and a game, and hence so does the son. I think this dad handled the situation beautifully.

What would you advise other parents wrestling with this whole violence-in-games issue?

You really have to take a deep breath. I think every parent has to (do) what they feel is the responsible thing. I think it has to be informed — that’s the main thing. The other thing … you’re being judged on the level of these discussions. And the more decisions you make that seem arbitrary, the less they’re going to listen.

This dad gets it. I hope I get it as well as he does when it's my turn.

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