Monday, January 29, 2007

Parenting, Hyrule Style

I've always had a penchant for video games. Ever since I was a youngster and first played He-Man for the original Atari 3600 I was hooked. Eventually my brother, ten years my senior, brought home the Nintendo Entertainment System. After many hours huddled in his basement bedroom continuously reading that "our princess is in another castle," I knew my life would never be the same. In no time, I was the expert and gave him tips on how to conquer Ganon and how to get Pit out of the Underworld.

Throughout all of my career as a young gamer, my mother set one crucial rule. No games where the main objective is to kill other people. I was allowed to destroy over sized red tortoises to save a princess or best the Mother Brain to liberate Zebes, as long as no other human was harmed in the process. That meant Contra was a big no-no, which didn't bother me so much. Fighting games were also out, which was mildly upset me since the gore of Mortal Kombat was so hyped.

I grew up in a very strict household when it came to all media and the portrayal of violence and/or sexuality. I wasn't allowed to watch MTV until I was 16, I wasn't allowed to watch R rated movies until I was 17. I wasn't allowed to watch "the Simpsons" until high school.

There were rules in my home. Without ESRB to tell her which games were appropriate based on their violence and sexuality, my mother knew enough about common sense parenting to familiarize herself with the things in my life that made me the most content.

I don't claim to have never participated in the above activities. I saw Blame It on Rio and European Vacation before I was old enough to realize what boobs were, and I knew how to execute Scorpion's decapitation finishing move better than any other kid on my block.

The point is, though, that even though certain things were available to me outside of my home, my mother actively participated in my life and kept me from certain things until she was sure I was emotionally mature enough to understand the themes of these movies and games and also that I was mature enough to make the decision for myself whether or not they were worth my time.

It seems to me that a good portion of parents now don't want to do this kind of active parenting. They expect ESRB or MPAA to parent for them. I fully understand that video games are a much more popular media now, with many more games available than when I was a kid (Hey, I haven't traded my GameCube for a cubicle, yet). I know that the ratings are there to guide the parents that actually care about what is going into their child's head. But what good are the ratings if parents don't use them? These ratings were set up as a guideline for parents who are unfamiliar with games, so why do these people refuse to look at the rating before they buy a game for their child? Why are parents so intent on and content with other people's decisions on how to rear their children?

Mine is probably the first generation of true hardcore video gamers. And I'm sure it won't be the last. We are a generation that started as children with Mario and have grown into adults with (hopefully) enough intelligence to understand that the violence depicted in Gears of War is the video game equivalent of Apocalypse Now. These games are most definitely not for children.

But people demonize video games and refuse to familiarize themselves with the medium and games
all wind up lumped into the same category. I find it hard to believe that Brain Age or Mario Kart can even be considered part of the same oeuvre as Grand Theft Auto.

As the next generation of parents, (I believe we're 'grups' now?) it's our responsibility to rear our children with the values that we ourselves hold to the highest importance. It's our responsibility to not depend on people like Dr. Phil or (the way more extreme) Jack Thompson to tell us how to raise our brood.

Would I ever let my child play Resident Evil? No way. Just like I wouldn't let them see the Deer Hunter or read the Tropic of Capricorn until they were old enough. I think that's common sense, but maybe that's just me.