The discussion about violent video games with my 13 year old son reignited when two incidents collided. I don’t have to tell you that the first was the unspeakable tragedy at Sandy Hook; the second was a line item on my son’s Christmas list requesting a season pass to new and improved killing fields on the latest Call of Duty game. I expected the same old debate, but we have seen the Sandy Hill tragedy wield unique power, and it showed that power in my house as well.
I objected to the purchase of COD in the first place because I have studied child development and I believe that what happens on a screen has the potential to influence and desensitize a child. Does that mean that every child will be negatively affected? Of course not, but why take a risk when there are other options for filling a young boy’s free time. I lost the argument to my son and husband, but did put a practice in place that if my son wanted these games, he had to use his own money. I wasn't happy about it, but because my son has never placed on hand on anybody (not even his sister) and prefers to be outside playing or playing organized sports, I wasn't losing any sleep over it either.
When I saw the COD item on the Christmas list after Sandy Hill I reminded my son that I didn't think this was a great gift and I was pretty sure Santa was with me. It presented an opening to review my thoughts and to add some new ones I had formed in the wake of Sandy Hook.
The debate starts with my son, pointing out, probably and hopefully rightly, that he and his friends are not interested in going around killing anyone. I let him have this point because at this stage in his life it is quite likely true. He currently exists in a narrow, controlled world and with the exception of a few kids who turn up on Xbox Live as friends of friends, we have an intimate knowledge of everyone in his gaming circle. I do mention that high school is looming and his circle is going to widen rapidly to include people he does not know as well. He will no longer be certain that his games do not include someone who may be mentally responding to the game differently. I get half a point.
Then we discussed the concept of a dollar, through an idea introduced to me by a psychologist on CNN: As long as we, as a nation, spend on violence, we will get violence. I believe that. We buy violent games, more are produced, and more children are reached with violence. The more children reached the greater the statistical likelihood that a larger percentage will be affected negatively. I get a point.
Then the real issues for a 13 year old boy come up: He likes getting together with friends on Xbox live and this is what the kids are playing. I get that; he gets a point. We agree that the non-violent games are not as realistic and well-crafted. These are the real issues for him. He does concede that he doesn't like the gun games as much as likes the sports games and a game called Minecraft, but that’s not where his friends are. And now the value of a dollar conversation hits its real power. We discuss the fact that maybe his friends are thinking the same thing about the violent games and as long as they, as a generation, continue to put their dollars toward these games, they will be the hot items. The violence industry is loaded. They have the money to make high-quality, realistic games and enough left over to do a bang up job advertising them (pun intended). We ultimately decide to stop giving our money to violent games. We figure if other households are having this conversation, maybe the violence industry will have less money and the talented people who make the violent games will move on to create impressive, non-violent games. We can only hope. We both get points.
We leave the dollar discussion to reflect for a moment on Christmas trees in Connecticut with presents under them addressed to children and teachers who will never open them. With tears in our eyes we discuss the real issue: can one boy make a difference? Who knows? Thinking about those heartbroken families, he decides to try.
Over the next few weeks, when the call from the group is to COD, my son says he is not in the mood and he suggests basketball or Minecraft. No great lecture and no one asks, they just go on to play something else (13 year old boys are not big on dwelling). After the first week he is amazed: “Mom, we haven’t played COD in a week. Everyone is OK with playing other games.”
It has been well over a month now. He has even mentioned selling COD, because he hasn't played it. I am sure some of his friends have gone back to playing COD, but most of them haven’t and that’s a good start.
Is this going to put an end to violence in the world? Nope. But here is a group of consumers who may change an industry in time and a group of future adults who see that they can create their own path, have some convictions, and make changes in the world, however small. Points for us all.