Thursday, 14 January 2016

Do your children play age-restricted video games?

Do your children play age-restricted video games? Would you know if they did?

Those were two questions put to me last week by a reporter from BBC Radio Lincolnshire. Following a claim by a Lincolnshire educational consultancy of an increasing tendency for primary-age pupils to admit playing such games as Grand Theft Auto - with a commensurate increase in inappropriate language and behaviour in the playground - the local Beeb network decided to run a feature on the problem. It aired today.

When they phoned last week I was initially rather reluctant to comment. I know very little about games, not being a 'gamer' myself, although what little I do know leads me to careful guardianship of what Charlie can do. We have a Wii. He plays games like LegoCity and WiiSports and I'm fairly sure they're safe. The console is not connected to the internet.

But it seems this was perfect as far as the feature was concerned. They played me some clips from Grand Theft Auto V and we discussed what I thought, and whether I'd consider letting Charlie play. You can hear what I said here (ff. to 2:08 for the item).

I think I was fairly clear. No, I wouldn't consider letting him play such games. Young children don't have the emotional maturity and broader social awareness to handle the content of this kind of game. As for him playing them somewhere else, the house of a friend, say, whose parents were less cautious or vigilant? It's a tough one, of course, but I'd hope that explaining why things aren't suitable - talking to him - might be enough to persuade him to respect the rules both home and away.

The broader issue, of course, is whether I'd ever want him - or any of my children - to play such games. I wasn't shocked by the level of gratuitous violence, the bad language, the sex and the horror. Such things have become something of a mainstay of the film industry. But I choose not to be entertained by such things myself and I'd like to think Charlie might make a similar choice when he's old enough.

The great danger, of course, is demonising the whole thing. Games can be good. There's some fascinating research being done at the University of Bristol into gaming and education. The reward-circuits of the brain are engaged when gaming at a level that can positively benefit learning. And an outright ban on everything is more likely to lead to that perennial problem, the attraction of forbidden fruit.

I'd be interested to know what you think. Would you - do you - let your children play are-restricted games? And if not, how do you plan to make sure they don't when your back's turned?

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