M for Mature or M for “Mommy I want Blood, Guts and Boobs!”?

On Saturday I went out and braved the post-“Black Friday” crowd, to go see Beowulf.  The theatre was surprisingly empty, although the nearby retail stores were not.  There were maybe, 15 people in the theatre, including my wife and I.  Right in front of us was a husband and wife, and 5 kids, none of which could have been older than 10.  My wife and I looked at each other like “uh… WTF?”  This movie, while totally animated, was R for a reason.  It was a very visceral, violent movie, with the Grendel ripping people in half, impaling them, spattering walls and every other surface with people’s blood.  Oh, and the pretty overt sexual references during the movie as well.  Just cuz Angelina Jolie doesn’t have nipples doesn’t mean that those melons on her chest are *not* boobs.  We were totally shocked that parents would bring children that young to a movie like that.  I can almost see the following conversation taking place shortly afterwards:

Dad: “So, what do you want for Christmas, son?”

Son: “I want therapy, Dad! I’m scarred for life!  Oh, and a lusty wench like the one in the movie… I’m 10 years old, it’s time for my first hummer!”

Kids are not mentally ready to deal with those kinds of images.  I understand that at 30 I’m an old fart when it comes to how kids are growing up today, and it’s pretty obvious that we as kids grew up slower, and in not quite such a visceral way.  When I was that age, I went and saw movies like ET, The Goonies, and The Last Starfighter;  if I ever saw anything like Beowulf, my parents would have given me a “hide tanning”… which of course parents today can’t do for fear of being sued for child abuse… whatever.  Regardless, I sincerely doubt that kids’ mental capacities for being able to separate these images from “real” versus “imaginary” has made that big of a quantum leap.  As such, if a movie can make that kind of impact, what kind of impact would a MMO, which is designed to be a fully immersive experience, have on these same impressionable minds?

Disclaimer: I am NOT bashing MMO’s or the genre as a whole.  I still play quite a bit of them.  I am raising this point for discussion, so please take everything I say in that vein. /gets off soapbox

So, with that out of the way, let’s look at MMO’s and other games that are coming up in the future, and what possible effects they might have on our younger gaming population.  I think pretty much everyone as kids played some sort of video game.  In my time it was the classic Nintendo versus Sega; you were either on one side or the other.  It was pretty rare that you came across any game with blood or violence, and the few that did (Mutant League Series on Sega, anyone?) did raise a pretty huge cry of outrage.  There were the arguments we all had “But Mom, all my friends have one!!!” or “It helps my hand/eye coordination!” (Always a favorite, because there was some truth to it.), but in the end all these games were fun and harmless, just ways to relax.  The graphics were poor enough that there was no way to even think it might be “real life”.

As the technology advanced, games became more realistic, and the line started to blur more.  The first game I remember really starting to blur this line was “Mortal Kombat”.  The fact that they used some motion capture technology for the characters made it so you could almost see the people behind the costumes.  The game “felt” more real;  while none of us could lift off our yellow hoods and turn someone into a 6 foot tall barbeque, it still had that semblance of reality.  Obviously the violence was a huge issue with parents, but as kids, we said “meh, it’s not real… it’s fun!”.  We were able to say that because we could STILL tell the difference between the two.

Fast forward a few years, and look where we are now:  movies like Beowulf, with CGI that is so close to actual people it’s downright scary;  at times even I wasn’t 100% sure what was CGI and what was live people, and I knew that the whole thing was animated.  Add to that Crysis, which may take an absolute monster of a machine to run, but it has pushed the gaming envelop even closer to that true “virtual” experience, where the surroundings look so real that you do as an adult, have to shake yourself sometimes and remind yourself “this isn’t real, it’s just a game”.  Now take that whole experience and put it in front of a 10 year old or 12 year old… are they honestly going to be able to mentally break the two up?  Either that’s one hell of a mature kid for his age, or we as a culture are fooling ourselves.

Now factor in the immersiveness of MMO’s, and think of a title like Age of Conan coming out sometime in 2008… the possible conclusions are pretty scary.  Now you’re going to have that almost-surreal realism, coupled with nudity, the same not very overt sexual references simliar to Beowulf, and some pretty downright brutal violence.  Given how many parents have a hard time spending extended quality time with their kids, especially if both parents have to work, the TV and the PC become cheap “virtual babysitters” that parents can fall back on to keep their children occupied while they try and eke out a living for their family.  Add in the joke of a ratings board, and how few companies actually enforce the ratings, it’s all too easy for very young, impressionable minds to have their idea of “reality” warped by the fantasies these games pose.

What if your child thinks that just because every woman he ever meets in a game is nearly naked and always ready for sex, that it’s what they should expect from every woman they meet?  In an era where groups have been fighting for decades to bring men and women to some semblance of parity, it’s like sliding back into the Dark Ages.  Don’t think it could happen?  Tell a kid that the moon is made of cheese long enough, and they will believe it… because an adult, an “authority figure” told them so.  Now if you put almost photorealistic women on a screen, and they’re doing those actions, to a child it would seem a lot more “real”, because of that inability to differentiate.

I’m not trying to be the person with the placard proclaiming “Games Kill Our Children!!!”, but I do want people to understand that as we get closer and closer to that true DNI (Direct Neural Interface) experience, which I think could be here in as little as 20 years, this is going to become an even more and more important issue for ensuring our children grow up knowing the difference between fantasy and reality.

I look forward to your comments.

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~ by trollonfire on November 27, 2007.

8 Responses to “M for Mature or M for “Mommy I want Blood, Guts and Boobs!”?”

  1. While I agree with your ideas of games becoming more ‘real’, are they really that much different from movies? Movies have always been ‘real’, yet somehow all the kids that watched Friday the 13th when they were 8 turned out ok (well most…)

    I think it ultimately comes down to the parents. If you ignore your kid so much that you don’t know they are playing AoC, is it AoC fault or the parents? Instead of limiting the options for all consumers, people simply have to accept responsibility for their kids.

    Good post though, enjoyable read for sure. Oh, and did you like Beowulf? Going to see it in 3D this weekend.

  2. I would say yes, they are more real than the movies, because they are far more interactive than a movie. While a movie may show someone being cut in half by a sword stroke, the audience isn’t responsible for “doing” the action, so it does remove them a step from the “experience”. With games like MMO’s, players physically have to do something to cause that… be it clicking the mouse, pushing a button on the keyboard, to actually cause the “death”. It’s a minute point, but I do think an important one. MMO’s claim to be interactive and immersive… movies simply claim to be immersive.

    On a side note, I did enjoy Beowulf. I think they were able to do much more with CGI than they could have done with live action mixed with CGI. As for the 3D, I don’t think it’d make that much of a difference for me, but enjoy, regardless 🙂

  3. I’ve been a gamer raising gamers for a few years now. My eldest just turned 18 and my youngest is about to turn 9. So, this is a topic that has been discussed at large between my wife any I for a few years.
    The long and the short of it is that parents have to raise their kids.
    While you make a good point that most couples with kids are both holding down jobs. And it is true that the ammount of time a parent can spend with their kids has shrunk drastically over the last 20 years. But I still believe those are only excuses to be a lazy parent.
    Kids today are being forced to grow up far earlier then those of us in our 30s had to. I’d speculate that today’s 10 year old is experiancing social situations that we didn’t bump into until we were in our early teens. I believe that the intenet and multiplayer gaming have greatly expanded this. But parents have to realize that the things that they can control at home (playing with their kids, internet filters, etc.) are only half the battle. For every child who’s parents have done the due diligence to monitor intenet use, play game WITH their kids, etc. there’s at least one child out there, going to the same school, who’s parents don’t. And that kid is undoubtedly sitting next to your kid at lunch telling him or her about the Naruto porn they bumped into as a “reward” from some fan site. Or, that kid saw Beowulf over the weekend and is explaining what Angelia has under her Laura Croft outfit.
    You can’t protect your kids 100% of the time. But what you can do is realize that the time table got moved way up on this generation and be open and candid with your kids about what they’ve seen. Then, maybe, they’ll understand better when you aren’t letting them play Conan. Or maybe you will. Either way you’ll be making a decision based on what you’ve learned about your child.
    They call that parenting.

  4. Sethanon’s right that a good parent talks to their kids every day about what they experience and helps them to interpret those experiences. Maybe kids are having to grow up earlier now than 50 years ago, but 50 years ago was an odd situation, historically. Adolescence is a luxury that only became common in the past century. Kids mainly need to be shielded before they reach their teens.

    But increasing realism in games should still be a concern, as you say. People don’t stop being shaped by media when they reach adulthood, and stuff like TV and movies has a huge effect on how people perceive the world.

  5. It is an issue of parenting, The content of any game or movie should be reviewed before you would let your children see or play anything that might be unsuitable for them. I actually thought Beowulf was outstanding but very true it is not a “kid friendly” feature. Of course if any of those parents were shocked they could have just read the epic prior to going its pretty obvious that the movie would be gruesome at least. I really did like the inclusion of the mother creature and it being the origins of dragons nice use of poetic license.

  6. Hi, I’ve sort of replied to you here:

    http://jambeeno.com/?p=15

    I would’ve done so here but apparently wordpress.com accounts don’t allow you to link to an non-Wordpress-hosted wordpress blog like my own.

  7. I concur with all your arguments/points of refinement. It *is* up to parents to be able to correctly educate and raise their children. I guess my main point that I didn’t get across as well in the post is that most parents today just aren’t as “up” on the new technologies… our parents probably were dumbfounded by the Atari 2600, or even the old NES 8 bit as some of us are to MySpace. We- (when I say “we” I’m referring to people who are or who soon will be parents who are much more “up” with technology than the previous generation, have played online games, etc) hopefully will be able to make the adjustment to teach our children “son, when you cleared out that room with the frag grenade, please understand that we shouldn’t be doing that in real life. Nice kills, btw”

  8. Yep!

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