Is It The Government's Call Of Duty To Protect Kids From Violent Video Games?

I confess I’m thankful to the ACB for one less thing to be concerned about.

There was uproar in the gaming community at the news the latest release from Compulsion Games, We Happy Few, had been refused classification in Australia.

Set in a dystopian society that forces its citizens to take a hallucinogenic drug, players must reject this programming and fight back against the government.

It sounds harmless enough, however, the Australian Classification Board states: games that “depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults” should not be classified; which brings into question just how reprehensible the ACB deemed this game.

There is much contention around the issue, with many irate gamers frustrated at the extent of government censorship. As Matthew Dunn points out in his article regarding the banning of We Happy Few, in Australia you can “legally buy ciggies, spend all of your time down at the pub getting blackout drunk or even have sex with a prostitute at one of our many brothels. However, if you think turning 18 will allow you to spend your time playing a video game that encourages drug use, matters of sex, violence or crime, you had better think again.”

Over in the States, however, in light of the latest school massacre at Santa Fe that saw 10 students killed, debate rages over whether violent video games are to blame for the rise in aggressive behaviour, violence and mass shootings in schools.

The Governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, said in an interview that he believes violent video games to be a cause of mass school shootings, with 97 percent of teenagers engaging in hours of gaming and 85 percent of those being violent shooting games. He feels this, among other things, has led to a culture of desensitised teens who lack empathy and hold less value for life.

Image: Getty.

Statistics also show that in 2018 there have now been more students or teachers killed by guns in US schools than active duty military deaths, and that high school students in America are eighty-two times more likely to die of gun homicide than their peers in other developed countries.

But the question remains that if violent video games are just as prevalent in other developed countries where mass shootings are nearly unheard of, can they actually carry the full weight of blame for ongoing mass shootings in America?

For centuries, boys have played games that embody violence. Cowboys and Indians. Cops and Robbers. Little plastic green army men lined up on the bedroom floor ready to declare war. Even parents who have adamantly insisted no toy guns would be welcome in their homes have had to concede defeat when finding their sons using whatever they can as a weapon to enable their superhero imaginations to run rampant. But maybe this is the point -- little boys who shoot one another aren’t imagining themselves as killers, but as heroes. There’s a difference.

Psychology professor Douglas Gentile believes violent video games cannot be labelled as the single cause of school shootings, but exposure to media violence is only one of a number of contributing factors that could lead to aggressive behaviour. “Every time we have a tragedy like a school shooting, we ask the wrong question: we ask what was the cause… we assume there was a single cause. We don’t do things for a single reason only, ever.”

I write this while, in the next room, my two teenage boys play Call of Duty on the PS4. The sound of machine guns firing unsettles me; the boys comment how cool it sounds through the surround speakers. To them, this isn’t a serious game, but a means of passing time on a rainy Saturday afternoon. In a while they’ll switch it off and go back to riding motorbikes and restoring old engines and making YouTube videos of their latest projects, unaffected.

Does gun violence on screen lead to gun violence in real life? Image: Getty.

As for me, I am left asking the question of how much violence I allow into my house? How much violence is too much? How many hours can they play before I start to morph into an irrational over-anxious mother who fears for the well-being and future of my sons?

I don’t necessarily know the answer to these things. But while I’m not an enthusiast of these games, and have drawn the line at games which endorse supremacy or violence of any kind towards women, I don’t feel these games will cause my sons -- or most other teenage boys -- to commit acts of violence in the real world, and that they can clearly and safely distinguish between the two.

I think there are other factors that must be considered: Does my child lack empathy and human compassion? Does he lack remorse when he hurts another? Has he isolated himself? Has he stopped communicating with me or others? Is he acting in aggressive ways or showing signs of other mental health issues? Is he being bullied at school, or does he come from a difficult or unstable home where he isn’t receiving adequate nurture, care or support? These things, alongside the participation of violent games, would be cause for concern.

Image: Getty.

It can be difficult as a parent to know what we should allow our children to be exposed to. What effect things like video games will have on them. How protective we can be before we become too over-protective. But I think the most important thing we can do for our children is stay connected with them. Stay aware of what’s going on in their lives -- with their friends, their relationships, at school, their real lives and their virtual lives. Stay vigilant, stay aware and, most of all, stay talking to them. About this. About everything.

Should the ACB have banned We Happy Few, especially given the scope for it to be placed within the R18+ classification? Maybe not, in a country where we are not turning on the news each day to see anything like the violence taking place far too often in the US.

But as a parent, in a world where there is so much already to protect my children from, I confess I’m thankful to the ACB for one less thing to be concerned about.