Tag Archives: video games

California Gaming Law Puts Rules Squarely in Parents’ Hands

By Jason Menard

Free speech comes with a cost – personal responsibility. The repeal of a California law banning the sale and rental of violent games to minors puts the responsibility for parenting right where it should lie – with the parents.

Unfortunately for many kids that’s not exactly a comforting thought.  Continue reading

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Bully Shows Parents Just Don’t Understand

By Jason Menard

When will people learn? The more you talk about something and threaten to ban it, the more desirable it will be. Unfortunately, experience doesn’t always make us wiser – especially when it comes to knowing how to keep our kids away from things we find unsavoury.

The latest example of this is the release of Rockstar Games’ Bully. This title for the PlayStation 2 enables students to take on the role of Jimmy, a 15-year-old who is starting his first year at a new school.

From there, the experience depends on how you play it. You can choose to befriend the geeks or become one of the bullies. And in typical tongue-in-cheek fashion, the game continues through social interactions. Of course, where people get up in arms is when that social interaction involves wedgies or bats.

And the greatest part of Rockstar Games’ marketing strategy? The fact that they new parents around the world – along with hyper-sensitive pundits – would be up in arms about this new game, shouting its potential for negatively impacting society, railing about its lack of compassion and understanding of a very real problem for today’s children, and essentially turning the volume to 11 to ensure everyone hears how horrible and depraved this new game is.

And, by extent, making certain that every teen worth his or her salt wants to get a copy of the game. Or at least be able to play it at a friends’ house.

It’s brilliant in its simplicity. From so-called Satanic music, to the evils of Gangsta Rap, to underage drinking, kids have reacted to their parents’ consternation and hyperbole in the exact opposite way that the adults intended. Instead of making this product repellant to kids through their actions, parents ended up making these items more desirable. After all, for a teen looking to carve out his or her own identity, what better way than to make a dramatic break from the will of their parents.

After all, parents don’t know anything. They’re old, they’re out of date, and they don’t understand today’s kid! And you know what, when there are still adults out there railing against games like Bully, it’s proof that not only do they not understand today’s kid, but they’ve forgotten the lessons of their youth, and that of countless generations before them.

Rockstar knew this. Rockstar, of the Grand Theft Auto series has had plenty of experience with parental outrage. And when the presence of an unlockable X-rated scene in a recent game was made known, all it did was stoke the fires of interest.

No, parents have yet to understand that the best way to minimize the reach of games – or any other media for that matter – that they find unsavoury is to ignore it completely. Parental outrage is the great validator for youth. Essentially, if your parents are opposed, then you’re probably on the right track.

It’s not until much later that we realize that our parents may have known what they were talking about. And it’s not until we cross the threshold into adulthood that we truly appreciate their wisdom, knowledge, and experience. And that appreciation – along with a dawning sense of regret – is only heightened when we have our own children, and the sins of our youth are revisited upon us by the next generation!

In fact, an even better way to turn your kids off of this type of stimuli is to share in the excitement and offer to participate! After all, what’s less cool in life than what mom and dad are doing?

Yet adults continue to react with outrage, thinking that discourse and common sense will prevail over a teen’s personal habits, when in fact they are dealing with knee-jerk reactions to stimuli. If a parent says one thing, then the opposite must be what’s cool!

So Bully gets released, parents around the world are up in arms, ratings boards slap on teen-only ratings (which, like Parental Advisory stickers become badges of honour, not objects to discourage), and people in the back rooms at Rockstar games laugh and watch all the money come in.

It’s not about right and wrong. It’s about how you handle it. This doesn’t mean abdicating your responsibility as a parent to discuss the tough issues. Nor should you let your child run free like a little hooligan, simply because you don’t want to say no.

But, in the end, going overboard with shock and rage in an attempt to ban a product only backfires. We’ve seen it throughout history – when will parents start to learn?

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

The Geeks Have Inherited the Earth

By Jason Menard

Have the meek truly inherited the Earth? Is geek the new standard to which we all aspire? Or has the new ostracization model shifted from jock/nerd to a more subtle shades of geekdom?

Video games, comic books, and computer technology – once the Holy Trinity of Impending Wedgies, now are cultural norms. Not just accepted, but embraced by all members of society. It appears The Geek’s passive revolution has managed to assimilate all that once opposed it.

When I was younger, there was a well-defined line between geek and what was thought of as cool. I straddled the middle, never fully falling into the pit of geekdom, but retaining enough interest in certain things that I refused to reject my interests to sit at the jock table. Basically I enjoyed all the meats in our cultural stew and got along with everyone.

Growing up in an age where the Commodore Pet was a novelty in the elementary classroom and our advanced computer classes in high school consisted of creating spreadsheets on Lotus 1-2-3, those with an affinity for computers were considered outside the acceptable norm.

Now, those same kids would be considered wise social investments, as technology-based jobs hold a certain appeal to both sexes – that being a lucrative income potential. The idea of a sexy computer programmer or hot information technology specialist was once the stuff of oxymoron – now, they’re increasingly becoming a reality.

Again, reflecting upon my youth, video games were once the salvation of the physically challenged. Not the physically challenged with actual debilitating conditions, but rather the physically challenged sub-culture that recoiled in fear at the thought of playground physical competition. Now, everyone is a gamer.

The fact that the term Gamer exists (supplanting its forebear – loser) shows how video gaming has moved into the modern realm. Perhaps a result of our continued experience with computers (again, thank you pencil-pusher-formerly-known-as-geek), we are no longer simply content to be pandered to. A movie, despite all its grandeur, is a one-way experience. We demand more from our entertainment! We demand interactivity. We demand engagement. And we demand shorter load times!

Yet, video games are fast supplanting passive media as the engagement activity of choice for men and women. I grew up at the time when the console game market was just beginning to flourish. Although it was still a time when a young boy could go to the arcade and watch in amazement the chosen few who knew the battle codes for Street Fighter, we began to embrace the home entertainment model.

Personally, I was proud to have a Gemini system. No choosing between Atari and ColecoVision for me! I could have both! Yet, I did look on in mild envy at the kid who had the ADAM.

Yes, we ventured into the personal computer market with the Commodore 64, experimenting with the precursor to the Internet – the BBS. Then came the Sega Genesis. Now, it’s not unusual for people of my generation to own multiple systems. At home we have a PlayStation 2 and a Nintendo GameBoy – and there’s still a Nintendo 64, an original PlayStation, and even a Sega Genesis and a Nintendo NES in mothballs somewhere.

Grown men and women of my age, 33, continue to play games, viewing them as an entertainment alternative to TV and movies. As games continue to improve, so too will our infatuation with the market increase. It’s all about the interactivity.

Even the geek’s secured bastion of fantasy – the comic book – has been usurped by the cool kids. Top-grossing franchises like Spider-man, Superman, and Batman show that there’s a mass market for these films – and chances are many of the viewers have never set foot and inhaled the musty air of a comic book store. Even lesser-known characters (outside the traditional geek spectrum, that is) like Hellboy, Daredevil, and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen have received on-screen treatments, not to mention the Sin City and Road to Perdition films.

And while the geek was once mocked for their borderline-concerning fascination with pen-and-ink breasts at the expense of finding real flesh-and-blood ones, it is not uncommon for the so-called cool kids to drool over the sight of Angelina Jolie or Jessica Alba lithely maneuvering across the silver screen in their respective video game (Tomb Raider) and comic book (Fantastic Four) adaptations.

So does the true geek exist anymore? Probably. There’s the über-geek faction that camps out for days for Star Wars films, criticizes two-hour movies for not adhering strictly to a 50-year detailed history of a comic book character, and, of course, there’s the supercilious losers who are masters of their own dorky domain – whether it be comics, television, computer technology, or any other interest – and possess an encylopaedic knowledge of such minutiae that they revel in mocking (privately, of course, lest they engage in actual conflict) those who are interested in a topic, but have yet to devote an unhealthy amount of time to it.

But that behaviour’s not exclusive to the geek culture. Is there any difference between camping out overnight to see the latest Star Wars chapter and camping out to score a wristband that entitles you to buy tickets for a favourite band? Is there any difference between the continuity-obsessed filmgoer obsessed with discrepencies in Ben Affleck’s portrayl of Daredevil and those who criticize period pieces and historical dramas for their creative license? Or what’s the difference between a comic history snob and those obnoxious music fans who revel in their favourite band’s obscurity, only to reject them when they become popular and lament that they were much cooler before they sold out and everyone got on the bandwagon?

Maybe we’re finally coming to the appreciation that there’s a little geek in all of us. The Geeks, finally, have inherited the Earth.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Raising Our Kids is Not a Game

By Jason Menard

While some parents are hailing the decision of the Retail Council of Canada to voluntarily restrict the access of certain video games to children, I have to wonder if this is truly a step forward in protecting our youth – or whether it’s just another case of parents abdicating their responsibility to someone else.

Once again, instead of taking the active role in child-rearing, we’re looking to external bodies to regulate our environment. To take the choice out of our hands, and to protect us from ourselves. The problem is, it won’t work. By making these games harder to get, all we have done is made them more appealing to kids.

My generation was one that grew up with video games. Whereas it’s unthinkable that many of my parents’ peers would be caught with a controller in their hands (my mother, addicted to Pac Man as she is, is a notable exception), I’m hard-pressed to find anyone in my early-30s circle of friends that don’t own at least one video game system. They are as ubiquitous as DVD players and TVs.

And, as my generation raises their children, we are exposing them to video games. The key for us is to do so responsibly and to do that we need to be active parents. No ratings or restrictions are going to change that.

As parents, my wife and I have chosen to restrict the types of games that our 10-year-old son is allowed to play. The reality is that there are plenty of games with content that some people would find unsavoury. We’ve rented games filled with strong language, violence, sexual themes, gore, and any number of illegal activities. The key thing is that we don’t play them when he’s around. Nor do we allow him to play them – and we explain to him why. There are plenty of video games out in this world and there are more than enough for him to enjoy without subjecting him to adult-themed games.

But we’ve decided to set these rules. In the same way that we guide what movies he watches, what TV shows he’s exposed to, and what access to the Internet he has, so to do we monitor the video games. In fact, we generally try any game he gets before he does, to be sure we’re comfortable with the images and activities he’s going to presented with.

It’s called active parenting – and no rating system can give that to you.

In fact, ratings are only good as guides, not as enforcements. There are two sides to this coin. First off, ask most teenagers which movie they’d prefer to see – one with a PG rating or one with a Restricted rating – and they’ll choose the latter, greatly because of the stigma attached to it. The sense of mystery and the idea of the forbidden are far more appealing than the “parentally accepted” former choice.

Secondly, ratings are not absolutes. Whether they’re industry-defined or independently assigned, they only serve to provide a general guideline of the content. There are R-rated films that I have no problem allowing my son to watch, and that have more value than many of the so-called age-appropriate films. But we don’t allow him to watch these in isolation. If a broadcast has strong themes present, it’s our responsibility as parents to talk about them, not ignore them as if they don’t exist.

Many parents, including ourselves, have been guilty at times of using TV as a babysitter. And now, as my generation continues to have children, the video game system is taking the same function in many cases. But, just as you wouldn’t hire a baby-sitter to watch your children without performing a thorough screening first, nor should you fire up a PS2 or Xbox without some prior knowledge of what’s going to happen.

I’m not so naïve as to think that my son is being completely sheltered from these images. In fact, I know acquaintances that allow their pre-teens free access to games that I would consider challenging for most adults, but that’s their choice and their kids. My wife and I can only control our environment and hope that the lessons we’re teaching, the messages we’re imparting, and the choices we’re making are enabling our son to feel comfortable in the world we live in.

Stricter enforcement on sales and ratings systems won’t do anything to diminish the appeal of violent and suggestive video games. It’s our job as parents to be actively aware of what our kids are exposed to. Raising our kids is not a game – so let’s start taking it seriously and stop looking for others to regulate what we do.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved