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Not All Fun and Games

By Debbie McDaniel

“Just one more level!” they plead. Late night, playing video games with friends, it seems they’ve been on for hours. You know where your kids are. But do you know what they’re playing?

Many of us grew up playing video games. But we’ve come a long way since Pac man, Atari, Donkey Kong, and the early days of Super Mario Bros. The truth is, gaming has changed, along with technology and all of the other influences in the world. Never has there been a generation so attached and wired to a constant influx of media messages every single day. The gaming industry is big. And immensely profitable. Though studies have been debated over the years about the potential negative effects of violent video games for teens, indicators seem to suggest, it’s not all “just a game” anymore. Gaming has progressed down a more dangerous pathway, and parents would be wise to learn more.

While most would probably never allow their kids to eat a constant diet of junk food, or see a steady stream of R rated movies, many teens are playing hours upon hours of video games every week, with mature, suggestive, adult content, profanity, and graphic violence. So what’s the difference? The lines seem blurred; kids receive mixed messages of what’s OK, and what is not. We are affected, by what we choose to watch, focus on, listen to, and even by what games we play.

Recent statistics show:

"The global market for video games is expected to grow from $ 66 billion in 2013 to $ 79 billion in 2017. This forecast includes revenue from dedicated console hardware and software (both physical and online), dedicated portable game hardware and software, PC games and games for mobile devices such as mobile phones, tablets, music players and other devices that can play games as a secondary feature."

In our nation alone, “8.5% of youth gamers (ages 8-18) can be classified as being clinically 'addicted' to playing video games.” 

A nationally representative study found that the average 8-12 year old plays 13 hours of video games per week, while the average 13-18 year old plays 14 hours per week. Total that up and within the ages of your child’s growing up years, they could be logging upwards of close to 10,000 video hours.

While some top selling games promote learning and encourage positive messages and themes, there are many other games to avoid. The ratings, content, and reviews alone can give you much information. This is by no means an exhaustive list; there are many games that could be discussed here. Often, you will find a combination of several key characteristics they hold in common:

1.Graphic, bloody violence, real, vivid images which research indicates that over time, can lead to overall desensitization of violence or suffering, as well as increased aggression in dealing with conflict, and lack of empathy.

2.Inappropriate sexual content, overall disrespect, and violence towards women.

3.The idea that “killing” should be rewarded. Though it’s all part of the game, the lines between reality and make-believe can sometimes become blurred, and the disregard for human life seems all too real.

4.Player adopts the role of first person shooter, actually looking down the barrel of a gun, demolishing the enemy, thus making it all more real and vivid.

5.Game success is often measured by negative behaviors which promote criminal activity, theft, disrespect for authority, drug and alcohol use, and other things that parents would not likely want their kids to emulate in real life.

Ten Dangerous Video Games for Teens:

Grand Theft Auto V
Genre- Action/Adventure, Shooter
Platform – Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
ESRB Rating – Mature

When a video game sells $800 million worth of software in a single day, it says a lot about our culture. This game is rated “M” for many reasons. It is not a game intended for kids or teens. Violence, deviant behaviors, foul language, and graphic, sexual content abound in this game.

Diablo III
Genre – Role-Playing, Combat, Horror/Suspense
Platform – PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4
ESRB Rating – Mature

As its title may suggest, this game is full of demonic images and monstrosities. Its graphic, violent content is disturbing and raw.

Wolfenstein: The New Order
Genre - Shooter, Combat, Action/Adventure
Platform - Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PC
ESRB Rating - Mature

This first person shooter game takes aim at Nazi Germany forces and allows players to take on the full effect through extreme battle images. Blood, gore, intense violence, strong language, use of drugs, and strong sexual content abound through it all.

South Park – The Stick of Truth
Genre – Role-playing, Combat
Platform – Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
ESRB rating - Mature

This is no innocent cartoon series. It is crude, rude, and full of graphic sexual content and foul language.

Assassins Creed IV – Black Flag
Genre – Action/Adventure, Combat
Platform – Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, WiiU, PC
ESRB rating – Mature

In following the pattern set by other Assassins Creed games that came before, this version is also high in violent, graphic content, sexual themes, and profanity.

Mortal Kombat
Genre – Combat, Fighting
Platform – Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
ESRB Rating – Mature

Fighting game of unprecedented violence. This one game led to the establishing of the entertainment software rating board, and is still, quite possibly, one of the most historically controversial games ever.

Watch Dogs
Genre- Shooter, Action/Adventure
Platform – Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PC
ESRB Rating – Mature

This game is all about a hacker seeking revenge, but it gained the “M” rating for extreme violence, strong language, and strong sexual content.

Dead Space II and III
Genre – Shooter, Horror/Suspense, Action/Adventure
Platform – Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
ESRB Rating – Mature

Extreme violence, blood, and gore typify this game which launched its initial ad campaign this way: ”It's revolting. It's violent. It's everything you love in a game, and your mom's gonna hate it." Many moms may have been thankful for that heads up information. And quite possibly they forgot, that Moms are often the ones who choose which games to buy, or not to buy.

Mafia II
Genre – Action/Adventure, Shooter
Platform – Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows PC
ESRB Rating – Mature

Real view of the mob world, including gangsters' devaluation of human life, drugs and alcohol, and mistreatment of women. Foul language abounds and Playboy centerfolds are scattered around the environment for players to find and collect.

Naughty Bear
Genre – Role-playing
Platform – Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
ESRB Rating – Teen

The Teen rating may fool many, but this is a violent and disturbing game about a sociopathic bear who spends his time beating his peers until they commit suicide. It is basically a game that encourages imaginative murder.

The popular mindset of our culture may have a strong opinion of what they think is right. But you have the freedom to choose what you believe is right for your own family. Here’s what you may hear:

“It’s really not that bad.” 

The truth is, it really is.

“Everyone else is playing it.” 

The truth is, everyone is not.

“The parental controls make everything safe.” 

The truth is the games still contains graphic, mature content that can’t be fully controlled, and some allow for modifications to be set, where players can add extra material, characters, or plots twists that actually change the game.

“We don’t buy “M” games, so they’ll never see them or play them anyway.” 

The truth is that even though you may not buy them, many of their friends probably do.

“It’s just a game, it’s not real and they know it’s not.” 

The truth is, real or not, young minds are still affected by what they see, play, and hear. Older minds are affected as well. Young minds are still being wired and influenced by all they’re taking in from the world. And the experiences a teen has, even virtual ones, can have a huge impact on their core beliefs, values, and attitudes.

As parents, we can form our own conclusions about what we feel comfortable allowing for our kids. But if you’re like me, maybe you haven’t known enough about what’s out there and the full content that a game actually contains. I encourage you to do the research. Talk with your teen. Ask questions about what they’re playing or what their friends are playing. Keep communication open. Keep computers and games devices in common areas of your home. Make the choice for your family of what is allowable and what is not.

Most importantly, there’s One voice that rises above all the rest. More than what your teen wants, or what their friends are playing, more than varying opinions of what research says, or what the top selling games trends are. His voice reminds us to take care of what we allow in, to guard what we think about, watch, and do. And that’s really the most important thing to impress upon our kids as they grow. The one truth – that what we do – that what we choose - it matters.

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23).

Debbie McDaniel is a pastor's wife, mom to three amazing kids and a few too many pets, dramatist and writer. She has a heart to communicate God's hope though the everyday moments of life - the good, the bad, the ugly, and the ones that take your breath away.  A lover of every sunrise, forever needy of his grace, this Texas girl finds joy in the simple gift of each new day. Debbie invites you to join her at www.freshdayahead.com, and Facebook and Twitter.

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