I have a four year old daughter. She’s fast turning into a gamer like her mother and father before her. She is currently playing Journey and has finished Tengami and Monument Valley on the iPad about a hundred times each. She likes to get on Super Smash Bros. Melee and hack and slash at her two year old sister holding the other controller (and getting some surprisingly good moves in for someone performing the essence of button mashing.)
I didn’t question any of this as not being ok until she saw me play half an hour of Assassin’s Creed Black Flag a few weeks back. Then I decided, as I watched Edward gut guards with beautiful ease, that maybe… just maybe… this wasn’t something she should be watching.
Two weeks later she pulls the game out of the drawer and hands it to me. ‘We haven’t watched you play this forever, mum! Do you remember how your man sworded all those bad people?’
One’s heart could tear over such cuteness as she goes on to use the term ‘sworded’ another few times. I’m oddly proud of her, because we are unconventional in pretty much every way it’s possible to be, but at the same time the old society voice kicks in and BAM I’m thinking ‘letting them watch violent video games is going to turn them into violent little killing machines’.
So I start to over analyse (or perhaps it’s the right amount of analysis and other people just don’t like to think beyond the opening statement) and I wonder if I encouraged her to show empathy for those undergoing the violent acts – pain, death, loss, etc – would that make her a more well rounded person? Who does that? Who watches a Disney cartoon and feels bad for the bad guy? Or do all forms of media encourage us to suspend empathy for the undeserving as well as our disbelief.
I’ve long been an advocate for self-censorship. If you don’t like something, don’t watch it. It’s a human instinct. Turning away from the screen during Game of Thrones, putting down a book when you can’t bear to read any further. The same four year old that asks to watch me sword people in Assassin’s Creed, also cries and can’t finish watching Up and even The Lorax, because she’s genuinely emotionally invested in something and is afraid it’s going to end badly. She isn’t emotionally invested in Assassin’s Creed, and definitely not in the bad guys.
This is still a subject on which I’ve got a lot of thinking to do, because I’m one of those people who thinks about EVERYTHING. What amount of violence is acceptable for understanding modern society? Is it really better for them to live in a sheltered bubble? What about having empathy for cruelly farmed animals? We are animals ourselves, and we’ve sheltered ourselves for a long time to things like where our food comes from. Are we going to censor everything and make these rules for the masses? Where does that stop?
I’m not quite ready to pull out Assassin’s Creed and get swording people while my four year old cheers me on, but I’m thinking about it.