Video gaming: You and your children

Knowing what your children are up to on any screen: game, phone, iPod, computer, TV, etc is important.

Keep the dialogue open with your children on gaming.

With the Christmas season just passed, and presents still perhaps finding their way to their new homes from under the tree, some readers, young and old, might have received video games as presents, or possibly given them as gifts.

We happened to give our nephew the FIFA 14 and Madden 25 soccer and football games respectively, for his new PS4 gaming system. And when I asked one of my wonderful teenage clients (who happens to love computer gaming) if he was hoping for any particular Christmas presents, he said that he wished computer version of Grand Theft Auto 5 would be released. My mouth almost fell open.

Continuing in our series on technology, Grand Theft Auto 5 (GTA 5) is the most expensive and profitable game out there currently. It’s well known for its violence, degradation of women, and my insightful, empathic teen client, who has a family equally amazing, wants it. And his mom was okay with it. When asked why, he said the multiplayer driving with friends was a lot of fun in previous versions, and that you can play for hours and not even encounter some of unsavoury stuff. The obvious concerning actions and characters are not always that obvious…at least to him. His mom, who attends sessions, says that dialoguing about game choices, validating his opinions, and compromise are key. If her son had any concerning behaviours then she wouldn’t want to feed those; and if she says no, it becomes more attractive and even secretive whereas presently he plays all games at home, under her supervision.

The Grand Theft Auto franchise has a legacy of making parents question whether or not they should blindly buy video games for their children. And the fifth edition contains all the hallmarks of the franchise, including “gambling, robbing fictional characters (including prostitutes) with firearms, and attacking police officers with bats and grenades.” According to one review “GTA 5’s M for Mature rating is reason enough for parents to not buy it for children 17 and under. The game gained that rating for intense violence, blood and gore, nudity, mature humor, strong language, strong sexual content, and use of drugs and alcohol.” However, the same reviewer also noted that GTA 5 is a great game, filled with unique scenarios and colorful characters, strategic and complicated robberies, and a plethora of vehicles and weaponry to choose from to help players advance.

Other reviews have commented on the misogynistic undertones and the failure of the developer and its critics to disclose a very intense torture scene that cannot be skipped. Female characters exist to be rescued, shouted at, killed, or heard gossiping on their mobile phones, or shopping.

Of course, reviewer’s and players opinions are each subjective, every player is unique, reads into scenes and characters differently, and finds different things sarcastic or funny or offensive.

Knowing what your children are up to on any screen: game, phone, iPod, computer, TV, etc is important. You can disagree and still validate. Children and adolescents can have validity in their argument, not needing to be dismissed simply due to age; and parents can exercise their judgment and say no. But most importantly, parents and children can dialogue about social media, texting, and technology so that everyone can be on the same page and safe, which is what we’re hoping our series will help facilitate.

Eryn Wicker (M.A., RCC ) is a mental health clinician with the Child and Youth Mental Health team of the Ministry of Children and Family Development in Chilliwack, BC.