Grand Theft Auto V

Grand Theft Auto IV
Grand Theft Auto IV (Photo credit: midnightglory)

I’ve seen a couple of interesting articles today about the new Grand Theft Auto game, specifically related to it being played by kids. As a gamer, and a parent of a 12 year-old gamer, I have an interest.

The first was a guest post by @Pols80 on A Dad Called Spen‘s blog: Is Grand Theft Auto suitable for a 9 year old?.

Interesting stuff, especially the comments. Then this evening I saw a post on Kotaku: I Sold Too Many Copies of GTA V To Parents Who Didn’t Give a Damn

GTA:V is rated 18.

Should it be sold to kids?

No.

Should parents buy it for their young kids?

No.

It really should be as easy as that. Shouldn’t it?

Except it’s never quite so simple.

Where do you draw the line? I’ve got some 15-rated games which I’m quite happy for my 12 year-old to play. They’re carefully vetted , checking reviews and, if it’s a game I already own, by my experience of playing it.

But by allowing one 15-rated game, you open the door to the question ‘well, if I can play *that* one, why can’t I play *this* one?’, and the inevitable ‘well, if I can play 15 games now, when can I start playing 18 games?’

It’s provoked some interesting discussions over why some games are for more mature audiences and some we feel are ok. Some mutual head-scratching on why, for instance, the new Tomb Raider game has suddenly gone from a 12 to an 18.

Take Skyrim. It’s rated 15. It features a wide, open-world setting in which your character can pretty well do as he or she pleases. You can go on epic quests fighting dragons, or help the absent-minded folk of Whiterun find whatever it is they happen to have lost today.  Boy, do they lose a *lot* of things. The point is, it’s clearly a fantasy game. You don’t get to wander around in real life wielding swords and firing off magic spells left right and centre. We’ve both sunk many many hours into this game, building up our characters and working through the game quests.

The thing is, we talk about the game. We discuss the ins and outs, the pros and cons of why we’ve done things different ways, where we’ve both made good choices and bad, what that means for the characters and the quests.

And it’s quite clear – it’s a game. And that’s the argument you’ll see around GTA. It’s just a game.

Except it’s a game in which you’re expected to do some very bad, very illegal things in a very realistic, real-world environment.

The line is still there, it’s still definitely a game, but for a younger audience, that line is not so clear cut. Games on screens turn into games in playgrounds. And whilst your imagination can summon up dragons and spells, how’s it going to handle the torture, violence and killing in GTA? Do you really want your kids exposed to that? Do you want your kids being normalised to that level of very realistic ultra-violence?

I don’t.

And the argument ‘well, all their friends are playing it’ is just…  what do you care what their friends are doing? Should you not be more bothered about what your kids are doing?

Maybe you should be setting an example to those parents who allow their 9 year olds to play Call of Duty or GTA. Their kids who are going to be having nightmares about what they’ve seen on-screen.

Do I think that violent games *cause* violent behaviour? No. But that’s a story for another day.

I’d love to hear what you think. Are they just games? Should we be concerned about the age rating on games?

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