GTA IV, kids and parenting in the videogame age

The words on everyone's mind today are Grand Theft Auto IV.

This is a big game, quite likely destined to be one of the biggest in history thus far. I hardly think I need to explain why, but for anyone who needs proof, look no further than your nearest newspaper or television newscast.

Like hogs to the trough, uninformed sensationalist media are re-converging on this series not because for what is touted to be the most compelling narrative in GTA history, its detailed approach towards presenting an open-world environment, or the latest innovations in online multiplayer. No, the reasons the media flock to Rockstar’s most famous title are the appearance, deserved or not, of violence and lurid content corrupting the nation's youth and the very likely event that it will set a world’s record in sales.

I could go on for ten thousand words deconstructing and debating the history of GTA, the biased media coverage, game design, morals, values, potential influence of images and play on impressionable minds, and everything in between… but there's no need to even have the discussion.

The only thing that's necessary to say in relation to GTA IV is that it’s an M-rated game.


For people who either don't bother to read or simply don't understand what this labeling means (and that’s at least three quarters of the adults in this country) let me spell it out for you:

GRAND THEFT AUTO IV IS NOT FOR CHILDREN.

To all the ignorant adults, pandering politicians and neglectful parents who rail against the ‘evil’ games industry for turning America’s naïve offspring into Columbine clones and sexual deviants, the answer is simple—

Don't let your kids play this game.

Quite literally, that's all there is to say. The discussion ends here.

Games are like any other form of information or media. Like movies, books, and music, videogames are simply a vehicle to communicate a spectrum of content that spans a range of (say it with me now) ALL AGES, and certain content is simply NOT for kids.

As a parent myself, I make it my responsibility to check into whatever it is that my son is playing, watching, reading (and even eating) to make sure that it's within the guidelines for what my wife and I feel is appropriate for a person his age. I may personally enjoy a double feature of gory horror classics and popcorn on a Friday night or curling up with the latest torrid fantasy romance novel and breaking into a sweat during chapter 4 , but my son’s not going to be partaking of things like this until he’s mature enough to handle them, and responsibly so.

Any parent who buys (or pays for) a copy of GTA IV without doing the research and then complains about their children playing and being ‘influenced’ by the game should first take responsibility for their own actions, and admit that they're not doing the job they should be. I have absolutely no respect or tolerance for people who want the government, the industry, or anyone espousing censorship to raise their kids. If you’re too lazy to check out what’s in the game your kids are playing, then you don’t deserve to have kids. It's a parent's job to monitor what their kids are into—this is not up for debate.

But they’ll just play it at a friend’s house

…So call the friend’s parents, ask questions and have the discussion.

They’ll just get it and hide it

Support stores that enforce the ESRB and don’t sell M games to minors, and while you’re looking under the mattress for a sticky copy of Plump Rumps and in shoeboxes for marijuana, take a look-see at what’s on their game shelf or under their bed. Better yet, when their TV set is on and they have controllers in hand, look at what's on the screen.

Granted, it’s not possible to shield children from every conceivable evil that exists in the world, but an interested, involved parent will know when their kids are getting into things they shouldn’t—and even if your kid is a contraband ninja—you should consider yourself to be the strongest, most effective influence in your child’s development. By setting a good example, talking to your kids, and being a part of their life, any possible negative effects from games (as well as TV, movies, books, music, modern art, red meat, and a million other things) will be defrayed by the love and care you show them.

Will I buy a copy of Grand Theft Auto IV?

Absolutely. I’ll probably enjoy the hell out of it, too.

Will my son be playing it, or be beside me on the couch watching while I am?

Not for another ten or twelve years.

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