Previous articles from our editor Paul Govan are here.
Whilst videogame rating systems keep games from the wrong people, they may inadvertantly be exaserpating our current moral situation. When responsibly experienced, many games can offer a crucial resource to engage with a raft of frightening issues of our day. Maybe more should be done to get the right experiences to the right audience as a means of providing our culture a valuable resource to work through difficult issues in a visceral and safe place.
The videogames industry has become good at responding well to a general public desire to stop the wrong people gaining access to innappropriate games. This reflects a wider protectionist theme in our culture where we work hard to ensure the vulnerbale are kept from things that may damamge them. We keep our offspring inside for longer, avoid dangerous activities, berate them for unhealthy habits and generally try to keep them innocent and safe.
While this is all well and good, it fails to talk to the other realities of their lives. Their early access to commercial media and experience of an ever more social and information networked world make young or sensitive people acutley aware of the harsh realities of life. Our protection can ironically serve to further disconnect them from each other at a time when society itself is ever more fragmented.
Although only a small part of this larger picture, modern videogames are starting to exhibit qualities usually reserved for these older traditions.
Ironically, this very protective instinct can lead to us putting people in more danger. For instance a recent study showed that when parents started driving their children to school for fear of a spate of attacks, the resulting increse in road traffic accidents invovling their young people was statistically a much greater threat. The instinct to keep safe doesn't always serve to genuinely protect. Perhaps we would be better off educating, discussing and engaging with the dangers rather than trying to banish them from our lives.
Where previously tradition and stories and myth would create a shared narrative, now there is an abscence of a shared understanding of how to live a meaningful life. We do more to protect young people, than to enable them to engage with the dangers and realities of the world.
Although only a small part of this larger picture, modern videogames are starting to exhibit qualities usually reserved for these older traditions. Not only do games like Shadow of the Collosus, Grand Theft Auto and Fable 2 provide some large overarching themes of relationships and good vs evil, but on the micro level they create safe spaces in which players can share frightening experiences in a positive manner.
Media and publicist coverage is admitedly dominated by violent themes. However, games engage with much more interesting (and frightening) moral dilemas than the pulling of a trigger. Many lead players to a space where they have to stand on their own moral convictions. By removing the usual inherited social taboos they are faced with the frightening fact of their responses to sensitive scenarios. Here, the much more challenging and longlasting experience is not who or how many they shot, but how they treated the other players in the game.
Grand Theft Auto has as much to ask about how we treat those on the margins of society as it does of how accuratley we can shoot a shotgun. Bioshock is not only a game fueled by performance enhancing drugs. but more by how players deal with the comodatisation of childrens' life. Fable 2 is more than a simple Dungeons and Dragons style adventure game, rather it maps the effect of players everyday moral decisions on the ongoing character (and visual look) of their hero.
To be healthy every community needs dark frightful stories.
Here, they are acting much like old texts have done for previous generations. As the ethisist and theologian Hauewas highlights in his essay about Watership Down, to be healthy every community needs dark frightful stories. They function not only as cautionary tales, but as safe places in which readers can play with ideas too dangerous or unmentionable for everyday life.
These days we are often shocked at the innappropriate nature of many children's nursery rhytms, fables and stories. But maybe this again gives away our jaundised focus on the protection of the young, rather than on their rounded experience and education. When we come to the reality of own disasters, the existence, ownership and experience of materials that can genuinely address our dread and fear can be make or break for our survival.
Here, I am saying videogames have the potential of filling a space absented by the dissappropriation of older texts. Videogame experiences take players to a place where they learn about about who they are at a very base level. Certainly not one to be taken lightly, but also not something we should want to protect our children from wholesale. Perhaps we should spend more time figuring out how to creatively engaging with these experience, and a little less time keeping children from them.
Here, the much more challenging and longlasting experience is not who or how many they shot, but how they treated the other players in the game.
We want Familiy Gamer to be a place of reconnection between these experiences and the people that may benefit from them. Rather than help you know which games to keep your children away from (that is afterall well documented elsewhere), we want to help you find experiences that you can share with them.
Of course this starts (like sunday school) with playful, joyful games suited to the very young, but also extends to the more ominous experiences that we think are (if handled corretly) interesting and valuable to a healthy growing individual. Their sensible and thoughtful use, particularly when a parent shares the experience with their offspring, can provide something we have lost elsewhere: the chance to spend time with frightful ideas in a space perminent enough and safe enough to allow us to unpack and engage with them fully. This not only produces some fun times, but has the chance of equiping both young and old for the rare dark realities of life, as well as the brighter days.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: