On Tuesday afternoon I found myself surrounded by 30 or so children and one seriously irritated mom. School had just let out and we were packed into the local Gamestop to grab the new Halo. There was a long, amorphous line of alarmingly hyper teenagers waiting, like me, to cough up $60 for the latest game in Bungie and Microsoft’s epic franchise.
The mom was not there because she wanted a collector’s edition spartan helmet, or because she wanted to pwn the kids. Her adult approval was required for her pack to buy the game. (She appeared to be subbing for a dozen missing moms and dads who must have drawn longer straws.)
I moved toward the chaotic mass and asked a curly-haired shorty at the back if he was in line. He was nervous and seemed a little sad. “Yes, that is, no, I mean, yes ... if. ...” What an odd answer, I thought. Oh, here it comes. “Can you do me a favor?”
The boy wanted me to pose as his guardian, because, as he explained, his mom works and wouldn’t be able to pick up the game until Friday and he just couldn’t wait that long. He was camped out at the store hoping someone would agree to fill in for her so he could pick up the merchandise he had preordered and paid for. I guess the in-store mom had already turned him down.
Why the boy shouldn’t be able to buy the game on his own is completely beyond me, although I’m pretty sure it has something to do with Hillary Clinton, who is on record saying a lot of silly things about video games and children in order to score political points with scared parents.
Halo is a game where humans and aliens shoot each other with ray guns. The blood, when there is any, is purple, and green, and rather cartoonish. The violence is less important than the story, and it is all so much tamer than what is out there in the real world, let alone in other games. Somehow it is considered too much for anyone under 17 to take. Please.
When I was this boy’s age, scoring video games wasn’t a problem. I played a lot of them and a lot were grotesquely violent. Despite the hypothetical damage that academics, writers and politicians said I was doing to myself, today I abhor violence and Hillary Clinton bombs people and votes “yes!” for war. So what does that tell you?
Meantime, my ward is still waiting for an answer.
“Yeah, sure, why not?” I said, thinking of the time I was his age when some friends and I got a homeless veteran to buy us wine coolers. Is this like that?
The mom shot me a disapproving glance when I helped little shooter McGaven pick up his brand new Halo, but I didn’t care. “Don’t oppress him!” I thought, smiling at the memory of my more radical teenage years.
When I was in high school, I helped start a children’s rights organization. We wanted to do big things like get the U.S. to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, but we also wanted our parents and teachers to realize that we were consumers in our own right, humans with agency and taste, and that we had not only the means but the right to read what we wanted, watch what we wanted and communicate freely and with privacy. It was big stuff. The kid in the video game store didn’t need to hear about it, but hey, it’s the duty of the old to bore the young with tales of their triumphs.
The fact is, games don’t hurt people. They don’t warp young minds, making them simple or violent. That’s a lame argument that has been peddled for decades and could never explain Japan, a country that has some of the most horrifying media on Earth and also a people much less violent than we puritanical Americans. The video-games-melt-children’s-brains argument doesn’t make any sense to the scientists who keep doing research that shows the opposite. Video games are actually good for your brain. Seriously.
The latest study—and there have been several—says that not only do video games help people make faster decisions, but the more extreme, more violent games do a better job of sharpening our minds while the safer, parent-approved puzzle games accomplish less. As Wired rather wonkishly summarizes, “Action-game players get tutored in detecting a range of visual and acoustic evidence that supports increasingly speedy decisions with no loss of precision, the scientists report in the Sept. 14 Current Biology.”
Another study, cited in the myth-busting book “Everything Bad Is Good for You,” recommends video games to the elderly to help keep their minds keen.
Much of the criticism of media, video games included, comes from the people who don’t consume it. People who don’t watch television brag about how sophisticated they are, while researchers tell us the multi-threaded plotlines in today’s shows make viewers smarter, more complex thinkers. I can understand why reasonable parents might fear violent video games, but the idea that they make us criminals, wife-beaters and idiots is simply absurd to anyone who has spent very much time playing.
According to the Pew Research Center, we’re raising a generation of sharper thinkers, one that outperforms its predecessor on tests and pursues more education. These kids, exposed to the kind of apocalyptically violent and sometimes sexual games that made Hillary huff, are actually more politically enlightened and tolerant than any generation in American history.
So lay off the gamers and the kids who know better than their parents what they’re doing. Video games make you smarter. And if anyone needs me to stand in as their adult enabler, I’ll be there when the next big game comes out.