Help Me Be a Good Parent When it Comes to Violent Videogames
June 10, 2018 9:13 PM   Subscribe

There are a lot of gamers here on Metafilter, and I need your help. My kiddo likes shooting things in videogames, but I kinda hate that he likes it. How do I be a Good Mom about this?

He's just finished Just Cause 3, which seems to involve being an American agent blowing up people and things in a Central American country (given actual US history, I find that super problematic!), and before that there was a LOTR game that involved mostly killing orcs, with squish/splat sound effects that grossed me out.

He doesn't play GTA (we've specifically discussed that) and I think he knows super-graphic gore is not ok, but in general I just hate the whole first-person shooter genre.

I asked him why *he* likes it, and it boils down to the adrenaline rush of shoot-or-be-shot, and also he has some motor issues that makes your average quest game more difficult/frustrating because it tends to involve fiddly aiming and so on.

So gamers; a. am I worrying too much about these kinds of games and b. are there games that would give him the same rush without slaughtering entire villages?

(he does play quieter games too, it's not exclusively shooters)
posted by emjaybee to Human Relations (34 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
How old is he?
posted by slightlybewildered at 9:20 PM on June 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh yes I should have said; he's nearly 13.
posted by emjaybee at 9:36 PM on June 10, 2018

You shoot things in Portal and Portal 2!
posted by fluttering hellfire at 9:37 PM on June 10, 2018 [6 favorites]

in little big planet you have a gun that shoots cupcakes
posted by poffin boffin at 9:57 PM on June 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

I can really only answer your first question as a non-gamer but as someone who teaches people this age all the time.

Here is some recent research which supports the idea that there is no link between playing violent video games and being primed to commit actual violent behavior.

That said, in your situation I'd make an effort to communicate with him about other video-game-adjacent things like:

- communicating with folks he doesn't know personally via in-game chat functions and not letting you know how that's going if it gets weird - if he's in a team/guild/squad/whatever with randoms from the internet, what are they like? Does he feel like he can share their victories/drama with you?

- understanding the possible financial consequences for everyone in the household if he downloads too much downloadable content (does he have a budget for this?)

- getting enough sleep during the school year - many teenagers struggle with this, not just those who play video games

- doing the emotional labor of eating/cooking/just being convivial with other people in your house (to the extent any 13-year-old would be); if you have houseguests, for example, does he come say hi and hang out for a bit, or stay in his room never noticing their presence? Do you both have time together that feels normal for kids this age (like parent-kid trips to the supermarket every week when he offloads frustrations from school in the car on the way there and you listen sympathetically), or does his gaming take away opportunities for this kind of thing?

- time management in terms of non-video game social interactions with peers: are there days when he doesn't play, instead going to (say) skateboard with his friends or volunteer at the local food bank?

The virtual world of video games (and the internet in general!) can be, for many teens, one of the only places they have independence and agency, or are confronted with actually interesting problems that make schoolwork pale in comparison in terms of interest and difficulty.

The teenage years are a time of growth in metacognition (that is, thinking about how you think about things) and video games of all stripes force their players to see the/a world in ways that constantly make you reassess what you think you know. And violence is just one angle of these games - there's the immersive world building, the social interactions with characters that are real/imaginary, the balancing of resources and the need to choose and use precise combinations of tools or equipment, in a certain way, to achieve a goal. Video games are an excellent, and safe, way for teens to play around with the rules that govern these kinds of interactions.

It sounds like you're already talking about things related to his gaming habits, which is great! He's going to be just fine as long as he knows he can communicate with you about what's happening in the games he plays and outside them too.
posted by mdonley at 10:41 PM on June 10, 2018 [49 favorites]

(Also, not sure if this is still a thing in Just Cause 3, but in Just Cause 2 I remember watching a friend somehow use a grappling hook (?) to attach a bad guy's car (or perhaps a random bystander's car?!) to the tail of an airplane, and then hijack the plane, dragging the thing down the runway and eventually into the air. It was absolutely ridiculous, utterly hilarious and something I highly recommend, after a stressful day. Sort of like this.)
posted by mdonley at 10:48 PM on June 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you're not aware already, the game's ESRB rating is designed to be a guide to what is age appropriate. In line with your judgement, Just Cause 3 is intended for audiences 17 and older, while shooters like Fortnite and Destiny 2 are rated for teens.

A lot of parents don't follow the game's rating, so kids often gravitate to games intended for adults, meaning his friends will be playing these games and he probably won'y like being cut off from the shared cultural experience. But the ratings are there to help you if you think they might be useful, and these days there are so so many great games to choose from no matter how you slice the selection.

That said, you might also be worrying too much - most of the research I've seen suggests the effects are overall positive. Personally, I'd be a bit wary of online toxicity in multiplayer game communities instead (Fortnite mentioned above is exclusively multiplayer), but I don't know if that's an issue here - it sounds like he prefers the single-player experience.
posted by Cusp at 10:49 PM on June 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

Splatoon. it's paint, my 14 y.o. loves it
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:23 PM on June 10, 2018 [9 favorites]

I've played shooty violent video games since I was a kid. My mom wanted me to turn on "green blood" in Turok but my dad was like, "Nah, red blood is better. It's fine." So overall I'm a fan of games and some shooters. My husband and I are avid gamers with about 6 systems set up right now.

However I DEFINITELY think there are some story lines in games that can be very problematic. There's TONS of review videos on games on YouTube, so I suggest you check those out before you get a game for him.

I think in general Sci Fi based games tend to be less violent - because you're killing created creatures. So therefore Mass Effect, Halo, etc. (Also I'm currently playing Sunset Overdrive which has options to turn off vulgar language and gore.)

I think a big thing is talking to him on what constitutes entertainment versus real life. And especially not to bring in violent behavior into his life. This personally hasn't been a problem for me - I'm also a woman. I didn't ever see it as anything beyond a game. But I saw many men who used violent video games as an example (and was harassed by many of them online.) Likely this has to do with the toxic masculine culture in life and in gaming where women are seen - falsely - as a minority.

I also think it's similar to how you deal with violence in movies. Personally, I find violence in movies to be even more problematic than games.

Therefore, research games before you buy them online, talk about story lines you find problematic, talk about what behaviors are okay and not okay, being safe online, make them aware and kind as you raise them, make sure chores and responsibilities are done before gaming, and talk about entertainment versus life.

In a few years your kid may be out of the house, and at that point they can play all the games they want without your input or discussion on story lines. It's good to smash toxic masculine culture that hides behind gaming now and allow them to look into story lines and talk about them with you.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:42 PM on June 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

Speaking to question A -- I've played a lot of games throughout my life and spoken to other game-players about this. The thing is that in most games like this, for most people, the narrative or meaning is totally secondary to the moment-to-moment mechanics of playing. Mostly, the narrative is almost kind of slopped on top to make it easy to understand what is expected of you in the game. (Oh, the guys in these uniforms are my enemy, and this guy is their boss, so I can expect that fighting him will involve something special or difficult.)

If you're playing Just Cause 3, you probably aren't thinking about whether your, uh, cause is just, or wondering what actions would be considered ethical in the game world, or drawing conclusions about the real world based on feedback from the game. Like your son was getting at, the draw is the experience of thinking under pressure, exercising some skills, and feeling a little rush of accomplishment if you succeed.

I hope you find some fun things for your son to enjoy that you are both happy about, and I'm sure that it is a good idea to keep an eye on what he is playing and talk to him about it or exercise your veto when something seems problematic to you. However, if in the end he still inexplicably continues to like games where he is a guy shooting other guys, don't lose too much heart; it's probably not because he has some weird fascination with killing, and he probably won't take away a violent morality or inclination. More likely he just likes to learn to cultivate quick thinking and quick moving with a game controlller.
posted by value of information at 11:51 PM on June 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

(given actual US history, I find that super problematic!)

If you find the content of the game historically problematic, that might be a really good jumping-off point for a discussion of media in general. I would also suggest that you familiarize yourself with some of the details of the game first, if only so that said discussion can be grounded in the reality of what he is doing.

I would also double-down on the ESRB ratings that other folks have mentioned! Speaking as a child of the nineties, there was a big ol’ controversy that resulted in games being rated in order to help parents out, so do please look at them, trust them, and feel free to use them to control the content coming into your home as best as you are able.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:52 PM on June 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

(For reference, this is the ESRB rating for Just Cause 2.)
posted by Going To Maine at 11:52 PM on June 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

He's probably playing games for the very tight feedback loop of lots of little senses of achievement. It's much more immediate, a lot less fuzzy than the real world, and not full of adults telling him what to do. While it's also almost certainly harmless, if you want to wean him off a particular type of game you're probably going to struggle to just jam another genre infront of him and expect him to latch onto it. You need to offer something similarly rewarding and similarly under his control. A Humble Bundle of maker books aimed at kids and an Arduino or Raspberry Pi might give him a different kind of sandbox that he finds equally as rewarding.
posted by krisjohn at 1:25 AM on June 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

nthing age ratings, they're there for a reason

also nthing discussion - get involved, talk about the games (to the extent he's comfortable doing that, not like you have to force a long discussion - just a chat about how it's going for him there, what he's enjoying, what he's frustrated about, what he's achieved, etc - let him share it with you)

Fortnite has really found the sweet spot for this teen-oriented-shooter sub-genre. It's multiplayer, and there are some issues with that potentially, but I'm going to take a wild guess that several (probably: absolutely all) of his buddies are already playing. It's popular because it's really really fun. If he has a good group and sticks with them, it can be a positive & collaborative experience - no need to be reaching out to internet randos to get a game, and it seems like a way less frustrating & difficult team dynamic compared to e.g. Overwatch. My son & his buddies make up their own n-player team-based Fortnite mini-tournaments with winners & losers brackets incl. repechage... they have a blast. OK there's shooting but... it's the acceptable face of shooting, for me. Kinda hard to get too morally concerned when they're pushing each other around the map on shopping trolleys, or stopping the action for an impromptu dance-off.
posted by rd45 at 1:45 AM on June 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

FWIW, Just Cause 3 is set on a (fictional) Mediterranean island called Medici, and the protagonist is originally from there. I do definitely understand your qualm in that regard, though—Far Cry 3 was very much in "white savior" territory.

Seconding the idea of using problematic themes as a jumping-off point to discussion about military intervention, hegemony, "white savior" themes, etc.
posted by dondiego87 at 3:36 AM on June 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

The thing that I'd be most concerned about wouldn't be shooting so much as any kind of chat happening. Gaming chat with strangers is a giant flashing NO for me. No no no no never no. That's where the majority of the toxicity lies and that's a primary vector for young men these days to start to become immune to racism, homophobia and misogyny.

Shooters...well I wish I could say they're not fun but they're really fun. They'd be just as fun if you were shooting robots that exploded into a cloud of rainbows and kittens when you shoot them, so use the ratings and help him pick more appropriate shooters. The rush and sense of accomplishment is still there.

(Fortnite has a Solo mode in its battle royale, which is all I play because hell no am I talking online to a bunch of absolute strangers, especially with my lady voice, and I don't have other gaming friends to arrange online meet ups with.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 3:40 AM on June 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

Also! I remember a game called ChexQuest when I was a kid. Yes, Chex like the cereal. It was a CD-ROM that came in the cereal box! I played actual shooters like Goldeneye and Perfect Dark, but I still loved ChexQuest even though your "shooting" the aliens just sends them back to their home planet instead of killing them. It's basically Doom but with cartoonish enemies, nonviolent gameplay, and breakfast foods. It might be possible to play even now! (I don't have a Windows machine to test on.)
posted by dondiego87 at 3:43 AM on June 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

So gamers; a. am I worrying too much about these kinds of games and b. are there games that would give him the same rush without slaughtering entire villages?

You're way too focused on this one aspect. Lot at his general attitude and demeanor, is that violent? If the answer is no, then chill and let him have his fun.

Continue parenting, of course, and making clear what's right and wrong in reality. But fantasy is its own thing.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:46 AM on June 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm admittedly a bit off on one side on this question. I have a 12 year old and I don't let him play any first-person shooter games yet, and only fantasy-style games if they involve battles and killing. We're talking about allowing some Fortnite this summer but I am hesitant. I'm just sharing my thinking so you know what it is.

I get that these games are not likely to make my child violent, and that's not the issue for me. The issue for me is twofold. One is that I don't personally think the adrenaline curve is good for anyone, but especially young men. I get that we all like it, including me and my Metafilter hit this morning. I know my son exists in society and I definitely want him to game while he's still under our roof so we can talk with him about it, so this isn't like a Final Word, but I am trying to draw out the period of time when he's not seeking that thrill all the time. I think it makes mundane life or hard tasks like...novel writing...seem so flat in comparison.

Instead, we signed him up for rock climbing lessons this summer. (Not kidding!)

Second, I talk a lot to my child about what takes up rent in your head. That's where I find first-person shooter games disturbing. I know I still dream about the games I played obsessively in my youth, and when I see powerful films and art, they enter my consciousness, especially the more I've seen them. I fully expect that in 5 or 6 more years, my son will have a much greater degree of control over what he is consuming media-wise, and I do want to give him more and more choices. But I don't want, at 12, for him to be spending his time in his head that way.

So instead we have him involved in a formally-led local D&D group where he is letting that style of roleplay in his head. I don't know how violent it is in there but I do know the images are coming from his own brain.

Basically, I try to help him scratch that itch in other ways first.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:09 AM on June 11, 2018 [13 favorites]

He's probably playing games for the very tight feedback loop of lots of little senses of achievement. It's much more immediate, a lot less fuzzy than the real world, and not full of adults telling him what to do.

THIS. I've been working with kids for 20 years and this is the problem that my colleagues and I see. It's not the violence. Kids know it's a game and if you don't want them to play first person shooter games, that's fine, but you should be FAR more concerned about the feedback loop which to my teacher-like eye, really appears to be addictive and really messes kids up as far as learning to stick with challenging things, i.e. grit.

I would get him involved in real world activities and try hard to limit gaming to no more than 2 hours daily (and even that's too much, I think). Kids get way too stuck in that immediate gratification loop and just aren't learning the skills needed to stick with things.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 4:44 AM on June 11, 2018 [11 favorites]

The research I've read regarding the link between violent behavior and video games is that it can instigate aggression if there is an underlying priming for anger/violence that exists in the gamer. So if your son has some issues with anger or is using video games to channel his anger/aggression that should be addressed elsewhere, it may lead to violence IN THE MOMENT (i.e. if he is playing with another person, or someone is near by, he might lash out at them verbally or physically or break something, etc.). That being said, the competitive, aggressive, often vile nature of online gaming can make someone angry, thus initiating and perpetuating this cycle of frustration, anger, and maybe violent acts that are tied to the video game as a MEDIUM, but really is a response to other people's shitty attitudes and behavior.
posted by Young Kullervo at 5:58 AM on June 11, 2018

Please ignore people trotting out the tired old line: "Violent games don't make people violent". It's a red herring; the problem with these games, as mentioned above more eloquently than I could, is that playing them immerses the player in violence and death. Same with any form of media, of course -- what would you do if your son had a book that was a page or two of plot in the middle of hundreds of pages of gleefully violent, obviously immoral acts? It's not clear to me why games like Just Cause are more socially acceptable than such a book would be, and if it's not clear to you either, then go with your gut. It's your job to make sure your son grows up in the best environment possible; the media he consumes is a *big* part of that environment.

By the way, you address your question to "gamers". Luckily, I am one -- my PS4 sees use almost every day. I owned a copy of Just Cause 2 for reference and I found it boring. The gameplay itself is really not very engaging; all you can do is kill people and blow up things and explore digital terrain (albeit with a very fun movement system). The violent games I play are basically just Dark Souls, where your opponents are non-human and the setting is fantastic and mythological. I'm not suggesting this would be a good alternative -- gameplay rewards patience and deliberation rather than twitchy frenetic play. I mention it only to say that I'm not on the side of "all violence is bad". I'm on the side of "Role-playing murder is bad".

On the fantasy topic, I read a review of some LOTR game recently wherein you captured and tortured orcs to make them join your army. Even most professional reviewers had ethical issues with the game, which is rare, so don't feel bad about 86ing that one straight away.

You cannot harm your child by limiting the violent media he is exposed to. Even further, in my opinion you have an obligation to shape the media environment he's growing up in. And as mentioned above, you absolutely should discuss and contextualize it, too.
posted by dbx at 7:59 AM on June 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

nthing age ratings, they're there for a reason

Yeah, but those reasons are unlikely to be anything you care about. The biggest difference between an ESRB Teen game and an ESRB Mature game is likely to be whether or not anyone says "fuck" and some minor cosmetic fiddling with the violence, not anything about the underlying nature and amount of violence.

That said: I would not worry about offline play assuming that, following mdonley, he's no worse-than-normal about being an annoying teenager -- and even then I would only worry that he was gaming too much and not whether it was Just Cause #Whatever or Stardew Valley. I would worry very, very much about the people he might meet in online play and the types of actual bad behavior and bad thought those people might encourage.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 9:02 AM on June 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don't find many people here defending the games. I'm going to try and come at it from more of a philosophical side.

Parents have always wanted to protect their kids. Parents are wiser than kids, and know that some things can "mess up" their kids more than others: Don't let your kids take acid, lest they perminently alter their brain chemistry. Don't let them get tattoos they might regret, lest they miss their one big chance at a job. Don't let them have sex if they are uneducated, lest they get pregnant/STD. Don't let them talk to strangers, lest they get abducted.

I think the above list, and many more historical lists of worries parents have had (Don't wear a 2 piece swimsuit! Don't pierce your ears! Don't listen to rock and roll! Don't stare at screens too much!) are somewhere on a scale from "Things that slightly make me uncomfortable, but are probably innocent" to "This could kill you/permanently change your life for the worse". And, as a parent, you have to decide where on that spectrum each thing lies.

I think that the average parent probably sticks a little more strict than necessary. I mean, Steve Jobs did acid constantly in his Youth, plenty of functional people have tattoos and weird piercings, and how many generations of children grew up sneaking off to rated R horror movies or reading playboy at age 12?

So, to violent video games. In my experience with games and with teens, there is almost no connection to the game itself and real life. The process of shooting an alien in Halo to shooting a marine in Call of duty is just a game. It's the same as playing pac-man - I don't think it would translate to real-life violence. There is learning that happens (Call of duty players may know more about types of weapons) and there are some visual images that are memorized (a spinning, crashing helicopter) but by and large, I don't think that any teen will play games and be MORE likely to buy a gun and shoot people.

One thing to keep in mind as well - people don't choose games based on their violence. They choose them based on what is currently popular, and what is fun. The violence could make a game slightly more fun to a teen, but fortnite and overwatch, two of the most popular games in the last few years, have almost a low amount of gore and relatively innocent gun-shooting violence on the scale of things. (Much less graphic than GTA).

Games are replacing going to a park and hanging out - your teen will want to be on voice chat, talking to others, working as a team. He might not learn it right away, but if encouraged, he will likely learn that teamwork and collaboration is more useful than being rude or mean. But, that training can come with him being rude or mean before he "learns his lesson" and starts to adjust his behavior.

I highly recommend you just try and be there - let him play whatever games he wants, but try to check in very regularly. Sit with him and listen to the comms. Suggest how to respond to people that are being rude or being unfair. Encourage him to communicate in a way that builds friendships online.

And, all the talk above about feedback loops, is a fancy way to say it's FUN. Soccer also has small, immediate feedback loops (dribbling the ball, placement on the field, etc) and the fact that something gives you positive reinforcement for doing something correctly isn't bad, it's fun. Anything that does that less will be slightly less fun.
posted by bbqturtle at 9:19 AM on June 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

he will likely learn that teamwork and collaboration is more useful than being rude or mean

The online gaming world often teaches how to use teamwork and collaboration to be rude and mean to people.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 10:22 AM on June 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

Another vote for "don't freak out too much". Parent's have freaked out about the New Media hurting their kids for hundreds of years; the earliest I know of is people freaking out about reading fiction.

This is not to say you shouldn't freak out at all. Lots of media has stories or connotations that can lead to real bad lessons, and I think our role as parents is to contextualize that. For example, perhaps let him play the next Just Cause 3, but first he has to read a nonfiction history of the United States invasions in Central America. Or something else subject-appropriate.

For what it's worth, I've been a pretty serious gamer (in the sense of someone who plays computer games) for 30 or so years at this point; I've made real life friends in some of them, I've built career-useful skills in some, and I've burned off a lot of stress. There are a lot of terrible people playing games, but as a percentage it's not that much higher than the rest of the world.
posted by contrarian at 10:25 AM on June 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ah, now this is a topic I could go on for ages about.

As others have said, it's not the violence by itself, per se, that is the problem. There are issues with video games and young people in general that can manifest in various ways that you have to be careful of, but it comes down, as most of all human problems and development do, to communication about the issues.

From my perspective, video games these days are actually far more varied and less violent than games of the past. Putting aside all the awesome varied titles of different genres available these days that have great stories etc (as your question regards shooters specifically), popular shooters these days are tame, cute little things that often include inclusive, relatively wholesome narratives (to an extent). It was very much in vogue during my childhood to have scenes of horrific violence and its aftermath. Popular titles often featured things like bodies ripped in half and impaled on spikes (Doom series), the ability to selectively blow off limbs or parts of skulls (Soldier of Fortune 1 and 2), enemies choking on their own blood (Duke Nukem 3D), and similar scenes of violence coupled with blatant racism and misogyny (Shadow Warrior, Postal 2, Duke Nukem 3D).

In contrast, shooters of today, while they can be somewhat violent and include problematic viewpoints with regard to women and minorities etc, are making huge strides. The recent "Wolfenstein" games are a prime example, prominently featuring strong women and minority characters and a decently progressive story alongside traditional violent shooting and white male power fantasy (hey, it's progress!). Contrast this with the pure male power fantasy and reduction of women solely to objects of previous decades and video games are looking pretty good culturally, even shooters. The aforementioned Wolfenstein series used to be pure white male power fantasy with the only women in sight being scantily-clad female SS officers (that you were encouraged to alternatively gawk at and murder of course).

This isn't to say that modern shooters are without problems, but just to say that it could be much worse and that as a man who grew up obsessed with far worse, I think I eventually turned out well when it comes to political/social attitudes (others assessment, not just my own).

However. HOWEVER...

Please learn from my parents' mistakes. I personally had a lot of issues with depression and social isolation as a kid and turned to video games as an escape. We are not talking a few hours a week. We're talking 10 hours per day. I can tell you definitively that video games are dangerous for some kids, but probably not for the reasons you might think they are. Video games became a problem for me and I'll tell you how, and how you can avoid your kid having the same or similar issues.

As I was interested in a variety of games, I don't think shooters were the issue. The game I sunk most of my time in was Diablo 2, a top-down action/adventure/RPG game that, while it featured violence and gore, appealed to me aesthetically for other reasons as well. I would, I kid you not, leave for school at 7pm, get home at 3pm, and play this thing until 3am on many school nights. Similar behavior would happen throughout my childhood with other games, but I remember that most vividly.

The damage, as you can probably guess and is the core of what you should be worried about, came not from viewing cartoonish violence that I knew at that age was not real (especially because real violence is readily available on the internet but that is another topic entirely). A 13-year-old knows that video games are not totally realistic depictions of reality (you can certainly be subconsciously influenced by the overall themes that is imo a bigger issue, but distinguishing violence in reality and knowing it is wrong is not an issue for non-developmentally challenged individuals at that age).The real damage came from the exponentially compounding issues of opportunity cost that these video games charged me, which I was too young to understand at the time.

When I speak of opportunity cost, I mainly mean the cost of not being "out there" interacting in real life, picking up social cues and adapting to social norms, gaining skills that are essential to the rest of your life. As an introvert I relate to those who don't often want to socialize, but GOD DAMN is it important for your kid to be around other kids, face-to-face, interacting, especially at this age. We are social animals and our brains and development are closely tied to interaction and existing in a social "tribe."

Teenagers that become problematic adults do not do so because of the violence in the video games or "creepy pedophiles" or any of the hackneyed bullshit you hear about, even the themes and narratives of games are not necessarily the issue as they are far from the only culture and media a child will consume (at least they shouldn't be, which is kind of part of the point).

The issue, and I speak from first-hand experience, is that issues develop around video games because they take time away from what should be happening in a normal, well-adjusted human being. For me, depression and social isolation led to games, which offered an escape, which lead to pleasure, which led to more games, which led to more social isolation and thus depression, which led to more games...

The issue is that this compounds, exponentially. I can't emphasize how much that means. Lack of socializing early in life does not scale linearly with future issues. Problems grow exponentially and makes the transition to normalcy, let alone excellence, painful to say the least.

When that happens, you do not develop normally socially. You end up having to learn social norms the hard way in adulthood, and can be very difficult if not impossible. I was very lucky to encounter certain people that introduced me to activities, concepts, reading, and narratives that allowed me to develop into a person that can function socially and be happy, with good attitudes and eventually a good social/love life. A lot of people might not be so lucky.

The issue with video games is that they can cause these problems and are are engineered to be addictive, especially these days. "Immediate gratification" does not cover it. They are NOT suitable for long-term, unsupervised use among children in my opinion. They are dangerous for that reason and the reasons I laid out above. This will of course not be the issue with all children. I knew kids that played a few hours a week and were fine, but those children of course had other things in their life that made them not feel like doing it (friends, sports, activities, and parenting).

Which brings me to the point of this rant. You might be asking where were his parents? And that is the question you should ask yourself. My parents did not grow up with video games or the internet and were seemingly totally unaware and unprepared for the power they eventually had on me. What my parents needed to do, I realize now, other than take me to a therapist, was explain the opportunity cost I mentioned. As a child you have SO MUCH FREE TIME, and that time can be spent accomplishing, learning, socializing, becoming a better person, and setting yourself up for a bright future. Alternatively, it can be dumped into an activity that will provide momentary pleasure and distraction, compound any mental issues you might have, and set you up for a tougher life than you could have had.

You can be better. Please, please explain as best you can how precious time is to your child and how much they can accomplish with their childhood. Take it upon yourself to get them a therapist or psychiatrist if need be if you can, but if there are any signs of addiction to video games, address it as soon as possible. You didn't mention it as your concern but I think it is what you should be concerned about.

In short: you shouldn't be worried about your child seeing relatively tame violence, you should be worried that he will feel compelled to write a huge diatribe about video game addiction in response to a violence in video games question as an adult.
posted by hypercomplexsimplicity at 10:48 AM on June 11, 2018 [14 favorites]

Well these are some high-quality answers, thank you all. Much food for thought.

I would love to get him Splatoon but another game system is a big investment. Recs for other good games available on PS4 are welcome.

And for the curious: yes, we limit gaming time, the setup is in the living room on the one TV, he doesn't do chat, and we drag him out for socialization and physical movement-type activities on a regular basis.
posted by emjaybee at 2:05 PM on June 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Ratchet & Clank series are super cartoony shooters with things like a chicken cannon that you shoot at giant blob aliens. I enjoyed them as an adult (who's also not super good at fiddly aiming stuff) - it's possible he might find them too silly, but I think they could be worth a try.
posted by augustimagination at 3:58 PM on June 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

He might enjoy Overwatch, which is a shooter that's much more cartoony and silly than Just Cause (i.e. one of the characters is an intelligent gorilla with a lightning gun); the cast is diverse and the game's overall tone is hopeful, optimistic heroism. But I'd also recommend you actually seriously consider getting him a Switch (or even an old Wii U), and not just for Splatoon - Nintendo tends to go for less violent and mature titles, so having a Nintendo console would be an investment in directing him toward less violent games.

In the case of Overwatch or any other multiplayer game, I'd ensure that online voice and text chat options are turned off - the way strangers talk to each other in online games is ridiculously awful, and as someone who works in the game industry I'm much more worried about the way that affects kids than about violence per se.
posted by waffleriot at 8:16 PM on June 11, 2018

We didn’t let our son play rated M games until he was 15 and that worked well for us. He’s 25 now and prefers racing games over FPS. I’m a big fan of Lego games but my son recently got me hooked on Star Wars Battlefront 2. Who doesn’t want to be a stormtrooper, right? It’s rated Teen so it’s not gory, and there’s no chat.
posted by dorkydancer at 10:02 PM on June 11, 2018

listen. i love overwatch and have about 1200 hellish hours and i would absolutely not recommend it to anyone. the community is EXTREMELY toxic, constantly, unendingly. easily 1/4 of the players i see have smurf accounts with rape jokes in the name, and even without chat and messaging enabled people find plenty of ways to be gross horrible excuses for human beings.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:00 PM on June 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

My experience with Overwatch has been largely positive, though I suspect part of that is the way I use it: I usually group up with other women and play quick play without using voice for anyone but my little group.
posted by storytam at 12:27 AM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Nthing Splatoon. It's a fantastic example of "how close can Nintendo get to having a shooting-game on their family-friendly platform". I have 14 year old triplets. They all like it.
posted by Wild_Eep at 7:48 AM on June 12, 2018

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