Middle grade fiction, middle grade students, and middle grade literacy is the reason I became a children’s book author in the first place. The problem I have is all the violence we are feeding our middle grade children.
Over the weekend, my wife and I walked into a pizza joint to eat dinner and this was the first thing we saw; little boys holding guns while playing the arcade games. There is nothing wrong with arcade games, don’t get me wrong, but the image of this Tween holding a gun was…
…frightening. I hate to say, ‘back when I was a kid’ because I sound like my father when I say something like that, but ‘back when I was a kid, we had Pong, Pacman, and pinball.’ The early days of video games, if I can remember back that far, kids weren’t arrested or put in the hospital as a result of playing games like Pacman or Pong.
Technology has made the video gaming experience for children more realistic than ever, and that’s really cool, but first person shooter games played by middle grade kids isn’t the middle grade fiction I’m looking for.
I know what you’re going to say…‘It’s the parents fault for allowing those types of games in their house.’ You’re probably right, but shouldn’t someone address the harmful effects of these shooter games have on the user, especially kids who should be reading middle grade fiction and not middle grade R RATED video game violence?
When GRAND THEFT AUTO came out, my buddy Danny quickly bought a copy for his Nintendo machine. With nothing to do one Saturday night, Danny and I played the game for hours on end. I never thought I would be writing about what happened next, but here I am, in the business of making a better world for our children with Saltwater Taffy, so here goes.
The next day when Danny called me over to play, I told him I couldn’t because of the dreams I had after our marathon game the night before. In my dreams, or my nightmares, I should say, I found myself walking around shooting everyone on sight. The next day it was hard for me to write because I was agitated and angry at nothing in particular. I was just…OFF.
If you know anything about this game Grand Theft Auto, you know they ask you to shoot cops, sell drugs, and steal cars to ‘get to the next level.’ I don’t care how old you are or how ‘in control’ you think you are with your emotions, these are not wonderful images to experience in ‘fun.’
So, why are video games addictive? Some studies suggest the level of excitement the user experiences playing the game causes the brain to release a chemical that is addictive. When my nephew got hooked on playing Halo with other kids around the country via the internet, my brother knew his son was suffering from a form of addiction because all his son wanted to do was ‘get to the next level.’
The architects of video games have one job; evoke an emotion for the user to ‘get to the next level.’ Do we really think they want the user to get to the next level? It is their job is to keep users playing until they get hooked.
Modern Warfare. Halo. The list of first person shooter games on the market goes on and on, but something has to change. Oh, wait. That’s right, I forgot. The videio game industry came up with a ratings system like we have in Hollywood to satisfy the critics. Rated M for Mature. T for Teen. Kudos to the ratings board and video game companies for at least trying, but where do we see the majority of the advertising for games like this? That’s right, during programming for our children.
If you allow your tween to play these shooter games because you ‘think’ they are harmless and just a ‘video game,’ why don’t you stop at 7-11 and pick up some Camel Lights and a six-pack of Budweiser for them too! I mean, really…what is the difference? First person shooter games leave the player feeling restless, angry and defensive when they aren’t playing the game. I don’t know about you, but that kind of sounds like being around someone who is addicted to cigarettes or alcohol.
If you feel your tween has a problem with video gaming, check out this website on the symptoms for Video Game Addiction.
Eric DelaBarre is an award winning filmmaker and the author of Saltwater Taffy. All Rights Reserved. Copyright October 19, 2010.