Monday, 1 February 2010

Parent Hell awaits

“Gimmie a HOORAH daddy!”


I’m probably going to hell. The special hell set aside for bad parents, mass murderers and South American Dictators. You see I let my 5 year old child play games. Violent games. Games stuffed full of death, boobies and rock and roll. I’ve ENCOURAGED him to do it.

I’m a bad man.

Just before I get thrashed by the flaming sword of do-goodery and issued the battered copper coin for the boat-ride to Hades I’d like to present my case, such as it is.

Even I, monster that I am, can see that there are games that are definitely not suitable for children. I don’t let him play or watch GTA IV, Prototype or Dead Space for example. They are adult games with very adult themes and the last two make me wee my pants.

We do play the wholesome parent-and-child games. Mostly Lego themed ones as there isn’t actually that much else that bridges the gap and allows you to play together. We loved Psychonauts, Portal, Crayon Physics and Osmosis but sadly the majority of PC titles “suitable” for children are a terrible mess draped over a “child-friendly” licence or movie tie-in . Sometimes they are pink. Sometimes they are blue. Unsurprisingly they are frequently poo.

“Boom! Headshot!”

So sometimes we play Halo. Yes, Halo, and Halo 3 on the Xhoofer. We shoot aliens in the face. Sometimes we laugh when we do it, in a latently psychopathic way. We’ve tag-teamed Hunters and stood back to back against the flood. We have also created a huge mountain of grenades by killing each other repeatedly, igniting them just to see how far we will be thrown in the explosion. Just because. I’ve discovered 5 year olds play games far better than we do. Not with madskillz maybe but if there is a way to break the game or do something the designer never intended, give it to a child.

My worst crime though was the day we made the WOW characters. Plural. Six female Blood Elf Warlocks and a scattering of Gnomes with pink hair. Once weaned off the character creator the elf Svart (“Fart! Fart! Sounds like fart!”) spent the next half hour chasing lynx cubs, swimming, jumping up and down at baby dragon-things and taking her clothes off to “cool her boobies”.

Strangely the warped and anti-social child you’d expect to develop under these conditions hasn’t materialised. Quite the opposite. The nightmares that were predicted as a result of exposure to games like Halo just didn’t happen. In fact they have provided a framework for overcoming the more standard monster-under-the-bed anxieties. It would seem that giving a 5 year old a metaphorical pulse rifle to take to bed has been more empowering than enraging: Anything lurking in the cupboard better be wearing Kevlar body-armour. The tide has turned- so suck it down, monsters.

“I’m the Chief this time!”
“I’m still The Daddy.”
“But I’m the Chief!”

The crucial element for us though is we play together. It is a shared interactive experience where we both get something out, unlike bloody Charlie and Lola. These days we are encouraged to dump our children in front of the telly or off with a DS when time for families, especially families with working parents, is at a premium.

I can understand the reluctance for parents to encourage a pastime that is continually demonised and decried in the mass media, even when they strongly reject the premise for themselves. We parents are a twitchy lot when it comes to our children, especially the younger ones. However to my mind we are missing a huge opportunity to engage with them in a meaningful and healthy manner, on their terms, and for the worst reason: Fear. We worry what people will think so much we don’t think for ourselves. We worry about going to parent hell.
Well bring it on. I’m ready for my spike now.

“You shot me!”
“You shouldn’t just run in like that daddy.”

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