Maybe Porn Is Better for Your Kid After All

Wolverine races through the jungle towards a group of dark-skinned thugs.

With that distinctive SNIKT sound, his adamantium claws slice out of the skin between his knuckles.

Wolverine leaps onto the nearest figure, a man in a wife beater holding a chainsaw. He sinks his claws into the man’s back and a thick geyser of blood spurts into the air and sprays a nearby tree.

With another swipe, Wolverine opens the man’s belly and innards erupt.

Then with an upward swipe Wolverine removes the man’s jaw along with a portion of his face.

This is just one violent scene of dozens from an M-rated game. In fact, there are five more guys Wolverine will disembowel in this scene alone.

I often wonder how an 8-year-old I know processes scenes like this as he plays them alone in his bedroom.

Adults have no problem interpreting this material as so-called “cartoon violence”.

(Truth be told, I love it.)

But to a young boy who hasn’t yet even been introduced to basic biology, this immersion into the macabre world of bodily mutilation must be at least very confusing, if not perverting.

Why do so many parents let this happen? We know better, after all.

Like movies, video games carry ratings.

An M game (for “Mature”), such as the Wolverine one I mentioned above, is intended to be played only by people who are 17 or older.

The warning from the Entertainment Software Review Board – the organization that established these ratings and applies them – reads:

“Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.”

That’s an understatement. Most M games feature fantastically gratuitous acts of physical violence. Like, ming-bogglingly, inexplicably gross and pornographic violence.

Beyond the violence, though, character dialogue seems often to have been written by Quentin Tarantino himself.

And gameplay requires constant morals-based decision making.

In short, M games are intended for an audience that has matured to a state of mind where fantasy can be easily separated from reality.

As adults, we recognize that M games let us perform acts that we simply couldn’t in real life (at least not without serving a few consecutive life sentences).

However, as with almost everything else they do, kids collect and retain their M game acts as potentially useful future life skills.

There’s that old saying that sex is violence, and I think the reverse is also true.

Our society generally withholds overtly sexualized media from its citizens until we have enough of an understanding of basic sexuality to understand it.

The ESRB’s video game ratings carry a similar intent: that people should not be exposed to artificial acts of excessive violence and horror until they’ve established a sense of what the real boundaries of such things are.

Most of us would agree in principle with both points of view.

Keep kids away from sex and violence until they understand them, right?

It’s shocking, though, how our actions actually differ on the two subjects.

Most parents wouldn’t accompany their 8-year-old to the local sex shop and help pick out the latest sodomy flick.

Yet many happily take their tikes down to EB Games and authorize the purchase of boxing games that promise, “authentic brutality”.

In fact, a lot of parents seem to be actually proud of the fact that their pre-teen can slog his way through the terrifying bloodbath of God of War III.

But personally, I’m no sooner going to put my 7-year-old down in front of something like Halo:Reach than I am Debbie Does Dallas.

I’m not going to let him learn how splatter somebody’s kidney, spleen, and intestines on a wall before he even know what those organs are used for.

I don’t know whether violent video games actually induce violent acts in kids. I think there’s a lot more to events like Columbine than that.

But it’s clear to me that no good can possibly come of introducing children to acts that are senselessly aggressive and hurtful before they’ve even been able to establish a firm moral foundation or sense of self.

Before they graduate from high school, kids barely know what’s right and what’s wrong. (And even after that you sometimes wonder about a lot of them.)

There’s no need to muddy their developing mental and emotional waters by confronting them with graphic acts of violence and other similarly horrific scenes.

There’s just no need. What good can possibly come of it?

Stores like EB Games voluntarily support and enforce the ESRB’s rating system. There’s no law that says they have to, so kudos to them.

Likewise, video game producers voluntarily submit their games for rating.

The ESRB game ratings are really just for our information as consumers. They’re mainly there to guide parents and incite us to act responsibly.

Unfortunately, a good many of us slack on that last point.

So the next time you decide to leave your kid alone in his room with an M rated game, consider giving him a copy of Deep Throat instead.

Or maybe just pause for a minute before you hand over either and ask yourself: is extreme violence really more appropriate for a child than pornography?

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, January 28, 2011.

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