Have you ever heard a kid tell other kids to stop playing video games?
Catch your breath, it’s not as extreme as you think. This Massachusetts teenager just wants people to be aware that some games are a little too much for younger players to handle. What’s more, he wants to make games to fill the gap.
Matt West’s story is unique, because he is a gamer, and at 15 he’s a tad younger than the ESRB thinks people playing M-rated games should be. (The cutoff age is 17.) While West enjoys these games, he acknowledges that they’re not appropriate for younger kids.
He wants to team up with programmers at his school. Together they’ll make nonviolent alternatives that their younger siblings can enjoy.
In his approach, West is being a lot more thoughtful and productive than some adults with the same goals. The community group that inspired West, Be the Change, was founded in the swirl of fear after the 2012 Newtown shooting. Their concern is understandable, so it’s all the more unfortunate that their focus falls on games.
The Children’s Defense Fund indicates that, “American children are 17 times more likely to die from guns than children in the next 25 highest-income countries combined.” Unrelated studies from the Alliance for Childhood say that American children spend 6.5 hours each day in front of some kind of screen.
These two statistics may be true. But that doesn’t mean that videogames are at the root of our country’s violence problem. The Media Education Foundation puts U.S. game industry revenue at $18 billion. In 2012, the Japanese game industry’s revenue was roughly $17 billion. Their their gun-related homicides remain in the double digits with 11 reported gun homicides in 2008. Looking a little closer to home, Canada had 173 gun-related homcides in 2009, compared to the 11,493 in the United States.
This is a problem that’s bigger than media representation of violence. It’s tied to the availability of firearms, as well as other social factors.
Articles talking about Matt West miss the positivity of what he is trying to do. Instead they focus on a falsified and negative image of the effect games have on children.
It’s a given that M-rated shooters are not appropriate for young kids. In fact there were no “shooting” games deemed appropriate for players under 17 until Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare was released. (Plants vs. Zombies is a cartoonish game where plants defend humans’ homes from invading zombies.) Parents need to learn about violent games and make informed decisions about what their kids play.
However, parents do not need to be frightened by unproven correlations between gun death and screentime. Studies also show that while game consumption has gone up, rates of violent crime have fallen.
It is easy to hope that the solution to violence is to keep kids away from video games, but things are unfortunately not so simple.
Adults should take note of Matt West’s nuanced look at gaming. Hopefully West will take his positivity and create some fantastic, creative, nonviolent games that younger players can enjoy.
Video games can be great for motor skills, problem-solving, and even mental health. Introducing younger kids to these concepts—without introducing them to violence—is terribly important.