Hardcore Mama: Should Kids Be Off Limits?

Dead Island Girl

Ok, so I am doing the unthinkable and rehashing a post from the past (albeit from my personal blog) because it’s a topic that I have been thinking a lot about and one that I have been thinking a lot about recently, especially with the release of the Dead Island trailer. We talked about it on the podcast this week and in listening to some of my favorite, regular podcasts it was good to see that I’m not the only person who feels that some of the games and game advertisements with children just go too far.

I’ve talked a lot about intersectionality (à la Kimberle Crenshaw) and game characters (that intersection between 2 racial/cultural/sexual identity points i.e. black womanhood in games) in the past, but it has finally struck me that intersectionality is alive and well and applicable to the gamers as well. There is a point where being a parent and a gamer intersect and for a lot of us that is a space that is left well enough alone. I have never harvested a little sister, I still have not played Bioshock 2, I never question how far I would go to save my child à la Heavy Rain (btw in my book there is no “too far”), I would quickly and easily be taken out by a zombie Peanut because no matter what I wouldn’t be able to behead her. I’d be that crazy African American guy (Mekhi Phifer) in Dawn of the Dead who holds a zombie baby close to his heart and refuses to let anyone kill it. Yeah, I’m that crazy.

Lately, lots of folks have been asking if game companies are going too far with games and advertisements.So it’s not just me. Trust me folks I am not a Polly-Anna. I don’t cringe at much. I love horror movies, survival horror games, FPSes, and walks on the beach…oh wait wrong page, but some things are sacred to me. Making me think about that little girl laying dead/zombified on the ground is just too much. Little boys that go missing from the park as a pawn in some sick bastid’s power play…disturbing. Too much.

(Following disjointedness is caused by the fact that I cribbed much of it from an older post and played around with it a bit :-) )

Too much for me as a mother (but not exclusive to mothers as the internets tell me that fathers are also responding in the same way) and too much for me as a gamer. I have been thinking about how being a parent has change me as a gamer for some time (2 years and 9 months to be exact) and every time I turn around I find another way that parenthood has changed my gamerhood. Now I finally find the chance to put some of these thoughts into words so that they can perhaps be reflected on more extensively at some point. So here goes!

1. This is the most obvious. Parenthood really cuts down on the amount of time that you have to play games. As Peanut gets older I find that I have a little more time since she sleeps through the night and can occasionally be distracted enough to let me do a little bit of gaming while she is awake. When she was younger and have acid reflux there was almost no gaming going on sans the little bit of handheld gaming that I could sneak in when I was supposed to be sleeping when she slept. I was too afraid to actually play games at enough volume to awaken a sleeping baby back in those days. I am a gamer, but I am not under any circumstances crazy. This year I treated myself to a new tv and a hooked up the Bose noise canceling headphones to it (too bed the suctiony bit gives me an earache if I leave them on too long).

2. While the old elementary school teacher in me (I used to teach elementary school, I’m not channeling an elderly teacher) often cringes when folks tell me what their young kids are playing. Don’t get me wrong I am not a prude and I know that some kids are more mature than others, but there are some games that are disturbing enough to me as an adults who supposedly understands the medium and the situations reflected in the games that I can’t see how a child could even remotely begin to fully process them. Hey, but don’t get me wrong…maybe your kid is a genius (mine is), but I still wouldn’t dream of letting her play (or watch) any of the games that I talk about in this post.

3. Situations with children in them in games are pretty difficult for me. 3 of the most notable cases for me have been Bioshock, Bioshock 2, and Heavy Rain. When I played through Bioshock there was no way that I could bring myself to harvest little sisters (yep, it’s as bad as it sounds) even if it could make my gaming life a little bit easier. I just sucked it up and played through as a mama of a little girl. When the trailer came out for Bioshock 2 came out it freaked me out enough to make me never want to play the game! The molestation undertones were just too much for me! Check out the video

[Spoiler Alert: There is a description of two chapters of Heavy Rain in the next 2 paragraphs. If you don't want to see it, skip them :-) ]

And because I had a chance to see the trailer before I bought the game I was able to avoid a lot of emotional stress. And lest I think that there might not have been any real emotional stress and/or physical effect one me I have to think about Heavy Rain. The first night that I played Heavy Rain I actually had to stop playing after one chapter and go to bed because the game gave me a damned headache. After a particularly violent “boss fight” involving several men in my apartment (as I was dressed in my underwear) and a metaphorical rape scene my head was pounding and I had to go to bed.

Surprisingly, this was after the early child death scene. You know, while I enjoy a good “Jason!!” joke (and parody song) as well as the next gamer I really didn’t appreciate having my son Jason killed off at the beginning of the game (or having my younger son snatched by a serial killer a few chapters later). Good lord, this game made me the worst parent on the face of the planet. And besides feeling extreme guilt for the clear neglect of my virtual children it made me question/reflect upon what I would feel if this happened to Pea.That kind of thing makes me physically sick to my stomach.

Has parenthood turned me into such a wimp that I am going to be tossing my cookies every time some kid is collateral damage in a military shooter (I had no problem wiping out an airport full of innocent folks in another FPS…in fact I rather enjoyed it), gets lost in an action/adventure game (I was secretly happy when the kid who kept getting lost, snatched by eagles, and sick in Oregon Trail for the iPhone didn’t make it to the promised land…served him right!), or gets snatched to advance a narrative? Are games getting too good at immersion? Are advertising campaigns going too far with the shock value thing? Am I getting too old to play? What the heck is going on?

4. Why is parenthood so hot in games right now? And why is it generally fathers? Big Daddies in Bioshock, Nier, the father saving the ailing daughter in Nier, Ethan, the father (albeit an ineffectual one), in Heavy Rain, Fable III where the main character is the child of your Fable II character who has to defeat his/her sibling and become ruler his/her-self. Are game companies trying to capitalize on the fact that much of their customer base is actually 30-something parents (63% of Gen X’ers own consoles)? Is this rhetorically risky? Are they going to lose more folks than they win over?

I’m pretty sure I don’t begrudge folks their right to push the envelope…I’m not one to say these games shouldn’t be made, but I am one to say their not for me and I reserve the right to kvetch about it any time I want!

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2 Responses to “Hardcore Mama: Should Kids Be Off Limits?”

  1. Becoming a parent has *massively* sensitized me to children in games. Before our first child was born, kids and parenting were basically demographic data to me. Now, the games and game content you describe reach past my strategic analysis mind and rip open my lizard brain.

    My children, now 12 and 16, find this amusing, sometimes, and nice, other times.

  2. dr. b. says:

    @Bryan I have been pleased to see men coming out and talking about these issues in gaming spheres as well. When I initially thought about it I was hesitant to talk much about it in public because I didn’t want it to be reduced to a “woman’s issue”by some of the jerks in the gaming community. It is being kind of blown off by some folks, but at least it can’t be done because it’s a “girl thing”. My response is that some folks can’t understand because they don’t yet have a full range of human experience…or maybe they’re just sociopaths! LOL