We made two purchases this past Christmas that have changed the life of our 13 year old son: A Bluetooth headset and the video game Call of Duty; Modern Warfare 2 for his PS3. In the last 2 months, he has gone from a fun-loving, outdoor kid, to literally camping in front of this game. I am sure I am not the only parent in America who is faced with limiting playtime and using the sentence, “Go outside or something. This is ridiculous!”
There is no denying sitting in front of a TV screen is not healthy after so many hours. Far too many studies have been done to validate that, such as: the impact to your eyes and brain function, inactivity, obesity, academic failure, socially withdrawing, etc etc. As a parent, I am more concerned with the lack of productivity, lack of contribution, and utter loss of interest in anything else. This game is making an addict of our son.
In an effort to understand the draw of the game, I decided I needed to start listening. I figured if I was going to try and draw him away from it (outside of the obvious, taking away the game), I would first need to understand what draws him to it. Like so many mothers, I am an impatient listener to talk of video games. In addition, I really don’t understand it all. However, today all of that changed. I decided to interview my 13 year old son: AKA Modern Warfare 2 Junkie. Today was the day I realized, the problem isn’t the game…
Mom: I have noticed that you are completely addicted to this game more than any other game you have ever had. What makes this game so great?
Son: It’s doesn’t get old because of the online access, tons of maps and 17 game types like 3rd person games, Capture the Flag, Team Death Match or Free For All. Oh and…
Mom: Stop there. Don’t other PS3 games have online access?
Son: Not all. But this one changes all the time because of all the options.
Mom: So, the different game options keep it fresh and changing. What kind of match do you like best and why?
Son: I like Domination. It is securing a position and holding that position, then whoever gets to a certain point amount by capturing the position, wins. There is a flag with a circle around it, and you have to secure that position before you get killed.
Mom: So, you are playing against everyone?
Son: You have a team that consists of 4 – 8 people that are helping you. The more people in the circle protecting the position, the better chances you have of capturing it. The object is to capture all the positions and hold them.
Mom: So, in this Domination, are you the Leader? Is that why you like it?
Son: No one is the leader. You and your team try and capture and hold the positions together.
Mom: When you say “your team,” who are you talking about?
Son: The people I am playing with. The matchmaking server sets you up with them. You play with random people you never know. Or, you can invite people to join your “party” and then you are automatically paired with them.
Mom: So, these people that are randomly on your team, are they matched to you by skill level?
Son: There are ranks. But sometimes the rank doesn’t matter. Your rank goes up by points; kills, securing positions, etc. As your experience points go up, you go up a level, or “level up.”
Mom: So, when you are randomly paired with people, it’s safe to assume they have made it to the same level of experience as you?
Son: No, the matchmaking server will randomly pair me with people that have picked the same type of match as me. That is what is so different about every game, every match you are playing with someone new…unless they are in your “party.”
Mom: Okay, I think I get it. So, you’re 13, but this game is ranked M for Mature, and I know a lot of your friends have it but there are mothers who won’t let their get their kids this game. Why would you say parents may not buy this game for their kids?
Son: I think most parents wouldn’t approve of the language. There is a lot of foul language. And there is blood and gore. I wouldn’t say there is guts, like the game Dead Space where you see organs on the ground. This game is just blood. But it is a bloody game. If I shoot someone in the head, blood shoots out. When you are injured or get shot, your screen gets drops of blood on it. There are also drug references, such as people smoke cigars.
Mom: I wouldn’t say cigars are drugs, though. Is there something you’re not saying? (I’m starting to feel like a bad mother.)
Son: Well in the Game Informer Magazine, it says why games are rated the way they are and I read that the term “drug references” include cigarettes, cigars. In some games I am sure there is Crack and stuff, but, I haven’t seen that in this one. I have seen cigarettes and cigars. I am Level 59 Prestige, I think if there were other drugs I would have seen them by now.
Mom: Anything Else? (Would my son know what Crack looks like if he saw it?)
Son: Violence. (The fact that he is bringing this up again, is probably an indication that there is A LOT of violence.)
Mom: Like what are we talking about, “Violence” that’s a pretty broad term? What is the most violent thing you’ve seen on this game?
Son: When you shoot someone in the head, I consider that violent. On the case of the game it says “Blood, Intense Violence and Language.” I think that is why. The most intense thing I have seen is the dogs. They can attack your face and stuff and it is pretty vicious. Oh, and I have gotten stabbed and pulled the knife out of my chest and thrown it in someone’s eye. It’s pretty graphic.
I pause here, because now I am sure I am a bad mother. And…I am kind of grossed out by how cool he is making it sound. I contemplate for a second his 4-year old self…where did he go? I tell myself to stay the course.
Mom: Okay, for the record, I’m glad that you understand shooting someone in the head is violent. Violence concerns me. But another big thing that concerns me are the strangers online. If you have your headset on, how often do you encounter strangers that are adults or not kids your age?
Son: Very often. I don’t know a lot of kids that have mic’s.
Mom: How do you know they are adults?
Son: Their tone of voice.
Mom: Does the conversation with these adults ever include something that would make a mom worry?
Son: I have never heard any sort of like…(pause….whisper) sex related content (un-whisper) if that is what you mean. People cuss, like kids trying to be cool. Or adults cuss when they get killed – or say something mean. Some people talk about parties they are going to if they are in the same “party”…about how cool it’s going to be…stuff like that. And that usually includes cussing. But that is the worst I have heard.
There is a mute button. You can mute or “toggle mute.” So, if a player is stupid or like cussing non-stop and it’s just annoying, you can mute them. Some people interrupt a lot. That is what I hate and why I “toggle mute”. If I am trying to talk to a person in my “party,” I mute anyone I don’t want to talk to, except them. I do that a lot.
Here is where I am supposed to believe that my son has never cussed and never takes part in these conversations. You know, because I was born yesterday.
Mom: What percent of the time, in a typical game, would you say is spent NOT talking about the game.
Son: Probably 2% or less.
Mom: Are their girls on this game?
I just had to ask…because I am a mom.
Son: That is definitely not common. I haven’t found girls on many Xbox Live or PlayStation network games.
Mom: Outside of the changing game types holding your interest, what else is so great about it?
Son: The maps, there aren’t just one or two places to play, more like 16.
Mom: So, by maps you mean the setting…different settings or scenes?
Son: Yeah, like a farm, skyscraper, or rooftop, or…
Mom: I get it. What is your favorite and why?
Son: My favorite map is “Favela.” It is a rugged little town in Brazil. It’s not too big and it’s not too small. It has a rugged, cool look to it.
Mom: Is there good and evil in this game? Are you the “good guy?”
Son: The matchmaking server picks for you, whether you are good or bad. It doesn’t really say if you are good or bad.
Mom: Then, how do you know if you are good or bad?
He looked at me like I was stupid. I suddenly realize that the whole concept of good and evil is slightly ambiguous.
Son: You are the good guys if you are the Armed Service (Rangers, SEALS etc.) You’re bad if you are like Op 4 or Militia, but you can’t pick that and there’s no difference. You just fight to earn points.
Mom: What else separate’s this game from the others you’ve played?
Son: The graphics are freaking phenomenal. It is very realistic. There are so many different weapons to choose from, it really mixes up the variety and your game play.
Son Again: Sounds cool doesn’t it? Are you sure you don’t want to play?
Mom: Uh…no. (He wasn’t shocked.)
After this conversation, it’s clear how the average teenage boy would get really taken in by this game. This game is playing on a few core needs/desires of young teenage boys. Modern Warfare 2 allows the boys to feel socially connected, offers achievement among peers, encourages independent strategy and champions the tough guy. What more could a boy ask for?
First, my son can maintain and entire social network on this game. Kids can talk to their friends and “play” virtually. This is especially appealing for kids who have friends in other venues or towns that they may not see every day. Cousins or friends out of state, friends on their ball teams, or acquaintances they may have from other schools; these kids can hang out…on-line.
Second, he has accomplishment. Not only that, but it is accomplishment among peers. There is a thrill to be had in showing off how good you are, especially for boys who are generally more natural competitors. Being accomplished at this game earns them confidence and respect of their peers – an ego boost. It is a virtual self-esteem.
Third, I guess that the violence and cussing is making younger teens feel older. For boys who are the oldest in house of siblings, this probably really comes into play. They are still listening to Disney movies or Disney Channel, because that is what younger siblings may be watching. For boys who have older siblings, the same may apply…they get to feel old, too.
It is probably a very nice retreat for a 13 year old to watch or play something that is more private for a while, where they can feel older. In addition, their time on a video game is not like them watching a movie. Video games aren’t monitored as closely. If a movie is on where if the scene goes morally south a parent might say, “Turn the channel, that’s too much.” These games are allowing the boys to fly under the radar a little and it probably feels like independence, perhaps with a dash of rebellion.
And lastly, the theme of war is never going to elude a man’s man, or a boy. So many boys are born tough and gravitate to war games. They like guns, swords, karate moves, ninja’s, soldiers, policeman, gangsters, cowboys etc. There is a reason Indiana Jones and Star Wars have captured boys (men) for generations: toughness. Boys like strategy, too. The best boy games of all time are strategic: Train Tracks, Lego’s, Chess, Battleship, Paint Ball, and yes, video games. In the end, they are boys! These games are playing on that and it’s working. Our sons can be tough and strategic (smart) – a man – without showing their face, skinny arms or reading anything to become skilled. That has got to feel good at 13.
Makers of video games are appealing to our kids needs more than we (parents) are – and that is the force we are fighting. Still, I believe this battle can be won by parents who are paying attention. I just realized that if we are listening to the call of our son’s core needs to be socially connected, accomplished, independent, and tough we can win.
Our kids need to be presented with options that make them feel socially connected without a headset. We need to let them have overnights and take them and their friends to the skate park! Our boys need an outlet for accomplishment, even if that means driving to football practice, or guitar lessons more times than we want to. These young men need independence and as parents we need to figure out a way for them to feel that way in proportion to their age – away from a controller and closed bedroom door. Last, most boys want to be in a situation where they feel like a tough guy, or are playing in a way that uses their brain strategically. That may take some creativity, but if we don’t figure it out…Sony will. Oh wait…they already have. We have some catching up to do!
As parents, we must help teens find these avenues and stay committed to supporting them. In fact, I gotta go. Time for mom to “Level Up!”
Mom: Hey Son, You want to have a couple friends over tonight?