After reading Jonathan Holmes' blog post in which he thoroughly analyzed why the Call of Duty franchise appeals so strongly to the younger demographic (children under the age of 12), I had to acknowledge that I agreed with many of Mr. Holmes' points. The series is effectively "cool" among 6 to 12 year olds due to the addictive simplicity and competitive nature of the game play, which is only strengthen by it's incredible flash, flare, and good ol' fashioned American military whoop ass mentality (which in particular caters to young boys who may idolize family members in the army/military, GI Joe, or the military lifestyle in general).
What I found somewhat lacking in the article, however, was a discussion on whether or not this is a problem. Should we (gamers, the general public, parents with young children, etc.) be concerned over the fact that young children have access to Call of Duty and become engrossed, obsessed, and enthralled by these titles?
I for one, to a degree, think so. Not only does Call of Duty glorify combat to the degree that a child may not understand, but any addiction for young children is not healthy, especially when parents notice and try to remove the source. The result is often defiance, anger, and an explosion of "I hate yous!" I would like to state that I do not find Call of Duty offensive and that I am actually something of a fan of the series myself, but I do believe overexposure to a child could be detrimental and have negative consequences as mentioned above.
My First Hand Experience I worked at a local GameStop this past holiday season, and of course, I sold a TON of copies of Call of Duty: Black Ops (also, worked the midnight release, which was just plain INSANE). At my particular GameStop, we always carded anyone who looked under 30 for ID since my boss didn't want to receive any negative consequences for selling an M rated game to a minor (it's the law, apparently). And if anyone purchased an M rated title we always had to make certain that the consumer was aware of that just to be certain that they were okay with the rating, just in case they were actually purchasing the game for a minor.
During the month of November, I lost count of the number of mothers who came into the store to pick up Black Ops. With their young son standing quietly at their side, grinning ear to ear, I would always give them my spiel before they made their transactions final: "Just so that you're aware, this game is rated M for mature for containing blood and gore, violence, and strong language." Most of these moms would shake off the sentence before I even completed it. "Yes, yes, I'm aware-- but my son really wants it," they would interrupt with an air of submission, as if they had no other choice but to purchase the game. Handing the game over often resulted in the child smiling or exclaiming "yes!" with intense excitement and a sense of thrill. This scenario repeated itself on an almost daily basis for several weeks after the game's release. Closer to Christmas most "moms" would pick up games for presents, shopping solo, though always responding in a similar manner.
I'm not going to say that this is solely a "mom" or parent problem, but it certainly plays a substantial part as to how Call of Duty became so popular among children in the first place: providing accessibility.
I know a boy, about 7 years old, that I had babysat regularly from the age of 2 to 5. Periodically I still go to this boy's baseball games or babysit him and his older sister on occasion. At the age of 7, he's already turned into something of an avid gamer. I may have had a bit on influence on him, I gave my old PS1 to him and his sister when he was about 4, but only handed over age-appropriate titles along with it, including Spyro and Crash Bandicoot. A year or so later his mom bought him a PS2 and loads of games, exposing him to games various genres and ratings. Presently, the family owns a Wii and 360 with Kinect as well. The last time I went to babysit him about a couple months ago, his mom was expressing how she was concerned about some of his gaming habits. She told me explicitly that he wasn't allowed to play a game called, you guessed it, Call of Duty, and was concerned about how "mean" he could get when she tried to take certain games away from him. That night, I wasn't just babysitting him, but two of his friends. I walked over to find all three of them huddled around the Wii playing none other then CoD World at War. "Umm... ma'am, you do know that they're playing Call of Duty right now, right?" The mother gasped exasperatedly, "That's Call of Duty?"
Needless to say, I was somewhat dumbfounded by her ignorance. If you don't want your son playing a particular game, shouldn't you be more informed about it? In order to alleviate this issue, I would like to share some possible solutions to the lack of communication facing parents and their children who play games such as Call of Duty.
Be Informed Parents/guardians/supervisors should take the time to become informed about WHAT their children are playing. Take the time to watch trailers and gameplay footage on youtube. Each parent raises their children differently and has different standards for what is and what is not acceptable for their children. Some find Call of Duty offensive, while others say "it's just a game!" In either case, just be aware of what your child is playing, and if you choose not to let them own a copy, explain your reasons rationally and calmly. Parents often try to dumb things down for their children, but the reality is, you can talk to them like adults.
Be A Part Of Their Hobby If you think your child is mature enough to play a CoD title, get involved with them. Take turns swapping the controller every half-hour or so, and play along. Observe their gaming habits first hand. If you find that you're not happy with how your child responds to the game (bad language or violent reactions to killing or being killed), find a solution to curbing these responses. Explain how getting mad does not bring about any actual solution, and that they're able to get the bad guys "next time."
It Is Just A Game While a child's actions in a game like Call of Duty may not reflect behavior in the real world, make sure that your child understands the implications of taking another person's life. Explain to them that in real war, people actually die. They are no "saves" or "check points." Once you've been shot, you don't come back. It's grim to contemplate, but any child should not take the idea lightly. It may seem silly and parents might think this is a "no brainer," but there's no reason why the concept should not be reiterated. There have been too many cases in the news where a child has shot either a parent or friend either by mistake or out of anger and were labeled as active gamers. Call of Duty is a game, but killing certainly is not. In war, it's either kill or be killed, but Call of Duty "glamorizes" the military life style and almost romanticizes modern warfare. Explain to them that real war is far more grim, brutal, and just plain terrifying. If anything, a child playing Call of Duty should be imbued with a sense of respect for those who do sacrifice their lives in real life to keep the world a safer place.
Strike A Balance If you find your child might be using Call of Duty to unleash pent up anger or frustrations, turn that energy into something your child can benefit from. Encourage them to take up a martial art, or turn their love for military shooters into a hobby that allows them to enjoy the outdoors, burn calories, and feed their need to compete: take them to play paint ball or airsoft. While not the most cheapest of hobbies, both will satisfy your child's interest but do so in a manner that encourages team work and camaraderie.
Call of Duty is not going anywhere anytime soon. It's a blockbuster behemoth of a franchise that practically over saturates the market and gains exposure to every consumer through online, TV, and in-store advertising. The current generation is essentially growing up on this franchise, and I was only just made aware of how popular the series was among minors until I worked as a GameStop employee firsthand. I will openly admit that I do not believe that games or Call of Duty in and of itself is necessarily bad, evil, or corrupting anyone, even children. I do believe, however, the over-exposure and lack of balance between gaming and other activities is where issues (bad behavior, lack of interest in school, increased tantrums e.g. "but I wanna play more!") stem from.
Hopefully, the above advice will encourage parents to be more involved with child gamers in general and enervate some of the negative behavior and feelings associated with children playing Call of Duty games.