I have a dilemma on my hand. Now, before I go into the specific dilemma, let me get some personal beliefs out in the open. The most important of these is that violent video games can negatively impact a child’s thought process when virtual violence and the associated messages are not being properly put in perspective by good parenting. I also feel the same way about violent movies, music, heck even books. It takes a solid family foundation with attentive parents who not only properly filter content as they see fit, but more importantly, understand the content and the medium upon which it is delivered so as to best help their child gain a proper perspective on subject. Those are my beliefs on the subject.
Why has this come up? And in Kenya of all places? I have a very smart kid who comes to the computer lab and uses it during open lab hours because the lab is open to anyone at NYS. Being a smart kid (and he’s only 10 by the way) and coming from a better off family, he is able to get his hands on video games for the computers that even I myself could not get because I don’t have the proper personal connections in the country, nor do I have the Internet capacity to download them. I let him install his games for a couple reasons: first, my belief that games are a great lure to bring kids in and have them engage in the computer and possibly generate interest in the most abstract concept of computing; secondly, he plays them on the Windows partition, which is a completely separate entity from the Linux side of the computer that I need for teaching, and if he messes something up, it won’t negatively affect the primary operations of the lab.
Recently he brought a copy of Grand Theft Auto III (GTA) and installed it and this is what has caused concern. Whereas before they were playing football (soccer) games, now all of a sudden things have become a lot more realistic and violent. In GTA you are able to control a character who runs around, wields weapons, kills both innocents and targets in a variety of fashions, hijacks cars, has sex with prostitutes, performs drug deals for the mafia and gets rewarded for doing so. With a proper parental foundation back home I would have no problem with such behavior, as all things exist in life and all people need their own escapisms.
My concern however lies with the fact that in my opinion a parent needs to understand this content and the medium as well, which I am not sure his do. In order for this kid’s parents to be truly effective while not stifling their child’s creative potential, they need to understand why he likes running around blowing cars up and whatnot. So the question is, where does the responsibility lie in my part? Being the computer, “expert,” in the situation and understanding what the kid is doing, is it my job to inform the parents of their child’s behavior? Is it my job to sit them down and explain that letting a kid come to a computer lab is very different from letting him play in other ways in Kenya? He’s not playing football with his friends here, he’s killing virtual people and causing virtual destruction and havoc all over the world.
Considering the low level of computer education in this country, is it the job of the expert to also inform parents of what they should be doing. Or is it the job of the parents to know what their child is doing and if concerned, consult experts. It’s actually not even a fear of mine that this particular child might be negatively impacted I am still not 100% sure he comprehends everything that is happening, or better yet, has not made the connection that virtual reality is sometimes a metaphor for reality. The problem is that he is an enabler. He has enabled older, more aggressive people to play this game and teaches it to them. I don’t want to stifle them, and I try my hardest to see my role as more the knowledge-infrastructure maintainer, explaining the possibilities of computers while letting individuals develop their own realities and perspectives, such as a librarian may see their role with books. But in this case, in this country, with violence on the television and now in the hands of the youth (albeit virtually), it takes good parenting to keep everyone on a good course. Oh how the weights of life can be so confusing.
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