Parenting And Rock Band 2: Why I'm Not Getting The Gameby Derek Wilson on September 15, 2008 5:25 AM EST
- Posted in
So Rock Band 2 was released yesterday. Anand picked it up and I'll certainly be playing it as some point in the near future. But the release sparked a debate between my wife and I about age appropriate gaming.
Sure, it might not be a good idea to expose children to lots of murder, rape and explicit language. Not that all that stuff shouldn't be allowed in artwork and entertainment, but young children don't have the ability to understand the context of the work. As adults we have the capacity to differentiate between our own lives and the type of activities we see on TV, hear in our music, or interact with in our games.
As parents we have the responsibility to make sure our children understand reality and are able to function within the context of our current society. While children are still building the foundation of their understanding of the world, concepts ideas and images have a much higher impact on them than on adults. Beyond this, very young children tend just to repeat and imitate a lot and that can cause problems on its own.
For instance, I don't particularly have a problem with language. Any word we use has a meaning and can be effective in conveying an idea. "Bad" "dirty" and all that I believe to be misnomers. Sometimes people feel ways about stuff and need to relate that to others. Sometimes the f-bomb is the best tool to do this. But, for societal reasons, many people are offended by the use of certain words. It is thus inconsiderate for me to go around using words that other people may not be comfortable with hearing. And while I don't care if my child wishes to use any word she wants, there is the problem of her not understanding appropriateness at the ripe old age of 2.
So, while teaching someone the appropriate use of language and disallowing them the knowledge of something both result in the same outward appearance, age appropriateness of the proper parenting technique is necessary. For now, we try not to allow our daughter to learn words that she might inappropriately use to the detriment of others. This is in the same way we would not give her a knife until she comes to the point in her life where she is able to learn that stabbing herself and others with a sharp object is not a good idea without having to try it out first. It is not that knives are bad, it's just that until a certain age children are not equipped to lean how to use them well.
Yeah yeah, learning about killing and rape and cursing is bad (especially for really young ones). But there is a further issue at hand. While my wife and I (generally) agree on all the above, we diverge when it comes to some Wii games and Rock Band / Guitar Hero in particular.
Will exposing young children to games that closely imitate reality while dumbing it down and providing immediate gratification and simulated praise make children less interested in or apt to learn specialized skills like playing baseball, tennis or musical instruments? Should the interface to a video game also have an age appropriateness attached to it?
I say no. Laura says yes. Here's our point / counterpoint with me up first.
I think playing games is playing games. Sure, my daughter might see me jamming out with a 5 buttoned guitar like object with a glorified light switch to "strum." She'll also see me racing a cartoon go-kart with a disembodied wheel while yelling at my wife. That's not going to make her not want to learn to drive. Doing the thing in real life has a function, and that function will have a value of its own outside the video game.
I can swing my Wii-mote at a screen and hit baseballs, but until we get holodecks (opening up a whole other debate), reality will always offer a different experience than video games. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, but they don't replace each other. There is room for both.
Adding to our specific situation, our daughter already loves guitars. She sees us play them and hears them on the radio and gets really excited. She loves plucking the strings and hearing the sound. But, of course, if she wants to play music she'll have a lot to learn. Lots of time and frustration will be part of the experience. While many have argued that Rock Band or Guitar Hero could inspire some children to want to learn an instrument, that doesn't apply here.
So could introducing Rock Band as a concept to our daughter fulfill her love of guitars enough to the point where she doesn't want to learn? Would she be so gratified by the cheering of fake crowds and the ease of pressing buttons while hearing a song spew forth that she would never want to pick up a real guitar?
I don't think so.
In fact, I believe that learning the basic ideas behind playing guitar that you can't take away from this type of game will go a long way to helping her learn guitar for real. The movement of your fingers between the buttons does help get your hands used to the types of movements you need to make when fingering a real guitar. Strumming, even though the strum bar is nothing like real strings, will absolutely teach you rhythm and timing.
My sister always wanted to play guitar. She took lessons for a long while but had a real hard time with strumming. She couldn't get it down until someone came along and was able to really teach her what it feels like to play songs the way they need to be played. I think music games can do that for people in ways that teachers often are not able.
I also don't think the cheering crowds have much to do with it. In the end there is a satisfaction we get from playing a game, and that is doing well at the game. Pleasing some digital fan isn't satisfying in the same way that pleasing a person is, but if pleasing a digital fan is part of the game then doing so still has its use.
Honestly, if we locked our daughter in a room and all she had to satisfy her was video games then I think we would have a problem. But I don't think that there is any age in which we need to worry about her replacing real experiences with video game experiences as long as we expose her to the spectrum of possibilities in the world. She will pick doing the things that she likes doing based on the things we expose her to. As long as she has access to varied experiences, she'll end up being the person she is supposed to be. If that's a rocker playing guitar, that's fine. If she ends up being a professional video game player, I think that's fine too. And I don't think they'll ever be mutually exclusive activities.
Imagine a sink full of dishes. Splatters of yesterday's spaghetti have crystallized on half of the bowls, someone thought it might be a good idea to leave the peelings from lunch's cucumber experience all over the place, and an unidentifiable smell is emanating from what can only be described as the bowels of the drainpipe. And it's your turn to clean up after the meal. The usual method involves scalding hot water, copious amounts of dish soap, sore arms and a noisy dishwasher. But let's do it differently today. You pick up the first dish and run it under the water, all of the hardened food suddenly vanishing as if the faucet spews forth a magic crud-busting liquid. You place the dish into the washer and a massive crowd of young, busty teenagers screams your name. They want more. With each dish the voices swell, blinking lights indicate that you are washing a perfect load. You come to the end, shut the door, turn on the dishwasher… and a rainbow shoots out with the surge of the cheering crowd.
I don't care who you are, you will never want to wash dishes the old way again. But the joy of some tasks just isn't part of the doing. It's part of the result. And while learning how to play an instrument is not exactly like dishwashing, there are times when it will feel about as fun. When you're done, however, there's nothing quite as rewarding as having gotten that solo bridge guitar part perfectly, note for note… or the smell of lemony cleanness and a spotless kitchen.
I'm not afraid my daughter wouldn't want to pick up a guitar once she sees how fun it is to play Rock Band 2. But I would be amazed if she persevered with the real thing in the same way after experiencing the misleading rewards of the video game. I can honestly say that if you offered me an afternoon of golf or a Mario Golf disc, I'd choose the one that requires less walking. If I was told to either go join the army or play a round of Counterstrike, I wouldn't slap on a helmet. And if running the country felt at all like playing Generals or Civilization, a lot more people would be interested in the job. (Don't freak out, I know I probably crossed a few of the general publics' comfort boundaries with those last two sentences).
Not all game examples are like this, but it seems to ring true with a concept as tangible as learning an instrument. There's also so much good in learning to appreciate the joy of a task before watering it down. If my daughter wants to practice guitar and starts to really find a passion for it, there's no reason to continue to censor her video game guitar experiences.
As far as other aspects of Rock Band go, I'm not sure she should be subjected to some of the lyrics involved, either. Even if the game cuts out curse words (which I'm actually not a fan of, modifying art for the purpose of mass distribution and making money is the definition of SELLING OUT) it's still my job as her parent to not subject her to imagery like "come and drink it up from my fertility" and "drink my juice young love chug-a-lug me."
I won't apologize for having standards. As a matter of fact, if more parents had higher standards the game venders wouldn't have to be telling you what you can and can't buy according to a tiny rating box some suit slapped on the cover. I won't have to shield my kids from the ways of the world for long, but I'd be a bad parent if I didn't give them a slow exposure over their young lives.
Wrapping it up:
We won't be getting Rock Band 2. Sure, I believe what I believe. But part of good parenting is compromise. My wife feels strongly about this issue, and our policy is generally to respect the wishes of the more cautious parent at any given time. Since we both come from different backgrounds, I think this helps us cover a lot of bases.
I think our daughter's life will be just as fulfilled without Rock Band 2 in it, so it is no loss there. Plus I'll still get to play it at Anand's house, so I'm not missing out on anything either.
Certainly we aren't trained in child psychology or anything. But as parents we still need to consider all this stuff. As more and more technology enters the home, the impact this has on young children will only become more relevant. We don't have all the answers, but we do try and carefully consider these issues.
But what do you guys think?