During a recent family trip to visit relatives, we settled down for a night of wholesome family entertainment to watch “Inside Man” (well, maybe not all that wholesome; it is a film about a bank robbery, after all). This post has almost nothing to do with the plot of the movie, so if you haven’t seen it, don’t fret. It is a film worth queuing on your Netflix, however, and I recommend it despite the fact that I don’t much care for Spike Lee films.
In any case, at one point in the film a young black kid is playing a video game on a portable game unit. We get a closeup of the game, wherein Matthew (played by Amir Ali Said), is controlling a car full of gang members about to do a drive-by shooting. As the car approaches the target, instructions flash prominently on the game screen, “Kill ‘dat [N-word]!!!” Matthew, good at following directions, manipulates a few buttons, thereby moving one of the gang members to shoot the mark in the head, thereby pasting “cherry pie” all over the outside of the building.
There’s an interesting conversation between Matthew and one of the bank robbers at this point in the movie, but I want to pass along what happened in the real world later. After the film ended, I asked our relatives if they knew what real video game Spike Lee was parodying. They answered negatively, and I said, “It’s the one the kids are playing in the next room.” Sure enough, some of our family’s kids, as well as some neighbors, were huddled around a console playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
This game was originally released with an ESRB rating of “M” for “Mature,” then was readjusted to “Adults Only,” after the political brouhaha, and then re-released as “M”. In any case, there is a great deal of violence in the game, and at least some of the children playing it in my family’s house were well under even the “M” age rating (17 years and older). The parents had no real knowledge about the content or the themes of the game.
This situation is no doubt repeated innumerable times all over the country on a daily basis. That’s why it’s nice to see some recognition in the debate about censorship of video games of the necessary role parents play. NPR’s Future Tense has noted the release of the 11th annual video game report card by the National Institute on Media and the Family.
According to the report card, the latest installment reflects a change in focus, in which the institute “acknowledge[s] the strides” taken by retailers and the video game industry. This year, the challenge is put forth to parents: “Simply put, parents need to step up to the plate and the experts need to conduct more and better research.”
Indeed, the report card grades “Parental Involvement,” as an “INCOMPLETE,” saying, “Parents could be, and should be, doing a lot better, but at least part of their failure can be attributed to the confusion created by the game makers.” The cacophony of voices clamoring for the authority to be passed on to some other institution makes the institute regard lack of parental involvement in the context of such extenuating circumstances. That’s why parents don’t get a failing grade this year.
All this finally reflects the truth of the matter, I think, that parents bear the primary and ultimate responsibility for the education and moral formation of their children. In this day and age, that education and formation is conducted within a world pervaded by use of technology. It’s our calling and challenge as parents to make sure that we use computers, video games, and other technologies prudently.