Before we start on this it is worth saying that there are lots and lots of vastly worse things on the internet than games. Holocaust denial and suicide assistance for instance. However most journalists and politicians are exceptionally ignorant about games and lash out in their ignorance. Even Gordon Brown has said that knife crime is caused by video games. So our chances of having sensible debate with these people is approximately zero.
The worst thing that could happen is legislation. COPA is self evidently stupid, it looks like a Taliband law and all it achieves is to take away people’s rights, which is why it has been repeatedly kicked out for being unconstitutional. If you look at other traditional media they are not burdened with this sort of ignorant repression. Despite their content often being far worse.
The two “evils” in games that people want to protect children from are sex and violence. Yet parents are perfectly happy to park their children in front of televisions from a very early age. And television has a whole lot more sex and violence than video games. In fact on the sex side video games are positively prudish.
The main issue really is parent confidence. If an online game is going to be played by children then it clearly needs a parent’s section easily accessible from the front page. In this section they should explain the game and the philosophy behind it, so the parents know what their child is getting into. Also safeguards should be listed and there must be a method for parents to contact the game administration about any issues they may have.
With this knowledge it is then up to the parent. They don’t go and buy their children XXX DVDs because they understand what the content is, the same should apply to games. The responsibility is the parent’s, nobody else’s. So nobody else should get any blame if anything should go wrong. You cannot blame the game industry for irresponsible parents.
Then it is up to the game administrators to ensure that their philosophy and safeguards are properly implemented. If they are not then the power of the interweb will find them out. The potential damage to the business that this brings ensures pretty high standards. This is exactly what applies to conventional media, there is no difference here. Except that the interweb is far more efficient at finding people out than conventional media.
Something that video gaming increasingly has that make it far more child safe is parental controls. Conventional media has nothing like the level of safeguards on the Microsoft Xbox 360. Every parent would do well to familiarise themselves with this, it takes a lot of worry out of the whole gaming and online experience.
The biggest danger is not game content. It is social interaction. But this applies to everything on the internet. To forums, chat rooms, social networking and even the comments on this blog. You can get profanity, bullying, people pretending to be what they are not, inappropriate romantic advances, social cliques, flame wars and so on. When it comes to these, games are probably one of the safest places to be. They tend to have a high level of moderation and a powerful complaints process. Also game publishers have a far higher commercial interest than most to keep their sites clear of bad behaviour.
It must be said that most children are far more street wise and web aware than their parents. So they have already adopted safe strategies for themselves. And finally remember that video gaming is good for children. Gamers score higher in a whole range of areas including social skills, problem solving and hand/eye co-ordination than their non game playing peers.