In the mid 1980s, the U.S. media latched onto a story: teens were committing suicide, and the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons was somehow to blame.
As a kid I never did get into D&D during this media firestorm, but I remember friends or acquaintances playing the game and I remember the outcry pretty vividly.
All the kids I knew who played the game were kids, just like me. The only difference was I’d rather be out in the neighborhood playing sports until the street light came on than playing D&D. I just didn’t get the concept or attraction of using cards to battle one another. I was a way more visual kind of kid who liked to be active. I mean I was vaguely aware that sometimes teens did commit suicide.
Was there any connection between playing D&D and committing suicide? Not from what I saw. But I saw a lot of adults up in arms, concerned for kids’ health and their soul, while for most D&D was just a fun way to socialize and hang out with friends. Similar discussions centered on teen suicide and heavy metal, and it always seemed equally bizarre to me.
Now fast forward 20 years.
While role playing and card games have taken a more digital form, they are still alive and well. I grew up on board and card games for the most part. Even today we have a whole wall of board games at home.
Some are classics like Battleship, chess and checkers,while others are of the newer variety. I say newer variety because we play them so little that they are basically just taking up space.
The new form of entertainment is video games. And as a father of a pre-teen boy, who plays video games a lot, I am well aware that the content he sees is way more visceral than than what I saw at his age and way more offensive than Dungeons and Dragons will ever be.
He has games that have excessive amounts of shooting, some of the games have offensive language, some depict characters that are so life-like, I swear I’m watching a TV show and not a game at times. Now these games are rated by the ESRB or the Entertainment Systems Rating Board.
Games rated “E” mean they are for everyone while “M” means they have mature content. My son needs my approval to even purchase an “M” rated game, a policy put into place by the ESRB. Although a late bloomer, I too was an avid video game player growing up. I guess my son takes after me. So I know what I was getting into the first time he watched me play the original Halo on the Xbox.
In the 1980s I had the Colecovision, with the Atari 2600 attachment. I’m probably dating myself, but I then upgraded to the Sega Genesis, then the Sega Dreamcast, then waited in line all night to be the first to purchase a PlayStation One and PlayStation 2.
Over the years I have owned a Playstation 3, an original Xbox, an Xbox 360 and today I have an Xbox One, although I don’t play games as much as I used to. I mainly use it as a media hub to watch Netflix and Hulu Plus.
But I am well aware of the games and the content that is out there. I read online and in magazines reviews and previews of games.
As a parent I think it’s dependent on the individual kid on whether they should be able to play games, with content that was not even being developed in the 1980s.
You don’t want your kids playing “M” rated games you say? Then don’t buy them and don’t let your kids play them. Much like the D&D controversy it’s not role playing games that are in the spotlight today, it’s video games. If they are playing just be sure to check the content, and parents, I’m not talking about reading the description on the back of the game case. Sit down, watch a cutscene in the game or a bit of gameplay, or better yet watch someone else play the game on Youtube or another video site. That will give parents a much better idea of exactly what kids are playing and what they would see in an “M” rated game.
Partial nudity? Probably. Offensive language? You bet. Alcohol consumption or suggestive themes? More than likely. There is a reason these games are rated for a mature aduience, but it’s up to us as parents to decide whether we want the content in our homes.
But as a parent my decison to let him play some, and I stress some of those games, is my decision. Is it the best decison for every kid? Probably not. But I undertand that he recognizes and understands the difference between reality and video games.
It also helps that I was a gamer, who can share some insight into one of his favorite pastimes.
In 1985, “60 Minutes” broadcast a segment on the controversy over Dungeons & Dragons interviewing the families of kids who were D&D players. 60 Minutes also interviewed D&D creator Gary Gygax, who stated that the whole thing was just “a witch hunt.” If you played D&D in the 80s, you probably remember the controversy over it.
It was just one of many moral panics that swept the U.S. in the 1980s. If you have pre-teen sons and daughters today you are well aware of the amount of content they are bombarded with each day from the Internet to social media. If not filtered the content can be downright offensive.
Kids today also have to deal with excessive bullying, which has been linked to suicide. I’m sure 20 years from now there will be something much worse for our kids than video games.
As for today, if only I could trade past concerns over Dungeons and Dragons with monitoring what our kids see and hear outside the home.
I would gladly do so.
Chris McGathey is a reporter for the Rockwall Herald-Banner and Royse City Herald-Banner. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.