Why I Let My Kids Play Violent Video Games

by Deneene Bell
Originally Published: 
Two kids playing violent video games in their living room
vitapix / Getty

I have a confession: My sons play first-person shooter games. It doesn’t make me feel like a better parent to say I am conflicted about it. … I am a gun control advocate. I am a hippie mom who resisted water pistols and stood aghast at the “pew-pewing” of the toddlers at the local kiddie park. I was critical of the boy who one day turned his ballon sword into a balloon gun (as they are wont to do with everything from sword to sandwich), and then his grandmother told me: “I didn’t let my son play with guns, and now he’s a cop.” I gave my then 3-year-old son a balloon sword/gun on the spot. There’s nature. And there’s nurture. And then there’s a balance between the two. That’s kind of where I’ve gone with it.

Flash forward 12 years and one more son later …. Now it’s all about Nerf Guns and video games. I haven’t promoted gun play or gaming (actively or consciously anwyay), but I haven’t condemned them either. As long they’re not causing literal harm to each other, I’ve let my boys — ages 15 and 10 — have as much fun with their toy weaponry and video games as with their bikes and balls. I will clarify (and to make me feel a little bit better) that they are not allowed to play, nor have they asked to play, anything rated over “E 10+” or “Teen.” So, no “intense” violence, no blood and gore, no sexual content, and no “strong” language (though they’d likely just think it was me talking).

And what started out as palatable pixelated bows and arrows has evolved into alarmingly realistic CG representations of big guns and little guns and more guns… I’m ashamed and a little awestruck to say my sons know the names of a vast array of armor, weapons, and ammo (I mean, shit, they’re learing something!).

I know, this sounds horrible. To top it off, we are part of a charter school community that eschews electronic media. Though it’s not promoted at school, I know other families who also monitor and allow video usage to varying degrees. We’re not the only family with kids playing these games, but for some even Minecraft is considered too violent.

Personally, I miss Minecraft. Me, the mother who before she was a mother used to say, “I will never let my kids watch or play something that I have not watched or played myself!” is now the mother who only wishes her blind eye were turned to such comparatively benign folly as Minecraft. In a world of evil, we justify the lesser evils.

I understand the allure of these first-person shooter games. They offer a grand, competitive adventure across fantastical landscapes from a first-person point of view. And these days, it’s also a main conduit for social interaction, especially between teens. Being part of a sniper team or rebel force with your best buddies is about as good as it gets outside of the real world (for better or worse). Yes, of course, they can and do have similar experiences without shooting at things. But, apparently, that’s not as fun as shooting at things.

I stand with hands on hips and watch them play. They love explaining it all to me. I feel like I am the worst mom in the world because I’m all peace and love and “fuck the NRA,” and yet, my kids just attacked opposing forces with machine gun fire. What do I do? Unplug it? Delete it? Scream? Tell them they cannot play anything but Wii Sports or Dance, Dance Revolution?

But by now, my kids are so deep and long into their use that I would be oddly hypocritical to cut them off from “the most popular game in the world and it’s not even released yet.” Well, geesh, if the beta version is this good and popular, then by all means, continue to be mentally trapped and conditioned by it. Who am I to say you shouldn’t do that? I’m only your mother.

Yes, I am their mother. And I know them. So, after much thought, it ultimately it comes down to this—they are good boys. They are both kind, thoughtful, and happy; they get good grades; they do their chores (with varying amounts of coercion); they are good friends and dedicated team sports players; they still play outside as well as the occasional board game; and they each have their own brand of pretty good common sense.

What happens on the screen, seems to stay on the screen. Maybe I’m being delusional, but they seem to successfully compartmentalize their game usage and their lives, and limit their time (for the most part) as they are asked to.

Am I just relieving myself of the guilt and shame I feel for letting my kids play these games? Probably. Am I blatantly ignoring the social responsibility I have to forbid my sons from causing and experiencing virtual violence lest it feed some future impulse? I hope not. I have to believe those aren’t my kids. But don’t we all? “Not my kid!” We can’t all be right. So where do we draw the line?

I have expressed my reservations to and have conversations with my kids about real-life gun violence and gun safety, while also acknowledging the legal, respectful gun use they know of my husband’s side of the family. They’re receptive and, surprisingly, sympathetic about my concerns: “It’s okay, Mommy, we know it’s not real.”

I am perfectly aware that they may be playing me as well as the game. But I don’t just want to believe them, I really do believe them. And I still sit uneasy about it with all that’s going on in our country with guns (if I may use a summative understatement). I still feel like a hypocrite. But I remain vigilant. And enforce time limits. And love them. And pay attention to them. And trust them. And ask them quite often if they will do a puzzle with me, or play a game, or cook a meal, or draw a picture, or snuggle, or … please just build me something in Minecraft.

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