Last week, I sat in line with a hundred or so like-minded gamers awaiting the midnight release of Halo 4. As I sat at the front of the line with a fellow GameStop regular, we started conversing about games in general included the impending release of Call of Duty Black Ops 2. During this conversation, the regular stated that his eight year old son was extremely good at Modern Warfare and planned to buy it for his son. Naturally, I asked the only question I could think of: "You let your eight year old son play Call of Duty?" His response was that his son was going to learn about "this stuff" anyways, so why hold him back. I dropped the conversation before it beccame too uncomfortable and we moved on to other topics and I forgot about the conversation.

This past weekend, my wife and I sat down to look over our kid's Christmas wish lists (I can't stand post-Thanksgiving shopping, so we do all of our stuff early) and I noticed that my seven year old son really wanted a Nintendo 3DS and my mind reverted back to the midnight launch conversation. For so long, I have never had to worry about the issue of video games and mature content with my kids because their only systems were Leapster Explorers and I try not to play violent games in front of my kids. Now, it seems it is time to finally come to some conclusions.

Face It, Games Affect People
Let's get the difficult facts out there right now. One of the most repulsive ideas is that something outside of ourselves can affect our thoughts, actions, and opinions. So it is only natural for us to want to think our hobby and passion is nothing but angelic activities that could never alter anyone's state of thinking. But the fact of the matter is this is not the case, especially when it comes to children. Video games engage numerous parts of the brain, making them more engrossing to the individual involved than other forms of media like television and movies.

Consider for a moment ice on a road. Experienced drivers know how to handle themselves on such surfaces and are prepared for how to handle these conditions. The ice still affects the driver the same way it would anyone else, but the driver knows how to handle and correct their habits to safely travel these roads. New drivers, or drivers who have never experienced ice before, do not know how to avoid using brake pedals and perhaps attempt to drive too fast in these conditions and the ice sends them sliding gently to the side of the road, through a stop sign, or (in extreme circumstances) flipping the vehicle. Could it not be considered the same for influences on the mind of children versus that of experienced adults?

Does this mean a game or multiple games will turn a child into a serial killer or a social outcast? No, I don't think so. But it is important to remember that the memory of a child is like a dry sponge, it truly does suck up and hold everything that goes on around it. But with so much information to suck up, there can be no single one that defines who the child will become.

There is No Silver Bullet
As I considered this topic, I was reminded of a line from one of my favorite authors, Chuck Palahniuk, in his book titled Invisible Monsters that reads: "Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I have ever known." The point is, every person's personality is assembled by years of personal connections and experiences. While society and general media would like to point fingers at a single issue for why a person behaves the way they do, it is far too great of a generalization when our actions and personalities are affected my numerous people and situations on a daily basis.

Take my older brother and me for example. We grew up in the same house under the same rules. We attended the exact same schools had the same access to television, movies, games and music. However, here we are, in our thirties, and our outcomes could not be more dissimilar. I attended college while he did not. I am married with kids while he refuses to have anything to do with marriage or kids. He is an atheist while I regularly attend church. None of this is meant to say one of our outcomes is better than the other, we are both very successful and are good people, but our varied experiences in life have molded our differing opinions and personalities. No movie or video game did ALL of this.

Parents Have a Role
When my first son was born, I was scared out of my mind. I wasn't afraid of not knowing how to change a diaper or how to wrap him in a blanket; I was scared that my actions would directly affect who he would become in life. If you think about it for a second, it is a harrowing thought knowing your mistakes no longer affect just you. But in an age where people like to avoid accountability, I wonder how many parents simply ignore this concept so they can blame it all on society. While many experiences shape the adults children eventually become, parents play a key role.

Kids are like the new kid on the baseball team. Expecting them to pitch a perfect curve ball or bat perfectly simply isn't going to happen. Odds are, if you send them off to learn on their own, they are going to pick up terrible habits that are hard to break as time goes on. They need a coach to teach them a precept at a time, building up their abilities. In the same vein, we cannot just hand our kid a violent video game and expect them to understand that their actions in the game are not real and that death in the real world has horribly lasting effects.

There are Different Types of Mature
The example above is extreme, but it does also bring to mind the fact that maturity isn't just violence and sex. Politics carries some very mature themes to it when you start to think about it. There are even mature game play mechanics, not in the sense of doing something typically deemed as "naughty" but more along the lines of complex.

As we think back to our childhoods, as I'm sure some of you have while reading this, we may think to ourselves that we would have understood certain mature themes back when we were kids. But, when I consider it, while I can easily call to mind certain memories, I cannot remember what I knew and what I didn't know. Perhaps that is the problem with memories, we can only look back on them with the knowledge we have now.

In the end, I think it is important for parents to realize they have a responsibility to their kids. Passing off the dollar of accountability to video games or any other form of media is incredibly foolish but ignoring the effect these forms of entertainment can have on kids is equally idiotic. Parents have a responsibility to society to pay attention to what their kids play and make sure they understand what they are exposing their children's minds to.

I hope you all don't take this as me telling you or your parents what to do; I hate it when people tell me exactly how to parent my kids. It is more just the thought process I have gone through in deciding how I feel about my children and their video games. What do you think? Do you think games have an impact on youth and society? Can parents do anything to affect the impact that is made or is it clearly up to the child to decide?