Beware violent games where kids role-play murder, rape and torture

2013-10-21 00:00

THE latest, fifth version of Grand Theft Auto (GTA) has been flying off the shelves … and into the hands of underage kids.

The age restricted game (18) has been bought by parents seemingly ignorant of its content. Critics say it promotes criminal activities and degrades women.

The 18 age restriction is no deterrent to teens who want to play the game for its “cool” reputation and amazing graphics. But the hard core scenes in the game are horrifying parents who have discovered that gang rape and torture are possible scenarios in the game.

Players of the game are role-playing the parts of murderers, hijackers and rapists. While its defenders online say that “it’s not real”, teen counsellor Lara Tonks says the game is “dark and sadistic”.

“We should be protecting our kids from these thoughts, not allowing our teenagers to be role-playing the part of a killer. How on earth can this be constructive?

“Games often delve into the realms of fantasy, giving players the option to be in another world. But when the crimes committed are in a pseudo-real world can this be tolerated?

“It’s a grey area — if a player uses his joystick to manipulate instruments of torture does this not implicate them? Where does the line become blurred between reality and fantasy?”

Psychologists have observed that in modern games the danger is that the violence is repetitive and presented without broader commentary or consequence.

Izabella Little Gates from Hillcrest, who runs the Life Talk forum giving advice to SA teens, sent out a newsletter warning parents to check what computer games their children were playing.

She said it was vital that parents checked the age restriction and were comfortable with the content.

“Parents are not aware of what they are buying for their kids. The kids say ‘we want this game because it’s so popular and our friends have it’, but they have no idea that a popular game doing the rounds is extremely violent and sadistic.”

Nikki Bush, a creative parenting expert based in Johannesburg, said children who are exposed to violent computer games and movies become desensitised.

“Grand Theft Auto has been around for years. It is one of the most heavily marketed games with advertising on billboards, street poles, bus shelters and in stores. It is hard to ignore. It is highly addictive and carries a serious age restriction of 18 for good reason, not that I think that anyone over 18 should be playing with it either,” she said.

Gaming, in general, is addictive because it stimulates the pleasure centre of the brain and is full of rewards, which is why kids battle to leave a game to sit down for dinner, Bush cautioned.

“My advice to parents is that they should protect their teenagers. Parents sometimes feel paralysed — they don’t know what to do. My advice is to listen to your gut feel.

“If your common sense tells you that your child should not be watching it, or if you notice their behaviour changes after playing certain games, then take it away.”

Bush said the sound track to GTA was very fast for a reason. The music is 120 beats a minute. This shuts down the thinking and logical part of the brain, which filters out harmful thoughts. Then it accesses the primal and emotional part of the brain.

“In this state the brain is far more receptive to the suggestions of violence, rage, and it is a reactive state – it is not healthy.”

Local gaming shops confirmed that GTA was flying off the shelves and it was very popular.

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