My Kids and Grand Theft Auto Liberty City Stories

I have two boys, 8 and 11 years old. Tony, the 11 year old, loves video games. He has a Sony PSP which he plays a lot. Far too often in my wife’s opinion. He’s constantly blowing his allowance on buying and selling games at a second hand store down the street from our house. But he also plays soccer on a team and does his homework, so it’s not all bad.

Last week he showed me a catalog of games to tell me about the next game he was all excited to buy: Grand Theft Auto Liberty City Stories. One of his 11 year old friends has it and he totally fell in love with it. An 11 year old kid. His parents let him buy a game rated “Z” for 18 and over because it’s wall-to-wall foul language and adult themes such as murder, mayhem, carjacking, brain-splattering headshots, cop killing, prostitution, BSDM, kinky sex, double-ended dildos, tittie bars, drugs…

That is, so far. For all I know, it gets worse. I’m still only on the 5th or 6th mission. Tony, on the other hand, is on well his way to unlocking the second island.

Last week, when Tony first showed me the game, our conversation when a bit like this:

Tony (in Japanese): Daddy, I want to get this awesome game!
Me (in English): What’s it rated?
Tony: Z.
Me: How old do you have to buy a game that’s rated Z?
Tony: 18.
Me: How old are you now?
Tony: 11.
Me: What’s 18-11?
Tony: 7.
Me: That’s how many years you have to wait to buy the game.

End of conversation. Flash forward to this week.

Tony: Daddy, look what I got!
Sony PSP: “You cock-sucking mother-fucking son of a goddamn whore! I’ll rip off your head and shit down your neck!” (explosions) (police sirens) (sexual innuendo-filled radio dialog)
Me: Wonderful.

So here’s the thing. And maybe I’m just rationalizing my horrible parenting skills and my guilt for not confiscating the game on sight.

Neither Tony nor Andy understand much English aside from the conversations I have with them, so all the swearing in the game goes over their heads. It was only a few weeks ago that Tony finally learned the word “shit” when I dented the running board of our family car trying to back out of a ridiculously narrow dead end. I’m not too worried about either of them acquiring a new and exceedingly foul English vocabulary from the game.

They don’t understand the adult themes in the game. Or, maybe they do, and if so, they already acquired such worldly knowledge elsewhere.

That leaves the violence. When I was a kid, we played cops and robbers and smashed Matchbox cars together all the time. And I didn’t grow up to be a sociopath.

Yesterday was a holiday so the three of us played the game together. I taught Andy how to read a map and to give and understand directions in English. I found a website of cheat codes and taught Tony some new vocabulary by explaining to him what they all did. The boys got practice sharing their toys, which involved patience and conflict resolution. Tony got to show me all the secret locations, mini games and tricks he discovered by himself. (I skipped over minor details such as what prostitutes and pimps do for a living.) We shared opinions about strategies. But most of all, the three of us spent hours of quality time together, which we don’t do often enough lately.

But still, I’m conflicted as to whether or not I’m being a horrible parent by letting them play such an adult-oriented game.

Rich Pav

Richard has been living in Japan since 1990 with his wife and two teenage sons, Tony and Andy.

21 thoughts to “My Kids and Grand Theft Auto Liberty City Stories”

  1. I can understand your concerns here.γ€€I have a 6 year old son so I’m sure I will be facing these issues sonner rather than later. I guess confiscating the game would have been the more “consistent” approach, but it sounds like if you had done that your kids would be playing it elsewhere (and maybe secretly).

    It is a tough call, but if they are going to be playing it anyway, isn’t it better that they playing it with you around to guide them and keep an eye on how they react to it?

    Plus, it’s a great excuse for you to play the game (-;

  2. I agree with Paul – tough call, but if you are there and talking about the issues (or most of them) then you facilitate communication in the process of learning to think and problem solve as they are introduced to life’s more complex “issues,” rather then having them to resent and rebel. That said, don’t be a push over. Limits work if there is mutual respect. Kids learn most by watching how their parents, siblings and peers deal with complexities (assuming they don’t have sociopathic tendencies – in which case, keep one eye open while you sleep)

  3. I guess what it boils down to is that I don’t anticipate that game will have a negative impact on their development. But I’m disappointed that Tony bought the game even though I told him he couldn’t.

  4. Then make sure he knows, in no uncertain terms, what you think about what he did. No anger – just clearly communicate the disappointment.

  5. I’m on the same page as your other readers, I think.

    It’s a subjective judgement call. It’s good that you feel some sort of conflict over it, but also good that you didn’t just ban the game outright and take it as the end of the issue. If anyone has your sons’s best interests at heart, it’s you, right? Go with your gut.

    Seems to be your concern here, more than the game, is that Tony is now old enough to directly disobey you. More than anything in the game itself, the purchase of the game after you told him not to might be the topic of discussion – why you decide what you decide, etc.

    Garretts last blog post: The Proceedings of the West Tokyo Working-Men’s Literary Club (By Transcription) #1 @ [site]

  6. You might also want to find out how he bought a game that is supposed to be illegal for him to buy. I don’t know about Japan, but in the US many gamers believe that game publishers need to take on more of the responsibility of not distributing games to kids that shouldn’t play them. Otherwise the “think-about-the-children” types will lobby the government into more/tighter restrictions. So, publishers should pull distribution to retailers who don’t hold up their end of the bargain.
    They ought to think more long-term than making a quick buck off of kids like Tony, or the government might make it hard to participate a market that can support the enormous budgets they enjoy today.

    Anyway, I love the fact that you turned a video game (especially a GTA game) into an informal learning session. I think that speaks more about your parenting abilities than which video games you allow your kids to play.

  7. It’s a good thing that the graphics are so crude and cartoony on the PSP version of GTA. I think you’d have to be more careful about photo realistic stuff on the next gen consoles. But then again, there are some really ultraviolent and sexual stuff out there that kids will inevitably come across. As long as it doesn’t affect them in a negative way like their grades, attitude, etc. it’s just entertainment. Some of those missions take a bit of thinking and dexterity to get through as well, so it’s not all just mindless crap. Those skills may come in handy if your son ever joins the yakuza and starts stealing cars!

  8. Hiya Mr Pav! Sorry I haven’t been by since the Nov elections. I’ve just been SO busy as a college student finishing up the term. I think you are being a good parent by being concerned. That’s the first step I think. I’ve known of parents who don’t even ask what Z means. About a term or two ago I took a sociology class and at the end of the term we had to do a presentation on a topic and someone did theirs on violent video games and showed stats and whatnot and how there wasn’t really any influence on the games and people but even presented the argument it does the opposite and keeps kids out of trouble and at home instead of out on the street joining a gang and whatnot. As long as the boys know it’s fake and just a game that’s what’s important I think.

    I think it’s good you’re there with them while they play the game so you can monitor them and their response etc. We didn’t have this stuff when I was a kid haha. We had Super Mario brothers and banging mushroom heads. I also like the idea of you teaching them about maps. Maybe someday when they’re a little older and get lost and have a map handy they’ll remember what you taught them from the game. πŸ™‚

    And as the first poster said I’d rather them play it in front of you instead of secretly at a friends house or something. That could lead down a bad road of secrets and deceit. I think this shows they have a good relationship with you as a dad and vice versa. πŸ™‚ I also agree about the disappointment. I wouldn’t push on it but just let him know it’s there. He did use his own money so that’s tough too. At least you’re teaching him how to save and all that. πŸ™‚ And yes here in the States if a game is 18 plus you can’t buy it unless you are 18 plus and have I.D. to show it. Like with alcohol etc. I guess in Japan it’s not such a big deal. I mean goodness look at some of the anime there.

  9. I’m 26 and I don’t have kids, but I grew up in an environment that absolutely forbid this kind of media (and much, much more), and I can wholeheartedly say this: if your son wants to play this game, even if you forbid it, unless you never ever let him leave the house, he’ll end up playing it anyways (unless he’s insanely honest, but that’s another topic). It’s much better that you talk with him about it, and even better that you’re joining in playing with him.

    I can’t tell you how many times I wish I’d been able to share only marginally bad (even by really strict standards) music or games with my parents, just so I could interact with them and share my interests. But I didn’t because I knew they’d disapprove without even looking and ban it. Now I’m grown up and moved out, and I’ve never once had a serious conversation with either of my parents, and we don’t really know each other at all. And it’s not that they didn’t want to talk to me, or I them, but because of their rigid, unwavering rules and blind judgement, I grew to understand that it was not worth the effort in talking about anything but daily routine stuff.

    You’re being a great parent – communication is essential. I’d say it’s probably even good to let your know you disapprove some of what the game portrays — maybe ask him if he understands what’s bad about it, etc — but what’s most important is that both of you enjoy it as a game, rather than making it the center of a dispute over content. It’s easy to have differing opinions on things like games or music, but showing that you understand he enjoys this, rather than outright denying it is very important, possibly more so than saying “this is wrong and you can’t see it”.

    Hopefully my rant made sense. :

  10. I totally missed your comment: “I’m disappointed that Tony bought the game even though I told him he couldn’t.”

    It’s my opinion that if you allow your kids to have money that’s their own to use, you should expect this kind of thing to happen. I’d say, be happy that rather than hiding the game, you know he has it. Faced with parenting, I’d be much happier knowing what my kids are into and being able to talk with them about it, as opposed to wielding an iron fist and forcing them to either do without something they really want, or going behind my back.

  11. Ethan,

    Please read Rich’s original post again. Perhaps you also missed the discussion of the game’s rating. (more about it can be found on the wikipedia site – see the sidebar on the right — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Theft_Auto_IV )

    Being a parent is not about going to one or the other extreme (IMHO) however it is a balance and rating systems are there to provide information to the purchaser be they parent or child (although in some places selling this game to a minor IS illegal – would you want to sit down with your 7-year-old who just came back from buying a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of Jack D’s for a friendly, family drink/smoke?)

    No, just because they get an allowance does not give them license to buy anything without consequence.

    Just a thought.

  12. Lon, you’re getting sidetracked with the alcohol comment. Alcohol and cigarettes are actually physically dangerous, and are controlled substances for a reason. Something completely different from video games/television (so far, there’s been no real proof whether media actually affects people’s behavior or not — very different from alcohol/cigarettes). I’m well aware of the game’s content, having played each of the games in the series myself. I can definitely understand a parent’s objection to their kids purchasing this game, but my point still stands: if you allow your child to have their own money, they’re going to end up doing what they want with it. Whether they buy something that’s illegal to sell to minors is beside the point, and there are laws to deal with it where it is illegal. A parent can say “no” to something, but if the child has money in their hands, and is allowed to leave the house, they will use it how they want. But my original point (in my first post) is that all this argument about whether it’s okay for the kid to play the game is secondary to what’s most important: communication.

    How Rich deals with his son disobeying is a different topic, but I don’t believe he’s being a bad father allowing his son to play the game, ESPECIALLY if he’s there with him.

    I’m not too well articulated, so I may not be making my point very well, but it had nothing to do with the game in particular, nor his sons disobedience, but that communicating with his son is important, probably more so than meddling over whether a particular something is appropriate for a child of a given age.

    :-

  13. I agree that Rich made the best of an unfortunate situation. I do not agree with your analysis. Please do not get sidetracked by my analogies (as imperfect as they are) – but the point holds. A minor child given money does not excuse the parent from any responsibility in the purchase or use that the child makes. Suppose the child purchases homework essays from teh interwebs and passes them off as their own at school – technically no laws are even broken here – but this would make most parents I know cringe. Communication is king – I very much agree with this (and hope I didn’t appear to be saying otherwise) – however, speaking as a parent myself, I would prefer to have had the communication up front – before the fact, as it were – and respected by the child. Otherwise, I say, you really aren’t communicating. And that is very sad.

  14. One last thing and I’ll promise to be quiet πŸ˜‰

    From day one, we’ve been reading stories to our daughter (now in her mid-teens) and we are still trying to do this every day (as our schedules allow) – no longer are we reading about Foxes in sockes – but have moved on to much more age appropriate fiction and essays. The latest book has us crying with laughter: 8 Simple Rules for Marrying My Daughter. We also have read any/all that Terry Pratchett releases. All this reading time has given our family (daughter, wife, father + cats that care to sit in) a lot of communication time because we often stop talk discuss laugh (and argue at times) over many issues. I cannot help to think that we all understand each other better – and with that understanding comes respect. So if there is some situation similar to Rich’s that comes up (has and most likely will again) we have some grounding in a shared sensibility. I don’t expect our daughter to be a clone of my wife or myself in thought process – she will be her own person – but I have respect for her and hope she respects her parents.

    YMMV (we can never know how things will end up – but a parent can try)

    Ethan – not all parents are like your own, nor do all parents know what is best or what works – Do NOT take what I say here to be such a claim! But, please, don’t give up trying (having lost my father – a few years back, I cannot tell you how many times I still think of things that I’d love to talk with him about.)

  15. Rich – when you were talking with your son, did you make it clear that YOU were saying he couldn’t buy the game? The conversation you transcribed makes it sound like you were saying the STORE wouldn’t let him buy the game. He may not understand the reason a store wouldn’t be allowed to sell him the game, and so when he tried to buy it and was able to, he probably didn’t realize it was a bad thing to do, or that it would disappoint you.

    It sounds like Lon and Ethan are getting caught up in their own view of things. Ethan is just saying that if you give a child money, it is possible that he will go out and buy things he shouldn’t. Lon is saying that a parent is still responsible for their child and for what they buy. I’m sure that if Tony had brought home cigarettes and alcohol, Rich’s reaction would have been different. Since those things are actually dangerous to his physical health, it would make sense to take them away and explain why he couldn’t have them. A game is more ambiguous and as long as he thinks his child won’t start copying everything in the game, it makes sense to take the opportunity to enjoy it with his son and try to teach him something from it. Even if the game was taken away from him, he’s likely to run into similar content at some point. Now he knows that it’s something that’s okay to discuss with his dad, rather than something he should hide from him if he runs into it again.

    I think that knowing that you can communicate with your parents is more important than just taking away anything that could remotely be a bad influence on them.

  16. A little late to the game with this post… but food for thought:

    The US Military used to use round targets to practice shooting. While this worked well for target practice, they would find that sometimes when it came to pulling the trigger soldiers would hesitate before blasting the brains out of one of their human brothers. This made them bad soldiers. Good humans, but bad soldiers.

    They then switched to using body silhouettes. The soldiers hesitated less.

    They then started using 1st person shooter games. The soldiers hesitated less.

    Saying violent video games have no effect whatsoever is a little naive. It’s not that these people will grow up to be serial killers, but it does have a desensitizing effect. Seriously, how can it not?

    Day after day, seeing criminals glorified in movies, violence rationalized on TV and video games, it has to have an effect. On adults AND children.

    I know my ideas here aren’t popular, and I totally agree that spending time with your children is a vitally important thing to do, but what we feed ourselves when it comes to entertainment, food etc. definitely has a bearing on who we are. No matter what a study says, it’s simple common sense.

    Kids thrive when they know they boundaries.

  17. AtomicOne – Telling someone their job is to go kill, and working to make sure they don’t hesitate to, and someone choosing to go kill are two very different things.

    That being said, desensitization does occur. I just don’t think that because I’m more accustomed to seeing dramatized death that I’m any closer to grabbing a gun and committing murder. Maybe I’d have less pity seeing someone die, but again, killing someone is an entirely different deal. A young kid who’s more impressionable may be more likely to, but I also think that good parenting and an open communication path between child and parent is a VERY good deterrent to any anti-social behavior.

    P.S. I’d be interested in seeing a source for your target claims. A couple of quick Google searches didn’t really reveal anything…

  18. I think it depends on the kid. If he seems well balanced, doesn’t get into trouble a lot, and has no problem separating his fantasy from reality even at a young age, the game’s content will be no problem.

    For the violently pre-disposed ADHD sociopath monster child, perhaps he should be filling his mind with something more constructive.

    you seem like a “cool dad”… but i know that status is difficult to balance with the responsibilities of being a good father.

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