GTA V is upon us and, as expected, so is the media firestorm of how it causes kids to kill or is the hallmark of bad parenting. I followed GTA V news pretty closely in the last few weeks and, after the release last Tuesday, there were a number of posts on Reddit from Gamestop clerks who were selling the title to clueless parents. One clerk even wrote a letter to Kotaku encouraging parents to "do the right thing."
But what if buying your 11-year-old GTA V IS the right thing to do?
Let me explain. I've played somewhere in the neighborhood of 40-50 hours of GTA V in the last week. I've seen all the content that gives it a capital 'M' mature rating. People like to talk about the violence or the sexual content or the drug use in the game as reasons why it's not acceptable for children. But a lot of the blanket judgments thrown around in the last week really irk me. Because, and I appear to be alone on this, I don't think buying GTA V for your kid makes you a bad parent. And I certainly don't think it's cause for you to be judged by the very same people who are going to be reveling in the sex, drugs and violence found in the game.
The fact of the matter is that the game is rated 'M' so that a child can't walk into Gamestop and buy it without parental consent. If a parent knows what's in GTA V and chooses it for their child, then that is their right. Even if they don't know and buy it anyway, is it really going to be a life-altering event? Because I remember being 11 years old and playing games like Mortal Kombat and Duke Nukem and, the last time I checked, I haven't murdered anyone. Aside from some personal herbal remedies, I'm a law abiding citizen. Just because a child is enthralled with some media that is violent or sexualized in some way doesn't mean they will automatically mimic that behavior. Hearing people talk about kids and GTA V reminds me of this joke from Louis C.K. In it he discusses gay marriage and people who think it's immoral and bad for children and says "two guys who are in love can't get married because you don't want to talk to your ugly child for five minutes?"
This is the essence of why I think GTA V is OK for kids. Parents need to be involved. Yes, it's full of violence. But so are plenty of other games/movies/TV. And, unless you're the worst parent in the world, you probably have a good idea of whether or not your kid has the kind of anger/aggression issues that might make the game a problem. Oh, and the argument it desensitizes kids and makes them more violent? Bullsh-t, as this PBS report points out. Juvenile violent crime is at a 30-year low. The NES launched 30 years ago. Coincidence?
Strippers and sex? Classic American prudishness. We'll put all kinds of violence in movies and TV shows for kids but god forbid they see a breast. And, unlike the 345,775,289,544,211 pictures and videos of breasts online the breasts in GTA V do not in any way belong to an actual human being who may have been coerced or exploited to reveal them. If GTA V is the first place your 11-year-old sees a breast then you have the most computer illiterate 11 year-old on the planet. Every child with a smartphone has access to an insane amount of sexual content, and if their tech savvy parents block it then they likely have a friend who does.
Drug use? Please. The drug use in GTA is either mild or over-the-top; users are either slightly hazy or experiencing full-scale hallucinations too cartoony to be believed. The only correlation between GTA V and drug use are the gamers who like to toke up before playing. It doesn't glorify it or talk about it very much at all. Most of the game is about stealing and robbing people, an action that most children should know is wrong by the time they reach kindergarten. Or murdering. Again, something most kids have a handle on by the time they enter school.
I'm surprised that there isn't any kind of reaction among parents who enjoy a game like GTA V because it gives them a bridge to talk about sensitive issues with their kids. Sit down and play the game together and talk about drugs and sex and violence and bad language. Let them know that Los Santos is usually the only appropriate place for those things.
Should kids play GTA V? Of course, but only if their parents play it first.