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Missed Opportunities

[originally published in The Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine, Issue #104, May 2006]

A few years back I got a letter from my mom. Amid the pleasantries and family updates was this particularly touching passage:

“‘Far be it from me to tell you what to do’…but I felt I must say something.

“I wish — I ask — I plead with you. Please try to do something to discourage those violent, antisocial videogames such as Grand Theft Auto. (I’ve read and heard more negative comments about this game in particular.)

“You have always cared about others — and cared deeply, I believe. I just can’t believe that you don’t care what effect these games have on other people — especially on kids and teens. I know you say they are for adults. Well, even if adults were the only ones to play them (and they aren’t), the game can influence adults who are not emotionally and morally mature — and can even affect those who are. This sort of thing is depressing, at the very least, and we all ought to try to be uplifting and encouraging, and most of all, responsible. We are our brothers’ keepers.

“You might think that you have no influence on the game designers, but I believe that you do. If you care, your voice could influence others to join you in protesting. And if you don’t make a difference at this time, your attempts could bring a change in the future — so that your children might live in a more peaceful world.”

Included in the letter was one of those alarmist news pieces we all remember from the days following GTA3’s smash success. You know what I’m talking about: those sweaty, feverish shock pieces that seemed to invariably imply (if not claim outright) that the point of the game is — let’s all say it together now — to pick up a hooker then kill her and take your money back.

I always meant to write Mom back and explain that those of us who have played games all our lives know very well that they don’t turn us into bat-wielding maniacs. I wanted to tell her about the therapeutic effects of releasing aggression in a harmless, virtual manner, and direct her to some of the writings of M.I.T. professor Henry Jenkins, who’s made a living debunking the media’s most sensational myths about games. Only one thing led to another, the letter got filed away, and I just plain forgot.

It wasn’t until I started doing this column that I remembered the letter, and was looking forward to printing it in this issue, inviting you folks to add your own comments — and also, you may notice, bringing her message to a much wider audience. (Look, I can’t disobey my mom, OK?) I planned to open the issue to this page and send it to her, with a note saying, “See? I didn’t forget.”

But three weeks ago, with almost no warning, my mom died. And you know something? Of all the things I regret not being able to share with her, of all the missed opportunities, this is one of the biggest. Isn’t that silly? I guess I feel like I disrespected her by not ever giving her a proper response.

So here you go, Mom: your answer at last. Sorry it’s so late. |