(This is the fun background story behind this week’s blog post. For the DIGC310 specific uni angled blog entry stuff, read below the horizontal bar.)
Recently I attended the birthday celebration some family friends were hosting. Ordinarily at gatherings with this family, my own, and my cousin’s I fill the role of the entertainer, providing the movies or games to keep the younger generation content throughout the evening. Admittedly we’re probably old enough now after all these years to participate quite happily in the adult conversations about politics and taxes and renovations and what have you (that’s what grownups talk about, right?). I still tend to arrive with a stack of DVDs, ranging from stellar to dreadful, under my arm though – just out of habit.
On this particular occasion, however, I knew it wasn’t just our usual familial trio in attendance, and didn’t know what to expect. So instead of DVDs, I showed up awkwardly balancing a pile of Betrayal, Tokyo and Pandemic, and explained (badly) to a person or two I happened to know from university that usually I’m in charge of amusement. It seemed for a while that I was just going to remain that weirdo who brought along a useless clutch of board games that were going to go unplayed while everyone was enjoying their adult conversations about politics, taxes, renovations and what have you.
But then, Zach showed up.
I was sitting in a room at the front of the house to escape from some of the noise when this intrepid ten year old thought to do the same (he may have been avoiding having to dance with his mother).
“What’s your name?”
“Cool. I like your shirt.”
“Are you going to be playing those board games?”
And there it was. Straight out of the blue, this kid looking for an escape from boredom, the unwanted attention of those he deemed grownups, and awkward interactions with the half dozen other kids there he didn’t know had seen his way out. And the way out was King of Tokyo. We needed at least three players, so with my sister Shannyn onboard, we sat down for my first ever go of this game I’ve had since Christmas.
And, as if this game were the Pied Piper’s flute, we played and the children came. One by one they appeared through the cracks. Young girls sat aloof on a nearby couch watching the game unfold, kids enthralled by the exciting artwork snatched up each card to ask me what it did, boys so tiny a feather could break them appeared at my elbow and asked to roll my dice for me (I’m glad I allowed this, they were much luckier than I).
So out of nowhere a spirit was fostered of companionship among these children who didn’t know each other and only minutes before had no interest in GETTING to know each other. Three games in and I was losing almost instantly while these humans half my age, and less than half my height, continued on without me, engaging with each other for hours on end, the game acting as babel fish translating their previous disinterest into sudden and unexpected friendships. Even the kids who elected not to partake in the game play itself were opening up and chatting with each other as well as me, like the room had filled up with an aura that said “this is where the fun is at” and all of the kids could sense it a mile off.
But it was what happened next that REALLY surprised me. A little while in to the Tokyo smashing frenzy, the party’s parents must have realised they hadn’t heard complaints from their children in a while. I was showered with unanticipated (and mostly unearned) praise, with thank you after thank you, and kisses on the cheek, I’m part way surprised there wasn’t any confetti being thrown—these people were thrilled to not have to worry about keeping their youngins entertained. The appreciation was honestly overwhelming, especially given how little effort I’d had to invest and how much fun I got out of it, plus a cool little gang of demi-human peeps to boot.
So I guess it was a good idea to bring those board games after all.
MORAL PANIC AND VIOLENT GAMES
So both children and their parents were swept up in powerful positivity in response to the kids’ participation in the game King of Tokyo. It’s interesting to me, thinking about it now after a lecture on Moral Panic and Violent Games, that not a single individual was concerned that the core of this game is “punch each other until there’s only one of you left standing”. Granted, you’re punching each other as big city smashing monsters, but still there was a lot of punching involved.
It’s interesting thinking about this in regards to the concept of moral panic from the lecture, especially once you add in the concept from early on in the course of moral panic associated with new technologies. When coming up with entertainment for these kids I didn’t find myself having to stop and wonder whether a “monsters punching each other” board game was suitable, or questioning whether their parents would object. It was all just immediately deemed acceptable by all involved (including parents). However, any time I’ve found myself in a situation in which I’m selecting videogame based entertainment for children, I’m instantly having to consider a bunch of different things. What will the kids enjoy? What will the kids find simple to play? Is the content in this game suitable for their age group? Do I just think it’s suitable for their age group because I’m a gamer who doesn’t think of videogames as damaging? Even if it IS suitable, will their PARENTS think it’s suitable? Do I even KNOW their parents, what they’re like and what their standards are in this regard?
It just makes me a little bit flustered, you might spot.
Even a videogame I would consider comparable in many ways to King of Tokyo at least so far as violence is concerned, Injustice: Gods Among Us (ultimately just a big smash up, larger than life player characters, bright colours, violent concept with low gore factor), is something I question in presenting to children. But what’s the difference? Is it that while playing a videogame acts of violence are depicted visually in front of the player while a board game often relies on a players imagination?
I mean after all, where’s the harm in just rolling a handful of dice and using your imagination? No one would be crazy enough to fly into a panic over the effects THAT would have on children!
I definitely feel like there’s an element at play here in which new technologies tend to attract moral panic. Board games, new or not, are an old school gaming medium—videogames are where the real fear is at. It seems to not (always) have a whole lot to do with the violence within the game itself, and more to do with the mode in which the player consumes that violence.
Gregory Kenyota describes the relationship between videogames and controversy and makes the point that “While the Congressional hearings took place, Congress focused mostly on Mortal Kombat and Night Trap and missed games that could have been just as controversial.” (790) In their panic, congress was so busy going after videogames as a medium for violence, that they actually forgot to keep in check the violent content itself. This suggests that the technology in question likely, and the content not necessarily, has a big role to play in the moral panic associated with violent games.
(I’d just like to take a moment to state clearly that I do not think that videogames, board games or tabletop RPGs make people violent. I am also appreciative that all the families at that party were cool non-dubious types, which is also probably part of the reason no one questioned the monster beating up content.)