Dr. David Walsh weighs in on dangerous video game “Mods”.
You have to wonder what makes some people think that school shootings are funny and entertaining. That’s the theme on a new “mod” based on the popular computer game Half Life 2. Before I go any further, let me explain some gaming lingo so you’ll know what I’m writing about.
Half Life 2 is a very popular computer game that was released in 2004 based on the success of its predecessor Half Life. The game has sold more than 6.5 million copies with some critics naming it the “game of the decade” because of the quality of its animation, graphics, audio, and sophisticated use of artificial intelligence. Parents need to know, however, that it was rated M for mature meaning that the industry itself says that it’s not appropriate for kids to play. Major retailers won’t even sell it to anyone under seventeen without explicit parental approval. That’s because the game is a violent “first person shooter” where the player assumes the role of Gordon Freeman who is locked in a brutal kill-or-be killed battle to save civilization.
I always encourage parents to say no to kids who ask for a game that the industry itself says isn’t for kids. Sure, Half Life 2 is an award winning game. But it’s for adults, not kids. The reason is simple: kids brains are not the same as adult brains. While children and teens’ brains are being wired, the experiences they have—even virtual ones—have an impact on their attitudes and values. It’s not that a teen who plays an M rated game is going to pick up a gun and turn to a life of crime, but research is clear that violent first person shooters make kids more aggressive at the very time that they have to figure out how to manage the aggressive feelings their brains are pumping out.
You might be wondering what any of this has to do with school shootings. One of the features that distinguishes computer video games from games that are played on consoles like Wii, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, is that computer video games can be “modified” or changed. Skilled “modders” can add or change characters, sound tracks, weapons, and other features. In fact, they can even alter the entire story line. Since the mod is built on the underlying game engine they do not exist as stand alone products. The player must have the original release in order for the mod to run. Mods can extend both the game’s life and popularity. They’ve also become big business. Game developers encourage mods for a very simple reason: they increase sales. They don’t even mind if a mod becomes more popular than the original game itself since you can’t play a mod without buying the original.
That brings us to a twisted mod about school shootings. Mods are accessed on the Internet, and Mod DB is perhaps the single biggest source with two million visitors a month and ten thousands registered mods. A recently featured mod is built on Half Life 2 entitled School Shooter North American Tour 2012. Here’s a verbatim description, “He decides to become the best school shooter ever. You decide to arm yourself with the exact same weapons as a previous school shooter….The possibilities are endless, you are free to do whatever you want. As long as it involves shooting people.”
I can’t imagine anyone thinking that a game glorifying school shootings is okay for anyone, let alone kids!
This is a good example of why parents need to pay attention to what kids are doing on the computer. Here are four tips for making sure that your kids have the opportunity to enjoy good computer and video games while keeping twisted entertainment like School Shooters North American Tour 2012 out of bounds.
• Keep computers in a public area of the house.
• Set and enforce ground rules for game playing—when, how long, and what kind of games are permitted.
• Follow the industry ratings for games and find out which mods your kids want to download.
• Don’t preach, but let them know why certain games and/or mods are not okay. They might complain but your values are getting through.