A friend of mine published a book earlier this year about childhood games.
It is, according to the marketing blurb, a celebration of those days when you would return home from school, go to your friend’s house, then play hopscotch, hide and seek and bulldog.
To be honest, though, I’m not sure that quite relates to my own childhood experiences. I used to slope home, grunt at my mother, then do some homework to avoid having to speak to anyone.
I would slide downstairs to watch Grange Hill or Blue Peter, having pilfered seven Rich Tea biscuits beforehand.
On occasions I would go out and knock on my friend’s door, but most of my friends lived on the ‘posher’ side of town and I was closer geographically to the stamp-collecting Malcolm Spinach (yes, really).
Nowadays, children don’t go out and play these kinds of games.
The advent of computer games and a never-ending supply of atrocious American teen shows on the telly has meant that children do not need to go far from their living room to be kept entertained.
Much has been fretted over and discussed about computer games and the effect they have on children.
Even those games labelled seven-plus can show mild violence and those classified for older children are, to my innocent mind, quite shocking.
When I was a teenager there was no way I would be able to go out and re-enact what I experienced on the computer. After all, how much damage can you do following a two-hour session playing Pong?
But I have noticed my own children, who actively play LEGO games and, more recently, 12-plus games on the newly-acquired PS3, talk increasingly about pushing people off cliffs and shooting people with a variety of weaponry, many of which I haven’t even heard of. It is genuinely quite disturbing to hear your eight-year-old daughter chatting with her friend about AK-47s and Kalashnikovs. Shouldn’t they be talking about ponies and rainbows?
I know that it is too easy to find yourself saying ‘things were different in my day’, but most of us parents weren’t children when computers were so accessible.
Some may say that cartoons like Tom and Jerry are just as violent, but I do think that seeing a cartoon mouse hit a cartoon cat with a hammer, watching a large lump appear on the feline’s head (often surrounded by tweeting birds) is a little different to being able to manoeuvre a computer-generated image in order to make it wallop a ‘baddie’ and watch it shatter/collapse/fall off a cliff, even if the characters are made of LEGO.
Parents do find it difficult to monitor and legislate for screen time, especially when computers and TVs are so ubiquitous, and children have evolved a pester power gene so powerful that even the strictest parent can be worn down.
My son has recently been bothering me fairly consistently for a PS3 game that is classified as a ‘15’. He has just turned 12 and I am digging my heels in. There is a reason why it is for 15-year-olds and I expect it would be more violent than Pac-man munching its way through some pac-dots and gathering power pellets.