Taking all this into consideration, I gave the woman standing before me the standard spiel about all the violent and degenerate behavior - killing with impunity, stealing cars and having sex with prostitutes - in which her son could indulge if he played San Andreas, but none of that deterred her. She kept saying he was mature enough to handle it - after all, he'd seen worse on the evening news.

There might be some truth in her logic, though she'd probably be the last to admit it in her angered state when she returned to my store. Dr. Margaret Sutko, a neuropsychologist at Legacy Emanuel Children's Hospital in Portland, Oregon, says that realistic violence is potentially more harmful than fantasy violence because the latter is "obviously fake." When "most of what the news consists of is murder stories, kidnappings, rapes and arson," says Dr. Sutko, a fantasy simulation doesn't seem so harsh. But parents are also influenced by the news. Dr. David Willis, Director of the Northwest Early Childhood Institute, has "seen parents who say they do not let their children out to play for fear that they will be abducted." When has anyone ever heard of a parent keeping their son or daughter indoors for fear of the child being abducted by a fire-spitting Italian plumber?

Neither outrage nor paranoia is a particularly productive response for parents who've discovered objectionable content in their children's media, however. Instead of ripping the disc from the console and storming back to the retailer, parents can use the game to address deeper concerns about media consumption with their children. "Environments where children and parents have a free exchange of ideas encourage children to question and think critically about their experiences," says Dr. Willis, "which makes children more likely to question the idea that violence is the norm put forth by the media."

Unfortunately, few parents worry about videogame content, because most don't play videogames or watch their children play them, says Rick Seifert, Treasurer and founding board member of Media Think (formerly the Northwest Media Literacy Center). Sometimes, parents think that letting their children play videogames will help keep them in line. "In general, parents have learned from the time their children were very young to use 'screens' as pacifiers. It is ironic to use the word 'pacifier' to describe Grand Theft Auto, I know. But the function from the parents' perspective is to keep the child out of trouble," Seifert said. "They never stop to think that the pacifier could be the cause of trouble."

Benjamin Asbury is a freelance contributor to The Escapist.

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