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Video Games: An Ethical Training Ground?

Video Games: An Ethical Training Ground?

If you forbid gaming completely, or rely only on the ESRB ratings of "E" (Everybody), "T" (Teen), "M" (Mature), or "A" (Adult), you're missing out. Games are a great venue to establish and reinforce a code of honorable masculinity. Our boys know that a game has a better chance of passing through the parental censors if:

• You work with buddies to accomplish an objective. Time Splitters I and II, for example, are multiplayer games where teammates fight side-by-side against zombie enemies. Our sons and their friends must talk to each other constantly to make split-second team-oriented decisions.

• You're rewarded for heroism instead of villainy. I nixed "Rogue Agent," for example, because Bond becomes evil and turns against his country, whereas in the other 007 games, he's battling the bad guys.

• You can beat a level without taking an immoral or nefarious short cut. In another Bond game, you're supposed to massage a woman to trick her into thinking that you're the hired masseuse instead of a British agent. If you do this, she lets you slip by without sounding the alarm; if you refuse, she sits up and screams for help. My son discovered that you can still beat the level sans massage if you're skilled and adroit, and receive much parental affirmation.

• You protect and defend women instead of beating them up. In one of Tony Hawke's skateboarding games, for example, you can't use your skateboard to hit women or girls, no matter how hard you try. My son called me into the room to demonstrate this, perhaps realizing that I would appreciate this evidence of chivalry in boy culture, and maybe because he thought it looked funny.

• You can't attack unarmed civilians or the guys on your side. Many games rebuke you strongly if you try and use "friendly fire" against your buddies.

The games I cited above may not be right for your kids in their particular stages of development. So how to validate appropriate games? Read reviews, both from Christians in the know or from sources like GameSpy ("multiplayer gaming's home page"), Game Informer, or GameRankings. And watch your teens and their friends play for half an hour before saying anything negative. Boys love it if you cheer them on through the levels (enduring the agony for their sakes if you're a bookish flower child like me). My hope is that as we watch and listen beside our boys, we'll be able to use the good and bad in video games to reinforce values we long to see growing in their souls.

Visit Mitali's  weblog about parenting and pop culture, and post your comments and responses there.