How one mom decided to say no to ‘Black Ops’

Editor's note: This week the Supreme Court made a decision that took the responsibility of regulating video game sales to kids away from the government, leaving it largely in the hands of parents. Here is the way one Christian mom negotiated her way through that challenge.

When we first held our sweet newborn son, we knew we would protect this little one from the evil of the world, helping to develop in him the good and true. Fast forward 13 years. Now we have a teenage son surrounded by choices. The moment comes again and again when we must explain just why Andrew has to be the odd one out - the one person, for example, who is not going to own "Call of Duty: Black Ops."

Andrew is not so much interested in "Black Ops" as he is interested in being able to participate in the ubiquitous discussions about the game at school, at swim practice, wherever teen boys gather. He wants to be included. Who doesn’t?

I had the same experience in a way. I was not allowed to see "Star Wars" or watch some truly stellar television, like “CHiPs” for instance. Everyone else did, and they all talked about it. I couldn’t be part of it. It was mortifying.

So when to give in, and when to hold firm? To get more insight, I googled "Black Ops," looking for some reviews from Christian magazines or parenting sites. The closest I could come up with was a Christian Black Ops “clan” looking for more members so that they could play against each other with less of the usual exceedingly vulgar language that comes from random online players. Epic fail.

So then I skipped to the source of all wisdom - Facebook, of course. I asked for discerning Christian opinions on "Black Ops" and teens. Answers ranged from “Absolutely not - it’s violent and vulgar and can in no way edify,” to “Maybe giving it a try will help him learn to discern,” to “Relax, boys will be boys.” Seriously, not much help here, not because I don’t respect those who gave me their opinions, but because in the end it comes down to a very personal decision.

When Andrew was 3, he gained some older brothers in the form of two young men that we fostered for a while. John and Deng came from Sudan, two of the Lost Boys who had to escape their villages without the rest of their families. They survived, but many of their companions lost their lives along the way to soldiers, airplane bombs, wild animals and starvation. We told our children as much as we felt they could handle when they were young and we filled in more facts along the way as they grew older.

So a few years later, we just can’t allow into our home a game that turns killing (even if it’s a good soldier eliminating terrorists) into entertainment. A few days ago I gave a less heavy-handed version of that speech to a couple of his friends when they were over. What can I say? I’m a super-fun mom. First they said they disagreed, because in the game you are defending your country. I told them that someday they may be called to defend their country, but that I was pretty sure it won’t be fun. They then told me about relatives who had been killed in war, and others who told them how awful it was. I think they actually got what I was saying, though I’m not deluded enough to think I convinced them to stop playing.

In the end, we told Andrew that each parent has to make decisions for their own children and, in our opinion, games that make him a first-person participant in war cannot be good for his soul. Our answer won’t make him happy and it may even make it harder for him to fit in, but there it is. I think he gets it and even respects it, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t the end of the argument. In the meantime, we’ll be holding firm on this one, taking parenthood one hard decision at a time.

Kristy Quist lives in Grand Rapids, Mich., where she is a media reviewer for The Banner and a freelance editor.

Comments (19)

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It's easy for us to "flow" with worldly things and to allow our children to do as others do to fit in. I'm glad to hear that you are modeling "all to the glory of God" in your relationship with your son. He'll make his own choices -- good or bad -- soon enough. Thank you for showing him the right one in this instance.
It's a brave new world out there when it comes to entertainment. I almost feel like its a tsanami and our kids just get swept up, despite our attempts to sheild them. wisdom. Prayer. Vigilance.
The thing I find fascinating is that if there were even a hint of a woman's nipple in the video game, it would be the Scandal of the Year. Nobody would ever suggest that it was in any way appropriate for kids under 18, and some would even suggest that it wasn't appropriate for anyone. Look what happened with the Grand Theft Auto game when it was revealed that there was an R-rated sex-related minigame with no nudity that wasn't even accessible without hacking.

And yet, in that very same game, shooting people and running them over with cars is not just commonplace but encouraged... and in Black Ops, the player is a soldier who kills their enemies in gruesome ways. The blood and violence of contemporary video games makes the brouhaha over Mortal Kombat—the big video game violence fight of my youth—seem almost comical in comparison. And some Christian parents think that's totally okay to give to their kids.

So nipples or simulated sex—depictions of a part of every person's body or of acts that, in the proper context, are edifying and positive—would absolutely not be considered okay for anyone under 18, but killing someone gruesomely by shooting them, sniping them, knifing them, running them over with a car—things that are certainly not part of God's desired order for the world—are up for debate as to whether our children should be emulating and putting themselves in these practices?
Please keep in mind that I'm not in any way indicting you in this, Ms. Quist; this is more a reflection on our culture and the comparative taboos we have for sex and violence. You appear to have made a serious and conscientious choice, based on your understanding of Christ's message as well as your own experiences of the pain and suffering caused by violence, and I applaud your choice—not just because I agree with it, but because you made it in a way that takes the question of redemptive violence seriously and asks what the real-world consequences are of those attitudes. But I challenge you to ask yourself: How quickly would your answer have been "no way, Jose" if he'd wanted a video game that had sex in it?
A lot of my Christian friends play this game. It's tough for me because I don't like the premise of the game but I want to be able to connect with them. For some reason the games that are the biggest hits are killing games. I've tried to get them to do something else but they love playing those games. 

Should we play these types of games in moderation or should we just leave those who play them to themselves?
I remember within a similar period of time taking my three kids, young teens at the time, to see both films "Amistad" and "Saving Private Ryan", to supplement their studies of history and culture in school, and in a personal way with "Saving" to have them connect with their grandfathers' stories, who as young men served in WWII and Korea.  We prepped them ahead of time for the violence; we held on to each other, having to look away at times, shedding some tears during the stories---and what sticks most profoundly with me was to hear my youngest son's remark as we left the theater via a big lobby area, where older teens were playing a violent shooting video game---"Dad, that's sick!"   I think he understood the difference between viewing, understanding, learning v. participating in and enjoying violence, albeit "virtual."
Way to go. As for you having to go through that with "Starwars" yourself when you grew up, how does that make you feel doing it to your son? Shame on you. Now, not only are you disrupting his normal teenage life with this preposterous ban on a simple game, but your also turning sin into his everyday life w/out even noticing it. He is now more than ever aware that there is your way of seeing things, and the worlds way of seeing things. If God's way is in the equation, who knows, but I can assure you that this will not end in your favor. If you try and keep the world away from your children they will sprint into action before you can blink. Your making it look forbidden and gasp.. more attractive. When it's wrong to indulge, enjoying it is so much more fun when you get to. Unlike the other kids who will be through and over with it and new things to come at them down the line, your son will be behind and stuck in things that you disapprove of and you will be hurting him and yourselves in the long run.  I'm telling you, you cannot, no matter how hard you may try, shield your child from the world. The world devours us all, and it's up to us as individuals to fend for ourselves and decide what's right and wrong, and what to do about it.
Black Ops is rated M for Mature, meaning that it is not recommended for anyone under the age of 17.  Not sure why they pick that age for mature, but if they are anything like the average teenager, they are mature enough at that age to decide what is "bearable" for them.  Of course there are 17+ who are not mature enough to decipher the level of violence which is "bearable", enter the parents. 
When my adult(18+) children decided to buy and participate in the game, in my home, I watched and asked questions.  It's not my bag of chips, but I know that my kids have good brains, good reasoning skills, and a good, deep rooted faith.  They know that it is a game.  Needless to say, they may not play the game when my grandson is around.
Ultimately, when they are adults, whether we like it or not, they get to make their own decisions.  We can only trust, as believers who have raised our children as believers, that God is in control of their lives, that God will be in their minds, and hearts, and lives from beginning to end.
It doesn't sound at all like she's shielding her son from the world; rather, it sounds like she's engaging her son with the reality of the thing that the video games simulate

It sounds like she's trying to get him to take seriously the broken and bruised lives that result from real violence, the trauma that doesn't end when you turn the XBox's power off, and the people who stay dead rather than just hitting the Continue button.Avoidance would be if she just pretended that Call of Duty didn't exist, or banned it from her home without explaining why.Engagement is relating the violence in the video game, violent acts that the player is asked to put themselves in the role of performing, to the Lost Boys of Sudan and the violence that has killed so many people close to them and set them on the run from their home. Do you think those boys would be so flippant in pulling the trigger on a "terrorist" in Call of Duty?

Engagement is asking one's son what he thinks it might do to his mind or heart to constantly be putting himself in the role of a person who engages in acts of violence, acts that in real life have real consequences. Does he think of the "terrorists" he shoots—who look more and more realistic with every passing generation of games—as real people, or just more pixels on a monitor? Do the people he's "shooting" in the game feel pain as the bullet enters their body, do their families feel loss, do their mothers attend their funerals? How does the son think that affects the way he looks at real people?

Engagement is allowing the Holy Spirit in oneself to get righteously angry that war and violence, things that have no place in the Kingdom and are a perversion of our humanity, things that leave nothing but death, destruction, and scarred lives, are glorified by these video games—and sharing that anger with one's son in hopes that his conscience might also be pricked by it.
"The closest I could come up with was a Christian Black Ops “clan”
looking for more members so that they could play against each other with
less of the usual exceedingly vulgar language that comes from random
online players. Epic fail."

I'm not sure what, exactly, you're referring to with your "Epic fail" remark.

Is it an epic fail, in your mind, that Christians are playing this game at all? Is it an epic fail that they're creating a separate subculture within the game? Is it an epic fail that others who play the game often use vulgar language?

I may be reading this paragraph wrong, but it seems to me that you're being offensively dismissive.

While I don't necessarily agree with the idea of creating a separate group (better to engage others than separate yourself from them), I certainly don't see harm in a group of people who enjoy playing a (very fun) game wanting to avoid some of the awful things that are often said via in-game voice chat.
Hopefully I'm reading that wrong, and your "Epic fail" comment was directed at your own search for insight.

Either way, I think your overall point is a good one, and, as a gamer, I completely respect the decision you made. I think you did an excellent job engaging the issue, rather than ignoring it (or worse, viewing it in black-and-white terms).

 

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