CALL OF (Parental) DUTY: Part IV Gaming for A Good Cause

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If you have following my CALL OF (Parental) DUTY series of posts, you will know that my 13-year-old son and I are in an ongoing dialogue about video gaming.  It began last October when he asked for CALL OF DUTY: Black Ops II for his birthday – and did not receive it.  (You can read more about that in the post Part I Introduction.)  Over the past year, his father and I have stood by our decision not to allow our son to play violent M-rated games in our home.  We feel that it is our own duty as parents to draw that line as to what is appropriate for our son to play.  While we have reached a truce on the subject of Black Ops II and other M-rated games, we continue to have discussions about the pros and cons of gaming.   Not surprisingly, Sevrin is more dedicated than I am to finding and sharing the pros of gaming.

Recently, Sevrin shared with me information about a charitable giving initiative in the gaming community through the Humble Bundle. I’ll let him describe it.

I originally learned about the Humble Bundle when I was on vacation, talking with my cousin Aidan. We were talking about one of the most common things known to teenage boys: video games. He mentioned an event going on in the gaming community where people donate as much as they want to charity and in return get 10 games. When I went home I decided to see what this whole thing was about. I was touched. Some parents do not approve of their kids playing video games for many reasons. Some think its a waste of time, others just straight up hate them. Then there are those who don’t see the point of buying them because they feel like it doesn’t benefit anybody. Well, for those people I introduce The Humble Bundle. The Humble Bundle is an organization that partners with game developers to help raise money for charity.

Basically, The Humble Bundle is a collection or (“bundle”) of digital games or media that are sold and distributed online at a price determined by the purchaser. This “pay what you  want” model has proven very popular, and there have been Humble Bundles for music and eBooks as well as video games.  With the Humble Origin Bundle, which launched on August 14, 2013, there was a twist:  all sales from the bundle went to charity.  Instead of “pay what you want”, it was “donate what you want”.

Here is Sevrin’s description

The best part of The Humble Bundle is that the choice is up to the buyer. You can donate as low as $1.01 to get the games. You can also choose what charity you are donating to. Best of all is, unlike most charities, YOU choose if you want to make a donation to the Humble Bundle organization or not. Personally, I found the whole idea ingenious. It’s beneficial to everybody involved in it. The organization itself gets the money to do these sales more often, the game developers involved get more publicity, the buyers get great deals on some of the best games of the time and the greatest part is that people get the satisfaction of knowing that all of the money they spend goes directly to charity.

And so, for the first time in my life, I bought a video game.  A bundle of video games, that is.   The only problem was that the Humble Origin Bundle contains some games that are M-rated and therefore not allowed in our house.  Since there was no way to separate out the inappropriate games, Sevrin agreed that he would only play the games he is allowed to play.  I agreed to trust him to keep his promise.

After talking it through with Sevrin, I decided that I would make a $10 donation for the bundle and let him choose which charities to support.  He did some research into the charities and choose the following:

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This provided a good opportunity to talk about charitable giving.  (Since I work at a non-profit, I feel that this is an important thing to teach my kids about.) Sevrin chose to give the largest percentage of his donation to the Human Rights Campaign because equality and LGBT rights are issues that he cares about.   He also chose to support Watsi, an organization that provides a global crowdfunding platform for medical care.  What he liked about Watsi was that 100% of the donation directly supports medical treatment.  The American Red Cross was so giant (number one on Charity Navigator’s 10 Super-Sized Charities list) and therefore must have so much administrative overhead that he decided not to support it.  GameAid just didn’t grab him.  But he thought it was reasonable to give Humble Bundle 50 cents of the $10 so they can keep up the good work.

The Humble Origin Bundle raised more than $3.5 million within a day of going live in August.   As of August 28, 2013, the Humble Bundle has raised more than $22.5 million dollars for charity.   

The current bundle sale is the Humble Comedy Bundle.  With this bundle, however, you can support artists, charities or both.   If you like standup comedy, you may want to check it out.  But you have to hurry – as I write this, there are 5 days and 13 minutes remaining.

While we are not changing our policy on video gaming because of the Humble Bundle, it is good to see that the industry is taking steps to make a difference in the real world.   I’m surprised that this kind of creativity in charitable giving has not been reported more widely in the mainstream media.  So I will say it again:

Humble Bundle has raised more than $22.5 million dollars for charity!  

Good on you Humble Bundle. That is truly gaming for a good cause!  

Other posts in the CALL OF (Parental) DUTY series:

Part I  Introduction

Part II “Freedom to Game is Important”   – my son shares his point of view

Part III This Is Your Brain On Video Games – research on the impact of violent video games on brain function

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CALL OF (Parental) DUTY: Part II “Freedom To Game Is Important”

This is the second in my series of CALL OF (Parental) DUTY posts about the discussion we are having in our house about violent video games. Today is my 13 year-old son Sevrin’s chance to share his point of view.  Below is a letter that he wrote to us (his parents) about his frustrations with not be able to get Call of Duty: Black Ops II.

I’m proud of you, Sev, for expressing your feelings so eloquently and – especially – for putting the time and effort into writing them down for us. When I read this, I remember precisely how frustrating it is to feel that you are no longer a child but yet are not allowed to make many choices for yourself. Thank you for writing this and allowing me to share it with others. 

Freedom To Game Is Important

I want you to imagine, for a minute, that you are in a library. Or maybe a book store. There are rows and rows of books. Each book holds a story, unique and special in its own way. In this library filled with books you have the Fantasy row, the Action row, the Poetry row and then you come across the Childrens section. The library lady (or man) says that you are only allowed  to check out books from the Childrens row because she (or he) doesn’t think that you are “ready” for the big boy books. Now I ask you, how would you feel? You have rows and rows of books and yet you are restricted to the small corner and you’ve just been told to deal with it. If you were me, you’d probably feel sad, maybe a little frustrated, and a little bit confused on why you have to read Elmo and Barbie when you could be reading Shakespeare and anything you could possibly dream of. Alas, this brings me to my point. Of course I am exaggerating when I say all I can do is read Elmo but I’m trying to make my point clear. Why is gaming any different from reading in terms of age restrictions?

If it’s because M games are too gorey then I wonder why I’m allowed to read A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. The true horrors of war seep from that book. Kids get kidnapped, hopped up on drugs, and told to kill anybody who opposes their “Dad” (The General of the RUF). In the book, the character sees people get stabbed and shot all the time. He sees people with their fingers chopped off and the letters RUF scorched into their backs. He’s seen women running from the fight with babies on their backs, not knowing that their kin had just taken a bullet and saved their parent’s life. So now I’ve seen it too. And I know what war is like in real life. I know what war does to people and I understand how terrible it is. But I don’t see a problem with shooting a blob in the form of a human that is really just something on the screen. I’m not hurting anybody by playing an M game. That’s like saying that I can’t shoot a target at a shooting range because I might hurt the wooden carving of a person. Besides, do you really think that I’ll become some sort of stone cold killer if a kill something in a digital world?!

If you are concerned about exposing me to bad language then you’re going to have to do a lot more than not allowing me to play M games. Say we are to watch a movie like umm… let’s just go with Band of Brothers. Swearing in that series is important in the plot. It gives the viewer a really good sense of WWII and war in general. But it’s not just from movies and books, it’s also from people around me. Take you/Dad for example. If you/Dad get angry, really angry, you tend to have a fairly large potty mouth. But sometimes swearing is required to get it into my head that “Yeah, I do need to stop complaining about bedtime.”  Plus, there is no doubt that there is swearing in T games, too. On top of all of that, I don’t think that just because I hear people swearing in a video game means I’m going to repeat the words I hear to other people say or mouth off at you/Dad. Like I said, I hear swearing all around me.Now, if the problem is that I’m just not old enough to be able to have the freedom to choose any game I want well, I disagree. I’m turning 13. That means I’m a teenager. I am both physically mature and mentally mature.  I am shaving and my voice is dropping, no, plummeting like a giant rock. I am also taller than Mom (Mocky!) and catching you, Dad. As for mentally, I’ve been trying to keep all A’s in part because of this. I am smart and know I can handle M games but have not been given a chance for three years. I made the mistake of asking for Deus Ex. But once again, I was ten and had a squeaky voice. I need freedom and choice instead of getting advice (although, sometimes the advice is helpful). I’m asking for a chance to try it again.

The bottom line is, I think that I can take it. If I don’t get to play M games now, I will probably have to wait two or three more years! We have no solid date or age in which I can play M games and I think that 13 is the perfect time to start. I want the ability to choose what games I should and shouldn’t play. And believe me, I know what games I want to get and don’t want. I sit here and search and search and search. I research games all the time and the reason I chose Black Ops II is because I honestly think that it would be fun. I didn’t choose this game just to be with the Kewl Kids. I’m not, as you may well know, a “hop on the bandwagon” kind of guy. Maybe one of the reasons the Call of Duty franchise got so big is because people had a really good time playing them. One other thing about Call of Duty is that Treyarch is the company making BLOPS II and they are known for making a much better story than Infinity Ward and with the futuristic setting, they have opened the floodgates to creative ideas and lots of options. I hope you at least consider what I’m asking for and thank you for reading.

Read the introduction to the CALL OF (Parental) DUTY series here.
For more of the Weekly Writing Challenge: Just Do It!, click here.

CALL OF (Parental) DUTY: Part I

Target PracticeIt’s pretty rare that a national debate mirrors so exactly one that is raging within my own family circle.  But in the wake of the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary – and subsequent comments by National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre blaming gun violence on video game makers – a public discussion has been reopened  about violent video games and their impact on society.  It is the same discussion that has been going on, on a micro level, all fall in our household.  Although, frankly,  “discussion” is too mild a verb to capture the emotions surrounding the debate between the parents and the teenager about whether he can have CALL OF DUTY: Black Ops II.

My oldest son turned 13 years old in October.  He is a great kid, the kind of kid that other parents want their own kids to hang out with.  He’s smart and self-confident, has good friends and does well at school.  He is, I think, exceptionally mature for his age.  And he likes to play video games.  He has always liked to play video games, going way back to when he would choose to play Freddi Fish rather than watch a movie for his screentime.

His father and I don’t enjoy playing video games, so we start from a position of divergence.

Allowing for a difference in entertainment preferences (which I do), there is a second preliminary point that we don’t see eye to eye on: I don’t understand why it is fun to shoot at things.  We’ve got a couple of BB guns at the cabin, and the kids are allowed to shoot them at targets.  I’ve tried target practice and found it completely boring.

When my son was born, I was very clear that we would never have toy guns in the house.  Then one day, when he was about 20 months, he saw a kid at the coffee shop make a gun with his thumb and index finger.  The kid pointed his finger at Sevrin and said,”Pew! Pew!”  And that was all it took.  Fingers, sticks, Duplo legos – it seemed like everything was turned into a “shooter”.  Before long, I had caved in to the reality of nature over nurture.  Over the years, I not only allowed, but I myself purchased, a vast assortment of Nerf gun products for birthday and Christmas gifts.  I didn’t understand it, but I saw no harm in it.  So again, I have to acknowledge that others, including my son, might find it entertaining to shoot at things.

But all of this seemed was a long way off from first person shooter video games like CALL OF DUTY: Black Ops II.   So when he asked for it for his birthday, we immediately said, “NO!”

Then I realized that, my general prejudice against video games and shooting things aside, I didn’t know anything about video games.  I didn’t know what standards were used for rating them or whether there were parental controls.  I realized that my son is a reasonable, intelligent person, even if he is still only 13 years old.  I thought that he did have a point – it wasn’t fair that we were banning the games without knowing anything about them.

So in November, I began to dig deeper.  My son and I both did research on violent video games and the impact on the brain.  We shared our findings with each other, emailing back and forth.  I spent hours not only doing research, but also reading comments by both parents and teenagers on the pros and cons of letting your kids play violent video games.

In the end, I came to the conclusion that CALL OF DUTY: Black Ops II is not appropriate for my 13 year old.  My son was bitterly disappointed, and I am truly sorry for that.  Sometimes a parent has to play the ultimate trump card, but I think it is important that we went through this process together.

This week, I will be writing about our experience in a series of posts I am titling CALL OF (Parental) DUTY.  I think my son deserves the opportunity to voice his opinions to a wider audience, so he will contribute his writing to the series as well.  Stay tuned!

Here are the links to other posts in this series:

CALL OF (Parental) DUTY: Part II “Freedom to Game is Important” (in which my 13 year old son expresses his point of view).

(I’ve been thinking about doing this series for some time, but it took a Weekly Writing Challenge: Just Do It – and a weeklong holiday – to get me motivated to actually do it.  That, and a promise to my son that I would try to be fair and accurate.)