Call of Duty is under flak

Last week, we reported on news that UK head teachers have issued a written warning to parents about 18-rated video games - like Call of Duty and Gears of War - being played by schoolchildren.

The letter - issued by Nantwich Education Partnership - predictably caused quite a storm, with critics pointing out that the video game industry already has age ratings in place and does a good job of making sure titles with mature content aren't placed in the hands of minors.

However, there's always two sides to any story, and Eurogamer has been speaking to a games-playing UK teacher - who wishes to remain anonymous - that feels the reaction from the gaming community towards this letter hasn't been entirely fair.

The teacher offers up some rather alarming tales regarding violent or scary games being played by youngsters:

I've personally not seen children acting more violently because of games. The impact is more them being frightened of things they've seen or things they've played. Five Nights at Freddy's was very popular in our school for a while. Five Nights at Freddy's doesn't sound particularly frightening. It's on the App Store. It's one that could fly under the radar of a lot of parents.

I had two children in particular who'd been nodding off at their desks. When you speak to them separately they all say, 'oh I couldn't sleep because I was scared of this game' they'd either been playing, or their friends had coerced them into playing. I think that's a problem.

I taught a child two years ago who had been a high achiever for a long time. Then, when he got to year five he suddenly became incredibly sullen, very angry, frustrated and exhausted. We brought in a therapist to speak to him. Eventually it came out that he was watching lots of Let's Plays of Resident Evil and other horror games. He had access to some he would play as well on his tablet. He told me he would be playing games at night and watching Let's Plays, and he said lots of them scared him and he couldn't sleep because of it. Of course, his parents should be intervening because of that. And his parents did once we raised it. But it still took him a long time to be able to sleep properly. He was 10.

He also picked up on the fact that many parents erroneously see an age rating as a mark of difficulty, rather than a reflection of the content:

One parent told me how proud she was that her eight-year-old son could play Call of Duty because it was an 18. I said, 'oh, that's an 18-rated game.' And she said, 'oh yeah, but he's very good. He can play it really well.' I pointed out, 'oh, well it's 18 more for the content rather than the difficulty.' She sort of um-ed and ah-ed and said, 'oh, he's very mature for his age. I think he can deal with it.'

There is a perception among a lot of parents that the age rating reflects difficulty. It's a terminology issue. Games in a broader sense have always been a bit hamstrung by the term 'games'. The nature of the name 'games' suggests a playful thing, not necessarily something with a narrative, or something that could potentially be upsetting or violent. That's a problem with parents as well.

The letter, he argues, wasn't an attack on the games industry at all, but rather an effort to make parents wake up to their responsibilities:

I don't think teachers at large or the writers of the letter have a problem with the game industry. It is parents. And I think lots of the people in the comments saw it as an attack on the game industry. Or they saw it as an attack on gaming culture, which it wasn't. It was a letter to parents who may be naive about how brilliant games can be, but also how there needs to be a considered approach to children playing games. This letter was an effort at influencing parents and making parents more aware of their responsibilities.

He also maintains that this kind of intervention is part of a teacher's remit, and is done out of concern for the child's well-being, rather than being about ruining their fun:

Every now and then in the news there will be a case of a neglected child who's died. It will be, well why didn't the teachers do anything? Who didn't see this? Yes, of course there will be mistakes made, and some blame will lie with teachers for not noticing these things. But teachers are being held more and more accountable. And if there's a child under our care who something awful happens to, and it's revealed we knew they were playing games they shouldn't be playing, it could well come back on us.

Essentially, the teacher is advising caution, and shared understanding. Parents should be educated about the content of the games their offspring are playing - so many simply believe that video games are harmless fun, perhaps due to the fact that when they were kids, Mario and Sonic were the biggest draw in town and violent games - like Mortal Kombat - could easily be separated from reality. That arguably isn't the case any more, with games becoming ever more realistic, and being played online with actual people.

What do you think about these comments? Should teachers be sticking their noses into what kids do when they're out of school? Do you think more should be done to make parents responsible for what their children play? Or do you feel that the modern era - with phones and tablets allowing easy access to very shady parts of the internet - makes it almost impossible for parents to adequately police what their children encounter online, be they violent games, videos of violent games or other objectionable content? Let us know your perspective by posting a comment.