Over the years there's been a lot of research about video games and violence, specifically whether violent games can make children more aggressive or affect their level of empathy. Since the connection has been disproven multiple times (most recently in a longitudinal study in the Netherlands) I thought this fear-mongering discourse has dissipated.
That is until a middle-aged man tried to tell me my parents were 'irresponsible' because they let me play 'Grand Theft Auto' as a little girl. Apparently, the stigma still exists.
I was irritated for a number of reasons. Firstly, the emphasis he placed on me being a 'little girl' -- as though I didn't belong in the gaming world. Secondly, the fact he was passing judgement on my parents and their child-rearing abilities. But mainly because he thought this one game had the capacity to turn me violent and, really, he had no idea about the types of games I played or the kind of person I am.
I played an eclectic mix of games growing up. My first gaming experience involved a little boy in a yellow helmet and an army of poisonous slugs: 'Commander Keen'. I fell in love with the psychedelic colour scheme, the abstract storyline, the straightforward structure and easy controls. Also, the fact I could regenerate Keen's health by eating a chocolate bar or necking a coke. But guess what? I didn't automatically turn to candy or cola every time I needed energy.
In the early '90s I got borderline addicted DOS game 'Race the Nags' -- it was about horse betting. I remember waking up early just so I could beat my sisters to the computer and play uninterrupted for hours on end. But apart from entering the $2 Melbourne Cup sweep at work that one year, I don't gamble.
As I got a little older, I became a fan of low stress, creative-sandpit style games. Games where I could spend time designing places or people. 'Theme Hospital' was my favourite. I loved its quirk and humour, from the descriptors of hospital staff 'smelling faintly of cabage' to the fictional diseases which ranged from 'Bloaty Head' to 'Slack Tongue' -- caused by 'chronic overdiscussion of Soap Operas'.
I got strangely satisfied every time I fired a handyman for failing to clean up vomit, but no, I'm not a sociopathic CEO and I certainly don't wish this misfortune upon people in my everyday life.
Then came the 'The Sims'. I would spend hours carefully crafting my friends and family, then make them flirt or fight in that gobbledygook Sims language. This game gave me God-like power, I could control everything. I used to put the Sims I hated in the pool then take out the ladder so they would drown, make them put out fires I knew were too big, or force them talk to people so long they wet themselves.
So yes, I have a hidden sadistic streak and a really dark sense of humour. And it's slightly strange that I probably ended up being more violent in 'The Sims' than 'Grand Theft Auto' -- where I mainly just drove around listening to Flash FM. But I don't have violent tendencies and I'm no murderer in real life.
I'm overtly passive, if I'm honest. The only violent behaviour I can connect to gameplay is the one time I wrestled my sister while playing Nintendo because she wouldn't let me be Oddjob in 'Golden Eye'.
In fact, I would argue that living out experiences in games helped me to learn more about the world and made me a more empathetic person. Every Sim that died had a grave erected and a mourning spouse I had to deal with, and while I might not have seen the horses that lost in 'Race The Nags' turned into glue -- I could see the cruelty within the racing industry and got a feel for how addictive gambling could be.
And to the man who was so concerned about me playing 'Grand Theft Auto', I would say the only negative thing I got from this game was a mild obsession with the song 'Dance Hall Days' and a burning desire to go to 'Vice City' -- a fictional place based on Miami.
So I'm glad my parents let me play games growing up. They made sure I had a solid grasp of reality, what was right or wrong in the real world, and that's what actually matters.