In Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Kate Drummond plays Anna Grimsdottir, the colleague and intellectual foil of the hard-boiled Sam Fisher. As the co-leader of Fourth Echelon, she communicates directly with the President of the United States while attempting to prevent genocidal terrorist attacks against the population.
Prior to Blacklist, Drummond was an elementary school teacher for 12 years before changing careers and becoming an actor. She lent her support to the Gamers for Sandy Hook campaign last December and has consistently been an advocate for a connected classroom.
Therein lies the paradox. Drummond has lived her adult life at the intersection of education and technology, making her uniquely qualified to speak to issues concerning video games, violence, and children’s education. Unfortunately, she’s more likely to be perceived as a hypocrite in the minds of many parents.
After all, how can she be a teacher and then be in a violent video game like Blacklist?
“It’s entertainment,” said Drummond. “It’s like asking me why I would be in a movie.”
“Yes, I’m in a video game that’s rated M, but there’s a reason we have ratings,” she continued. “Parents are told [Splinter Cell] is not appropriate for your child.”
But that doesn’t prevent people from asking, and the question is indicative of the binary discourse surrounding video games. You’re either for them or against them, depending on whether or not you perceive a causal relationship between video games and real world violence.
“The Gamers for Sandy Hook campaign was in response to the fact that gamers were being stereotyped,” said Drummond. The grassroots campaign raised money for the members of the Sandy Hook PTA in the wake of the tragedy while also demonstrating that gamers – like the rest of the population – have a compassionate social conscience.
“If we could blame incidents like [Sandy Hook] on one thing – video games – it would be amazing because you could eradicate that one thing and eradicate senseless acts of violence and tragedy. But that’s not reality.”
She’d also like people to recognize that while video games are not necessarily harmful, they’re not entirely harmless, either.
“We don’t allow an eight-year-old to watch R-rated movies. I don’t support kids who are too young playing the games that are rated above them.”
In other words, the people behind the gaming industry have an obligation to consider the potential impact of the artistic works they create. Drummond accepts that responsibility, toeing the line between enthusiastic gamer and concerned adult, and her dual careers give her the credibility to speak to both sides of the divide.
“You watch what your child is watching on television,” she said, arguing that the same principles should apply to all forms of media. “You need to watch what your child is doing on an Xbox talking to strangers.”
Sadly, Drummond is all too aware that parents don’t always monitor their children’s gaming habits with the appropriate level of scrutiny.
“When you’re a teacher, you’re essentially raising these kids. You spend more time with them than their parents do,” she said.
It was commonplace for one of those kids to come to school after watching a TV show or seeing a movie or playing a video game that mom and dad were either unwilling or unable to discuss at home. Even while apartment hunting in Toronto, she toured a residence where an eight-year-old was home alone with an Xbox shouting obscenities into a headset without any parental oversight.
Of course, people are busy, people are imperfect, and even informed parents aren’t always aware of everything passing in front of their children, so Drummond refuses to accuse anyone of negligence. If anything, it motivates her to be a more active mentor, a role that she’s continued since becoming an actor.
“It really does take a village,” she said of raising the next generation.
But that doesn’t absolve the rest of the adult population. “We need to have conversations with them,” with regards to violence or any of the other geopolitical issues depicted in a game like Blacklist. “Let’s talk about it. That’s not real. That’s fantasy. That’s for adults.”
For Drummond, we don’t need to censor video games or other types of content. We simply need to be prepared to contextualize mature content when our children come across it.
The issue is particularly pressing given the unrestricted flow of information that takes place in a digital age. A fourth grader researching something harmless like grizzly bears is never more than a Google typo away from the darkest corners of the Internet.
“These kids, they’re young,” explained Drummond. “They don’t expect that the world is out there to trick them.”
Drummond re-learned that lesson when her nephew inadvertently gave out his real name to a stranger while playing an otherwise parental-approved puzzle game online. Drummond intervened, recommending that he come up with code words with his friends at school to make sure that the people on the other end of the connection are actually the people he thinks they are.
“It makes them feel less scared of technology and more in control of it, even at a young age,” said Drummond.
That kind of empowerment informed Drummond’s efforts at school, and that’s why – despite the dangers present in a toxic online culture – she still chooses to focus on the incredible benefits of technology.
When she was teaching, many of her students were learning English as a second language, so textbooks weren’t the most effective means of communication. She managed to get her school outfitted with SMARTboards in the classroom, eventually using software to teach subjects like photosynthesis with interactive comic books rather than lectures.
“The kids connected with it because kids love comic books,” said Drummond. “It’s hard to get them to read traditional novels because it’s all words. You’ve got to find a way to speak to them. You’ve got to use what excites them to empower them.”
That obviously includes video games. Along with her fellow Blacklist star Elias Toufexis, Drummond hopes to leverage her position within a ‘cool’ industry to speak to children about issues related to bullying and independence in online and offline communities.
“We’d like to go to Toronto high schools and use video games to speak to kids about choice. We’re the human beings behind the figures that you’re seeing. I was bullied growing up. That affected the person I am today.”
Drummond remains concerned about children’s exposure to unmonitored interactions in online multiplayer games, though she is pragmatic enough to know that – as with the Internet in general – it’s impossible to shield children from everything we wouldn’t want them to see. According to her, we can’t let technology obscure the humanity of the people on the other screens if we want to foster a kinder civilization.
“We need to be more aware of each other. Just because we’re in our own homes online, we still impact the people we’re interacting with.”
Kate Drummond doesn’t see a dissonance between video games and education because her new field continues to provide opportunities for exploration and discussion. Gaming still has a lot to teach us as long as we’re willing to pay attention.