Monday, June 3, 2013

Parental Guidance Suggested

On Friday, you all got to hear about how we got rid of half of our movie collection. CatholicMommy asked me to write about how I select video games that are appropriate for Peter. I'm the video gamer in the house, and Peter has been playing with me since he was about two and a half. To date, there are about 9 games that he enjoys.

Two of them are rated T, which is the video game equivalent of PG-13.

Here's the thing about rating systems: they're only foolproof if you are offended by exactly the same things as the rating board. (Which is no one.) As mentioned in Friday's post, one of the movies we got rid of was rated G (another was a Hays Code film), and several we kept are rated R, so the system obviously doesn't translate directly to our values. It's the same with video games.

So what are these games? One is Super Smash Bros. Brawl, a fighting game featuring Nintendo characters like Mario and Donkey Kong. The ESRB rates it T for "crude humor" and "cartoon violence". I won't dispute those. One character has a special move that's essentially flatulence. Some of the stages are a bit intense, and the more human looking characters have some moves that are a touch realistic; some fight with swords, and Snake from Metal Gear Solid (a spy thriller) even has a throw that looks alarmingly like snapping someone's neck.

Which is out of place, and especially odd when he's fighting this guy.

But we don't use any of those. Peter insists that he be Mario (or "Mari-uh", as he puts it) and I be Yoshi (a Mario supporting character), neither of which have any objectionable moves. We play on the Animal Crossing stage, so that presents will fall and we can "open" them. There are soccer balls, meant by the designers to be offensive weapons, which we kick back and forth. It's a pretty non-competitive affair.

Many parents let their kids play Smash Bros; in fact, that's one of the games that I think takes away quite a bit of credibility from the ratings board (it's got the same rating as Call of Duty 2, a realistic World War II first person shooter). The other game I let him play, I've gotten some dirty looks over, even from other gamers. That's Marvel vs. Capcom, a more "traditional" fighting game in a style that most Americans associate with Mortal Kombat. ESRB has a recent re-release as T for "violence" and "partial nudity". The latter is mostly due to one character who is woefully underdressed, and as for the former...well, it is a fighting game.

But, again, not the way we play it. MvC is a special treat sometimes when we go to the mall (there's an arcade machine in the used video game store for a quarter a play). He's always Spider-Man and I'm always Captain America. He mostly just likes playing with the joysticks (sometimes he'll grab mine and just move us both around), shoots webs, and asks me to play "catch" with Captain America's shield. There's no blood in the game, so to him, it's not really any different from when we wrestle at home.

Except I can't jump quite that high.

So some of it is that I don't entirely agree with the ratings, but a lot of it is that I'm right there with him controlling the content. Video games aren't like movies; you don't have to experience every single bit of it when you play, so it's relatively easy to guide them away from parts you don't want them to see, especially when they're younger. And you don't really have to play "by the rules"; besides what I described above, when we play Mario Kart, he likes to make a game of trying to hit every single snowman on one of the courses (which crashes your kart), or sometimes will drive into a lake repeatedly - and laugh every time. I'll tell him what the buttons do, but I'll usually let him decide what the goal is in the game.

I was reading something once about one of the parental controls on the Xbox 360, and how you can set it up so that specific accounts can only be logged in a certain number of hours per day. One comment was something along the lines of "I had the same thing growing up on my Atari 2600...it was called my dad coming down and telling me to go outside because I'd been playing too long." Like so many other things, a lot of your children's reactions to video games will depend on how they're presented. Through my actions, I'm teaching Peter that video games are a social activity that's meant to be fun. And at the same time, I can keep him from experiencing things that I don't want him to see (and that he wouldn't want to see) until he's old enough to handle them.

If your kids want to play video games, I'd strongly encourage any of you to play with them, even if you don't like video games. One of my fondest video gaming memories from elementary school was when I finally convinced Mom to play a Mickey Mouse game with me. If you really don't want to, at least watch them play. For most games released in the last few years, the ERSB site has a very specific summary of the elements of the game that contributed to their rating, which is not the same as playing it yourself first, but a lot better than it used to be.

But, of course, no two kids are the same. What Peter can handle now, Anne may not be able to until she's older - or she might not like video games at all, or like different ones. As with most of these types of posts, I probably could've just written "know your kids" and gone to bed earlier. But then you all wouldn't have gotten that picture of Kirby in the Smash Bros. section. Isn't he adorable? Almost makes up for no pictures of Peter, huh?

Jeremy has spent way too much time playing fighting games, but is planning on making his own in the near future, so at least it wasn't a total waste. He's basically forsaken Twitter, in part as a result of this still-hypothetical-at-this-point project, but if you are into video games, you can catch more of his thoughts at videogamegeek.com, where he posts as VolcanoLotus (which is a Mario villain).

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