Family Fiends: M-Rated Games & Your Kids
You’ve been waiting for it. You want nothing more than to play it. You’ve seen the screenshots, excitedly read the previews, and oscillated between buying it for the 360 or the PS3 based on what special extras you want. Your hard earned dollars are paying for this little piece of paradise. You’re ready to play, the screen loads…the anticipation builds…and then you hear, “Can I play, too?”
*insert record scratch*
It’s bound to happen. Your child is going to want to play an M-rated game. You’re one of the lucky ones if you’re actually asked for permission to play the game – take that as a sign of a good relationship with your offspring. But what to do about that pleading look in their eyes? Do you share your hobby with them or use this as a learning tool – for you both? Ultimately it’s a decision as a parent – there is no right or wrong answer – it’s what works for you as a family. Each child is different – there are some that can handle more intense content than others. Maybe they are ready for something more. There’s an abundance of parenting advice out there but not so much expert advice on this topic. Maybe experts is a strong word – how about “been there, done that” and “still learning”.
Remember the parental advisory stickers they started putting on your favorite album?
It was a huge movement meant to decrease sales and alter behavior but instead it caused a cultural shift and landed it into a pop-culture phenomena. But stickers didn’t provide a rating system; outside of genre, there was zero difference to help differentiate between Appetite for Destruction, Body Count or just a band trying to earn the label by cussing on a few songs. Remember how you felt then, getting that album? Maybe you pulled the wool over your parents’ eyes. Maybe they didn’t care. Maybe this is now that cultural shift where suddenly you’re the parent and your kid is you and you have to be the responsible one, the one that makes or breaks the situation.
We’re all familiar with the ESRB Ratings Guide. As adults we generally skim right over the ratings because hey, it really doesn’t apply to us. As parents, though, it’s worth taking a step back and looking at it through those parental goggles. It’s not just a sexual/violence decision but also a morality one, too. Are they ready to make those mature decisions responsibly?
Intense violence, blood and gore and sexual content. Yes, we knew that but, like the explicit warning label, that’s really not determining what’s helpful on its specific content. Maybe you’re ok with more violent games – first-person shooters but without sexual situations, like Battlefield 3. Maybe the opposite is true. So first you have to decide your comfort level: what are my absolute lines that won’t be crossed? What can they see? What can’t they see? Similar to a more intense r-rated movie, what would you let them see? Are you okay with them watching an R-rated historical movie like “Troy” with both nudity and violence, but not “Silent Hill“? Why? Figure out your line in the sand.
Then you need to decide your game plan. Once you give the green light to an M-rated game it’s on like Donkey Kong. Even though they may promise that they’ll never ask to play a different M-rated game, you’ve opened the door to them. Suddenly you may find that your game library is carte blanche and nothing is off limits to them. Is that true? You need to take into consideration that you’re doing something for them: you’re rewarding them and trusting them to make the right decisions regarding something, to behave maturely.
Let their behavior determine your next steps. Remember putting the same food in front of the absolutely obstinate and picky eater day after day in hopes of changing their behavior and they’ll eat it? Take that concept and manipulate it into your current needs: baby steps into the M-rated games. Pick one game, allow them to play it for a week, a month – whatever time limit where you’ll be able to determine if it’s behavior-changing. If you only allow video games to be played on the weekends the behavior result will vary greatly from the kid the plays every day. Watch for behavior changes towards you, towards siblings, towards friends – is it the same? Worse? How are those grades? The frequency may need to be tweaked – maybe they should play less. Maybe they need to intermix some Minecraft along with that M-rated game. Remember, these games have intense series of things. While it might be relaxing for you, it may be stimulating for them since it’s all new.
There are differences in M-rated genre. The Halo series is going to offer different content than the Grand Theft Auto series or even the Call of Duty franchise. Look at the games objectively: Halo offers blood and language but no nudity or sexuality. The blood that’s shown is more alien-colored blood and the bad language isn’t as extreme. The violence itself is more science-fiction in nature, and the guns are typically fantasy weaponry, with enemies being alien in nature, rather than other humans.
In addition to the sexual/violence aspect of mature-rated games, Oblivion and Skyrim offer some violence but the concern there for the younger player are the opportunities that present themselves during open-world play. As the character they can kill/not kill as they please – that’s the morality part of it.
Games like the Mass Effect franchise and Fallout 3/Fallout: New Vegas track your good and evil acts (something that you can ask to see/check for yourself – they can’t fake that one) and remember, Fable series game changes your physical appearance based on the decisions you make during game play. Borderlands’ animation isn’t as realistic as others – more cartoony – and Hyperdimension Neptunia offers some sexualization of women and very suggestive comments and skimpy costumes. Are the animations going to play a role? Will the cartoon animation desensitize them more from the moralistic killing standpoint or will it make the transition easier? Are you choosing these games because of the best interest for you or your minion?
Then there are games the just take it to the limit with the extremely mature content. The Grand Theft Auto series, that yes has hookers and sex scenes (a long-shot of a bouncing car implying sexual activity) – scenes that aren’t explicit at all, involves game play where you can easily shoot and kill innocents, including police officers and military. Yes, you do get the police hunt-down for killing people but remember you can also evade detection for a long time. Bulletstorm features extremely hard and offensive language, blood and gore and you’re rewarded for creatively killing enemies – fun for you but is it appropriate content for a younger audience?
Seven or eight years ago the Call of Duty (CoD) games were first-person shooters where the missions were based on important historic battles. Today the game is grittier and takes place in a fictional world. From a cinematic and immersive point of view, the games are designed like movies with a feeling of really being in the game with a lot of, “Oh wow!” blockbuster-movie moments. The more recent Modern Warfare and Black Ops titles feature harsh language and some pretty disturbing acts of violence and killing. The God of War series and Protoype are series that features extremely graphic acts of violence, disemboweling, eviscerating, or turning enemies (and innocents) into bloody pulp. The God of War series also features topless female nudity in-game, and during playful and non-explict sex scenes between the protagonist Kratos and his some “groupies.”
So, are you ready for all that? No? Don’t despair – there are other options.
Instead of jumping feet first into the M-rated games, have you explored the T-rated games? As gamers get older, E-rated games tend to make the gamer feel young and immature, especially if their counterparts are playing different games. T-rated games may offer experiences similar to those in M-rated games, sometimes pushing the limit, but never crossing the adult content.
The Uncharted Series offers an experience that’s more akin to a typical to a hard-PG-13 movie with its content. It features some blood, some bad language (not the F bomb) and some flirty sexual behavior but nothing is explicit. The Infamous series is a good alternative to Grand Theft Auto and Prototype but doesn’t offer the same level of explicit violence and language. It’s more serious, and downright grim, in tone. Games like these might be the alternative choice you’ve been looking for – it will temporarily satisfy your offspring and quell your fears for a bit as well as assist in the maturing process towards the more mature games.
Have you ever planned an online gaming event with your friends and done nothing but look forward to it? Chances are that your kid is doing the same during their eight-hour day at school. Rather than just leave all the M-rated games in sight for an opportunity of speed-playing to get in all the guts and glory in a short time span, allow only one game on the floor at a time. When they are done you have them trade it in for another approved game – one that’s hidden and accessible only by you. This way you know what’s being played, when and for how long. Don’t forget those parental settings on your system either – you may have to create another account that can be monitored and/or allows for M-rated games based on the birthday on their account. You can also set a time limit: yeah it’s a Friday night but you’re just ready to grab the iPad and go to bed. Your child, on the other hand, is ready to pounce on the system the second you leave the room. Just remember that your time-limit is based on a 24-hour time period: so if you allow for only 2 hours with the expectation that they won’t play past 1 a.m. you’d be wrong: the timer restarts at midnight so your kid will get in 1 hour on Friday but can then play for another 2 hours on Saturday morning, keeping them up until 2 a.m. Ultimately it comes back on you to be the responsible one.
The Call of Duty series is what started the discussion in our household. Our teenager has friends with older siblings. Not all of the friends were allowed to play the game – “We’re just allowed to be in the same room with him,” – but the older sibling would often allow for sibling bonding time and to and warn, “not to tell Mom.” We’ve used the M-rated games as a reward system – when grades slip or the attitude has come for a visit the M-rated games go for a vacation in the master bedroom closet. I’ve often heard “Where’s Battlefied 3?” and we’ve had to explain why it’s not there.
Like all things parenting, the important thing is consistency. Whatever your decision, be clear, explain why and stick to it. Hopefully it will open up a dialogue of “Why? Why not?” and you can reinforce your decisions. Got more than one kid? Be prepared to hear the younger sibling song of, “But you let Billy play it when he was my age!” Each kid is different – the success of the venture is whatever house rules you set (e.g. no M-rated games until you’re 13 or when you get your first armpit hair). This climate change in the house also opens up a completely other opportunity: interacting with your kid. Have you played the games? Do you know where there are some Easter eggs? Was there a fun part that you just know they’ll love? Have a game night and sit down with them. When a more mature-event comes up, gauge their reaction. Did the cringe? Did they come alive? Did they take control and lead your team to success? Don’t forget to enforce the rules at other people’s homes – your kid most likely won’t appreciate a call to their friends’ parents explaining your house rules – but keep in mind that someone else’s rules may not be the same as yours and vice-versa. You may allow for M-rated games but your kid’s friend isn’t. How are you going to handle that? An open dialog with your child will not only clear up any confusion of expectations but help build a trusting relationship with them as well.
Achievement Unlocked: +1 for interactive parenting!