Rated “M” for “Mommy”

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Friends who are also parents of gaming children ask me from time to time how I decide what games my children (both very, very young) have access to. Most of the time, I have things a bit easier in the conversation because the age of my boys mean they’re not being exposed to a lot of advertising or friends talking about gaming, so this is a ruleset I fully expect to adapt over the years. The range of games my kids play surprises some visitors, but the ESRB rating system is a starting point for me and not the final word; I’ve banned “E for everyone” games from my house because they did not meet my guidelines.

Reality vs Fiction

I had a kid flip out in my house when I made him turn off the Call of Duty game that was bothering his grandmother. He accused me of being unpatriotic and wanting terrorists to kill us all, screaming and flopping on my floor. His grandmother said his oldest brother is in the army and that’s how he connected to that. She had assured me that he played the Call of Duty series at home, though obviously she didn’t realize the specific content until it was in her face, making her ill.

I pulled 32 games out of my house that night that could in any way be confused for representing reality, either through realistic graphics or storyline. I won’t let them in my house until I know my children can differentiate what happens in a game from real life.

Respect vs Dehumanization

I have the same issue with the Grand Theft Auto games that I do with most violent video games: they show little respect for a human life, less if that life belongs to a minority group. I also found my oldest playing an Xbox Arcade game where you win by crashing as many cars at an intersection as possible, wracking up a body count and damage to the city. That’s as banned as the others, despite the “E” rating.

This is a reason I can stand (to a point) the violence in Game of Thrones–every death has meaning. Every person is fully human. No one is worth throwing away. Everyone matters. That doesn’t happen even in Iron Man, where “bad guys” are stock body shields and women & children are emotional taglines.

True horror

Silent Hill 2 was intense because it didn’t need gore and violence to scare the ever-loving shit out of us. Even on the difficulty setting where you didn’t have to fight ANYTHING more than hitting it once, it literally made my adult friends stay awake at night and refuse to walk through a dark lawn. The feeling of the unknown is something you can’t truly fight, and that was the horrifying part.

My kids still get freaked out easily. This is one where I actually encourage them to reach beyond their recommended age rating in games because the root of all fear is lack of control in a situation. I will help them figure out how to handle scary situations (like spiders in Lego Lord of the Rings) via video game, where they can learn in a safe space to apply the tools that will benefit them in life. It depends a lot on point #1 though, because a key element is being able to turn it off completely when it’s too much.

Context Trumps Text

They’re going to be exposed to sex, violence, language, gore, drugs, etc in books, movies, TV, comics, pretty much everywhere. It’ll hurt more than help if these conversations happen outside of our house (like how we use proper names for body parts so if they start using slang, I can start asking questions).

HOWEVER, every experience is potentially a teaching experience, and what sticks depends on the student and not the teacher. I could probably throw my kids in front of a violent game right now and it may not mean much to them, but that’s because they don’t have the real-life context for it. What I’m looking for before I help them be exposed to these subjects is, “are they kind?” I don’t want exploding brains to become their context for life instead of the opposite.

Last point–the big thing I worry with M-rated games is who the kids will be playing them with. I have their accounts all sorts of locked down from online play now, but in the future who knows what they’ll hear? I just want to try and have them ready to deal with that. As a side effect of the divorce and school, my kids are just starting to learn that different rules exist in different places and for different people. Rules will change when they’re old enough to apply tact.

For another parental opinion on this subject, I suggest the Cracked.com article “The 4 Most Important Things To Know as a Gamer Parent.”

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