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What's with the name?

Allow us to explain.

Essay

Gaming Up Is Hard To Do


“I’m sorry. You have to be 17 to buy that.”

If I had a nickel for every time I said that in my retail gaming career, I’d have been way happier with my paychecks. Even more so if I’d got a dime for every time a parent cavalierly said, “Oh it’s fine. After all, it’s nothing he doesn’t see at school.”

Really? Really, ma’am? Where do you live that little eight year old Jimmy here sees hookers get picked up for health, then run over by the John so can get his money back? On the regular no less.

Of course, any mention of hookers would usually cause at least a second thought, however fleeting…before caving in. Because even though the ESA says that 86% of the time children receive parental permission before purchasing a game doesn’t mean it is an informed decision. And there is always something slightly disturbing about parents that believed gore and extreme violence to be okay but nudity or adult relationships were a deal breaker.

God of War would be a perfect example for this. Kratos wearing the ashes of his dead wife and children while viciously slaughtering everything in sight? Oh that’s fine…WHAT DO YOU MEAN THERE IS A SEX MINI-GAME WHERE YOU SEE NOTHING?! PUT THAT GAME BACK RIGHT NOW!

Lady, Jimmy is going to grow up with some serious sexual issues but I’m just going to smile and sell you Saw II instead.

Apparently, I am a stick in the mud.

No kid wants a gamer mom. They might think they do, but as my children can attest, it blows. There is no wiggle room. There is no “Buy me Call of Duty and I’ll just turn the volume down,” because I know that turning the sound off doesn’t stop them from
seeing a squad mate explode into pink mist. I know that turning the sound off doesn’t stop the explicit sex scene from popping up out of nowhere in the middle of Red Dead Redemption. I know that turning the sound off doesn’t stop them from running a rampage in a tank, murdering civilians willy-nilly in Grand Theft Auto IV. I know these things, so I am a horrible, mean mother.

How did this happen? I always thought I’d be the cool mom. I think most women do. No one wants to be that mom. The one that wouldn’t know the difference between emo and hipster if her life depended on it. (Emo wears more black, right? Oh God…) But somewhere along the way, one of the things I was sure would make me “cool” has turned on me. Suddenly, I’ve realized I don’t want my children exposed to the stuff I play. But why? Because I understand that video game is not synonymous with toy. That just because it plays in the console doesn’t mean it is age appropriate for my kids.

However, the boy is recently a pre-teen (eep!) and entering the murky waters of peer acceptance, where to be different is to be left behind. Am I being too overprotective? Will letting him play M-rated games really damage his psyche? Depends. Probably not
if it’s Halo, which is the most laughably tame M-rated game in history. However, Dead Space 2… not so much. But for most of his peer group, the parents don’t seem to know the difference. While a whopping 93% of game purchases are made with parents present, only 64% of them believe gaming to be a positive part of their child’s life. Maybe because present isn’t the same as paying attention? Naaaah.

And then there is the panic attack inducing fear of Online Play. Sure, the world isn’t full of Pedobears lurking in the corner and waiting to offer him candy and unicorns. But I do know all to well the hateful rhetoric that is spit out on a consistent basis online all in the name of “fun”. Half the time from children his age that have a negligible idea of what those venom filled words mean, even as they regurgitate them.

So where is the line? When is it time to cut the wired controller cord and let him wander off into the land of online play and mature content?

The truth is, I’m not sure. I have no precedent for this. I can’t ask my mom on this one. Besides, every kid is different. Every parent has their own rules about when certain social milestones can be attained. Gaming should be one of them; like dating and cell phones and setting the alarm to wake up for school on your own. So for now, I have to trust him to trust me. To play the games I feel he is emotionally ready for and to not sneak in a game of GTA at a friends house (even though he will).

And I can hope that as our generation ages up and starts making more baby gamers that this will become a more prominent discussion. Not only among parents and children but parents and parents. Just as you wouldn’t assume it is cool to drop off your child and a friend at the mall without getting consent from their parents, one should not assume that it’s okay for your child and a friend to play Call of Duty online without checking first.

What do you think? Should parents make a concentrated effort to be more informed about what their kids are exposed to, both online and off? Or am I making a mountain out of a digital mole hill?

You can read more of Donna Dickens over at Buzzfeed.

(pic via Penny Arcade.)

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1297759002 Kelly Jones Zelnio

    I definitely agree with you. My daughter’s still little, and I don’t have to worry about this yet (God only know what stuff they’ll be coming out with when she’s old enough to play) but I was at my brothers house and was watching some of the games his 10 and 14 year old were playing and was shocked. It really made me wonder if they knew what they were buying when they got it. And parents do really need to check with other parents before letting the kids play a mature game. I would hope they would do the same before letting the kids watch some R rated movie. It’s really a similar concept.

  • HL

    I applaud you for caring about what your kids are interested in and involved with. That being said, I respectfully disagree with your method from the perspective of a child who grew up in a home where censorship was pretty heavy-handed (I don’t have any kids myself, though, so keep that lack of experience in mind). Yes, it’s true that a lot of video games are more violent and sexual than some kids can handle, and keeping your child from being exposed to those things in your home is usually done with good intentions. That being said, it really does backfire. What I didn’t learn about, play, read, or do at home? I was exposed to elsewhere, and I had NO way of dealing with those things because I had no experience with them, and because I’d never seen my parents deal with them (except to hide them from me). So, IF you’re going to ban violent or sexual material, then PLEASE prepare your children for being exposed to those things elsewhere. Talk to them about why you don’t approve of those things, and about how they should go about exploring them (or why you REALLY don’t want them to explore those topics yet). Knowledge is power, the more you know, blah bah etc.

  • http://digitalsimple.info Sherman

    Well Said! Thanks for the great article!

    I believe the consequences of so much video game violence will be a LONG time in discovering. Parents need to know what their kids are playing: Go Go Geek Moms!

  • http://twitter.com/jaymelundeen Jayme Lundeen

    Parents should ALWAYS make a concentrated effort to be more informed about everything that concerns their kids. A parent that ignores their kid is one who probably doesn’t give their kid the parental “love” that helps develop that kid into a thoughtful, responsible, mature adult.
    My parents were by no means strict, but they weren’t completely lax. They knew when I was having trouble of any kind and were there for me. They didn’t want me to smoke or drink or stay out past my curfew. I got in trouble for fighting with my sister, and I couldn’t “date” until I was 16. But they also let me watch The Goonies when I was 6 (hello, foul language) and horror movies like Friday the 13th.
    I grew up to be a pretty great adult if I say so myself.
    My husband and I, both gamers, have started thinking on this parent as gamer thing. Our son is 20 months old. He watches us play Call of Duty and Dragon Age now, but we do cover his eyes for some parts. We haven’t decided when we will take away his exposure to these games and when we will let him play these games. At this point, I think our policy is going to be that of the open door and open mind variety. We want to be able to share and discuss these things with him as he becomes old enough to understand the coffee reference and how blowing some dude’s head off with a well-aimed sniper shot is okay in a game but not in real life.
    You are well ahead of us in terms of children’s ages, but let’s swap stories. Time for a gaming parents community? Perhaps that can be what makes me the next nerd millionaire…

  • Canuckgeek1

    I’m the mother of a pre-teen boy, but not much of a gamer myself (although I do love D&D, and am pretty familiar with gamer/geek culture, being a pretty darn big nerd). When my son first got into Pokemon card games, I used them to teach him math. Now that he is into Magic the Gathering, my husband uses it to teach him strategy, and I use it to teach him organization and collection strategies (I’m a librarian – what do you expect).

    I am lucky that he is still in the Mario phase, but I’ve talked to him about games like COD and GTA – he understands that games are not life, and that the type of violence in those games is not something I want him to see yet. Even when (I’m not kidding myself) he does play those games somewhere else, he knows what I think of them, and I hope that he will trust me enough to avoid them.

  • http://twitter.com/yaboiksar Nicole Hazen

    I think we should definitely know what our kids are doing online and off. I don’t see it as censorship. No one is saying the kid will never see it. They just won’t see it till it’s age appropriate. I don’t plan on letting my daughter play GoW when she turns 5 but when she’s 13 I might. And I really have an issue with the misogyny in some games. Red Dead Redemption pretty much killed us ever giving Rockstar anymore of our money. Those games won’t be in our house. I’m sure she’ll see them in other places. We’ll have to have “the talk” about that stuff anyway. Cause it’s not like it’s only in video games. Everything you’ve mentioned is all over the place.

    Just have to explain, let them question and hope it all sinks in. Luckily we aren’t the only gamer parents amongst our group of friends so we’ve all had this discussion at dinner before.

  • Anonymous

    To add to Nicole’s insightful comments about censorship, the parent being in control of how and when they’re exposed to graphic content doesn’t mean you don’t have any conversations with them about sex or violence. I don’t want my PC to be the ones to expose the future nerds to be to these concepts. I want to be the one who talks about it and embarrasses the heck out them first. It shouldn’t come from a video game targeting horn-dog teen boys, regardless of whether or not I find the game to be fun.

    I’ll be previewing and reviewing games before they’re played in my house, and if I find it to be inappropriate, I’ll talk to them about why I think it is. It’s a learning opportunity, not just censorship.

  • http://twitter.com/LinPixiedragon Linda van der Meulen

    *raises hand* I’m actually the daughter of a gamermom (and I’m 24, thankyouverymuch). She got into gaming together with my brother and me because well, the first computer in our house was hers and the first games installed were… pacman and tetris, pushover and some more random games. Then when we got older we played other games and so did she. I can’t remember actually playing a game that had sex in it, but I guess heavily pixelated naked babes weren’t very interesting either. :) But the interesting thing was that well, our mom played the same games as us and we talked about what happened in the game, especially when we started to play puzzle games. Sometimes we’d sit behind the computer with the three of us and shouting possible solutions. I know I really loved playing like this but as I said, there wasn’t any peer pressure for us either to play other games. But I do know that I have a few younger cousins who LOVE to come over to my parents’ house and play World of Warcraft with them. So in that case I guess the whole point of my comment is; just talk to your kids and if you’re interested in the game; show it! Go play the game too, talk to them about it, solve puzzles and let your kid do what he wants, as long as you know he or she can handle it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/1shewolf JoAnna Luffman

    I have three children. Current ages are 13, 7, and 5. My eldest son has my old computer, at the age of 11 participated in a Left4Dead tourney with us (and if there hadn’t been a BS glitched tank spawn in the hospital, his run through No Mercy 1 would have won the whole thing for us), and started gaming online when he was 5 years old.

    My daughter has played Counterstrike, online with me. She’s played co-op Left4Dead2 with both of us, and loves games.

    My 5 year old son is more interested in the Wii, but has been exposed all his life. He was breastfed during L4D games, and slept to the dulcet sounds of mommy cursing wallhacking noobs.

    I play with my kids. I know what’s involved in the games. They know games are fake, and there’s a good chance the guy playing make-believe with them is a dick. Know your children, and know the game. With the internet, there is no reason for a parent to be uninformed as to what the plot is, or what the specifics of a rating is.

    After I play through Duke, I’ll decide if it’s ok for them. Currently, I’m leaning towards no. Which will work fine, as I probably have the only computer in the house that can run it.

  • Anonymous

    “Should parents make a concentrated effort to be more informed about what their kids are exposed to, both online and off?”

    Absolutely! Obviously you get the odd parent who is aware of a game’s content, but the majority of the time they haven’t a clue. My mum saw me play Halo 3 one day and her reaction was “God, that’s awful violent for a game!” Violent… for a game… But then what would you expect? When my mum was buying games for me the most violent thing she would’ve seen was Sonic jumping on robots’ heads or Alex Kidd punching fish and scorpions.

    I KINDA understand the whole ‘violence is ok, but no sex’ thing. If I’m watching a movie with my parents, even though we’re all adults, I wouldn’t dream of putting on something with sex and/or nudity out of pure embarrassment. Kids don’t ask embarrassing questions about wars or aliens getting their heads blown off but if they start asking “What are those people doing…” it gets pretty awkward! Not that I would condone that kinda behaviour in any way, it’s lazy and inappropriate and should be properly addressed long before the child sees it in a game.

    I used to work in a cinema, and in the UK kids can’t see a 15 or 18 rated movie, full stop. It doesn’t matter if their parents are with them, it’s illegal. What I have come to believe is sometimes these rules have to exist because people have no idea what is appropriate for their kids. There was a woman came one day, with two kids who couldn’t've been more than 6 and she wanted 1 Adult and 2 Kids for Snakes on a Plane… she tried every single staff member before asking to speak to the manager. We’d all explained to her that it was illegal and she was being unreasonable, but only the manager would do. Usually in these kinda cases, the Manager apologises to the customer and offers them free tickets to come back another day but on this occasion the manager (a mother of a 5 year old) was so horrified she told the woman she was failing as a parent and had her removed by security.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, this. I was going to suggest playing the game together (if possible) when you decide that the kiddos are old enough to handle it.

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    Definitely giving “talk to your kids” a vote. Explaining ‘why’ is the most important part of the parent-child back and forth, I think (though as HL, I don’t have kids… it’s hard enough work taking care of the other half >_>). Education is key.

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    Speaking as someone whose first movie recollection is watching Predator with her younger sister… I have to say I do understand the “fictional violence okay, fictional sex bad” idea. Children are, let’s face it, violent little beasts. Their violence rarely amounts to much harm because their arms are made of rubber, but it is violence nonetheless (today I saw a two year old and a four year old almost come to blows over a toy dog. One of the mothers thankfully stepped in). They already have a comprehension of it.

    Sex, on the other hand, is completely unimaginable when you’re under ten, and being exposed to the ideas of sex and sexuality before you’re ready (important distinction there, between being ready and being a certain age) is damaging.

    Sex is weird. Age, gender, race… these have little bearing on the important aspects of being human; we all love and hate, we can all feel loved or hated. We can all enjoy a good meal (even if it’s made of mushy peas and carrots). We’re all afraid yet curious of the unknown. We all get angry or sad. We can all share in the same joys, pains and fears… except when it comes to sex. That’s for the big people, and it’s not just a social construct; children have a very limited idea of sex, if any at all (jury’s still out on that one)… they just don’t have the tools for the job.

    Aaaaanyway (I think the whisky is leading me slightly astray here).

    I agree with some of the above commenters; you have to work WITH your kids, not against them. Authoritarian leadership (and that’s what you are to your children; a leader) is bad for the people under said leadership and generally ends in rebellion and revolution… and children are the world’s most prolific rebels.

  • Serenitystowaway

    I agree with the “fictional sex bad” statement, in conjunction with the “check with your kid’s friend’s parents first” statement.

    I had the pleasure of dealing with the fallout when two of my horrified and confused Grade Three student complained to me about some girls discussing in detail the movie they’d watched at a sleepover. The host’s mom had rented a movie for them without checking the content with the other mom. Go figure, it WASN’T okay for her to be watching R-rated movies at age 8. By being the “cool mom” and letting your kids’ friends play games at your house, you might end up getting those friends barred from your house altogether.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AMJNF3PFQ6C36QV3OU3FALH6AI Black

    Hate to make a stupid statement which isn’t really to do with the article, but there wasn’t a tank in GTA IV. Apart from that, I really enjoyed the article, when my boy is big enough this is going to be a big problem.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1201931996 LeeAnn Floyd

    While I agree with some of your points HL, as the mommy of a teeny tiny gamer (3) and the oldest sibling of a teen gamer (16) let me try putting a different angle on it. I started gaming on an original Nintendo before there were game rating and as the oldest kid I played whatever I got my little hands on growing up because there was no one to advise my parents what might and might not be appropriate for my age. Almost twenty years later I can *still* remember how appalled I was the first time I shot a zombie and there were brains flying because I was one of those kind of sensitive kids.
    So, yes, games that are overtly violent and sexual *are* blocked from certain players in our home, but the topics that cause the block such as sex and violence are always open for frank discussion and questions. As soon as my brother was mature enough to know without a doubt that video games are not a guide map to life the ban was lifted. And even he admits that he wouldn’t have understood everything he was doing and representing in some of these games when he was eight the way he does now at sixteen. I’m sure I’ll end up changing my rules some for my son as games continue to evolve, but I think what the author is advocation is not censorship as much as moderation based on *knowing* your child and talking to them to determine what they’re ready for as opposed to blindly banning games or never banning them.

  • CC’s mom

    Jayme, You may be “a pretty great adult,” but as a parent, I find it hard to believe you really haven’t thought about gaming effects on your 20month old before now!? Hasn’t he already been bombarded with major violence & powerful sounds before he understands what he’s seeing or hearing? ALL those images are burned into his brain cells forever like a sponge and will effect his future sensitivities – or lack there of, just as Freddy obviously desensitized you to think exposing yourself and your son to COD is “OK, because it’s not real – just a game”. Open mindedness is great for you as an adult, but not for kids before they have the ability to reason for themselves! And why pollute your mind, and your son’s in this way?

    Oh, and if you allow him to watch & hear you play these violent games until he’s 2or3yrs, how can you ever imagine that you’ll take that away from him later? “Mommy, you already let me watch you and Daddy play!” he’ll whine until you give in – you won’t have an appropriate response … and he’s manipulated you for the 1st, but not last time. I’d lol, except it’s too sad.

  • http://www.spaceunicorn.net Jayme

    Believe it or not, he is not even interested in watching the television while we play. He is playing with his toys. Sure he hears the audio, but there is actually a lot of great classical scoring to the games I play. Much more music is involved than sound effects of blood and guts. I always turn the sfx down because I prefer the music and the dialogue. COD is pretty heavy with the gunfire, but in the end, it desensitizes my son to loud sounds (like thunder) more than it desensitizes him to violence. I know my son and he likes Elmo and Timmy Time and playing with cars and trucks and building blocks. He likes climbing on things and running around and laughing. Being exposed to violent video games has had no impact on his personality at all. He does understand that Mommy and Daddy like playing video games and that video games must be fun. He wants to play too, but that is because he wants to PLAY, not because he wants to slaughter Darkspawn or see some 2D character’s head sniped off.

    I don’t think you even get the point that I was making with the great adult comment. I know that some kids can handle this kind of stuff and some can’t. My kid can, because as his mother, I pay attention to him and the kind of person that he is. I am also not the kind of parent that will let my children walk all over me. He can watch us play these kinds of games because we are there, together, and can talk about anything he does or does not have trouble with. He can’t play them until he is older because he’s a child and doesn’t always get what he wants. Teaching a kid that life isn’t fair is part of a parent’s job in preparing them for the future anyway.

    You are entitled to your own opinions, but let’s not start judging each other based on a few random comments on the internet. You don’t know my life and I don’t know yours. I’m not about to judge your parenting ability because you think my life is “sad”.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_H77264ANIMBKYRLGXMAO7CJPNE Nuraini

    parents who haven’t played themselves (or haven’t since pacman) simply don’t know what’s in the popular games. they go by very rough rules of thumb. they don’t realise the high value of tactical and planning skills honed by gaming (which is the reason i seem to my work peers to somehow amazingly not to need to be taught resource/project management and strategic thinking), and also don’t understand the addictive nature and potential scale of objectionable content that may be present. 

    in their defense, sexual content is easy to forbid, because what kind of game should have that kind of thing anyway, at all. period. but violence? games are frequently about hitting, fighting, warring, so unless you are a gamer yourself, you know, it’s not that easy to understand the existence of the wide difference between game combat and really really gory unnecessarily violent content. it’s good for kids to have gamer parent(s). it’s not just digger and pacman anymore. it’s not even streetfighter and warcraft anymore.