How Do You Decide What Video Games Your Kids Can Play?

Clive Thompson over at Wired's Games Without Frontiers asks the question how is the generation of Dads who grew up playing video games making decisions about what video games to let their kids play?

I like the "Lego Rule" strategy offered to Clive by Wired editor in chief Chris Anderson,

The Lego Company, it seems, has a policy of not producing toys that replicate 20th century weapons. "You can have swords, and you can have laser guns in space, but no actual 20th century guns," Anderson says. So his four children can play games like Halo, since it contains only futuristic, fantasy war, where you're killing only green- or blue-blooded aliens. The same goes for Roman swordplay titles. "But it clearly walls off Grand Theft Auto."

And like Clive, I'm worried, too, about the problem of video game addiction. Maybe, as a sometime gamer, I'll be better equipped to help my son to avoid video game addiction. Certainly, it is important to limit video game time for any age child and to help them understand how to properly prioritize video games within other responsibilities and interests.

For those of you interested in this topic, also see the comments for Clive's post.


Our son, Tobias, just turned eight. I haven't read the article yet, but we probably don't let him play any "fighting" games, though he's boxed with Wii and that sort of thing. He has an account at Club Penguin but we have the password, so he has to earn his time there and get permission, which is us plugging in the password. I don't know how long that will last. He can play sim city stuff, like zoo builder or whatever, any time, though he'd much rather be online. He also plays lots of the games at Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, but only if he has permission to be on "mom's computer," which has internet access. His computer is offline all the time. I, however, am not a gamer. I've just never found them of much interest.

bradley ||

I'm glad you posted this. I remember we talked about it (was it at C's?). I've been thinking about whether the differentiation for me should be one of narrative. What narrative situation does the game put the child in? Is it an adventure game with other values and strategy? What values does the game teach?

For example, the quest in Kingdom Hearts has some fighting, but there's much more to it that involves character building while becoming a hero. The themes in it are something a child can understand.

Then there is Sly3: Honor Among Thieves which is about a Robin Hood like bandit in a fun, cartoon universe for kids. There's fighting there, too, but the bad guys are reminiscent of Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Uncle Scrooge. Clearly not so nice one dimensional bad guys. And it's quest oriented and puzzle solving instead of being all about fighting, and the fighting seems always to be in self defense.

Ian also worked his way through SpongeBob Battle for Bikini Bottom over the last two years. Lots of fighting of bad robots, but also lots of puzzle solving and tricky eye hand coordination arcade action with some fun racing.

We've also had fun with Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam which has no story other than competition skateboarding. Very arcade like action.

Then he and I also played Nintendo Smash Brothers a good bit. That is about competition fighting, but in a Nintendo world with magic powers and Nintendo characters. It's fun competition, but not as violent feeling as say the realism of boxing or wrestling which is available in the more mature games.

Charlie | cyberdash

I have to admit I've acquiesced to Rachel's perspective on video games in general because I have to pick my battles, and fighting for Tobias's right to play certain video games ain't worth the trouble. Her argument is that the kids in her fourth grade class who play lots of video games are the kids who have trouble with their school work, and she's no traditional school-marmish teacher. She has her students responding to her blog on her upcoming trip to Vietnam. She's plain old anti-video games for the most part, and very anti-violence games of almost any sort.

If there's a narrative and there's no fighting she's more likely to be okay, and she doesn't seem to mind the fantasy space rocket shoot 'em up scenarios much either. Certainly I can say she'd never go for first-person shooter games, no matter how compelling the narrative aspect. She does like role playing games the likes of club penguin because there is some gaming for a purpose, accumulation of money and stuff (training a consumer?),and some social interaction, though Tobias's freaks whenever someone tries to start up a conversation.

Tobias is fairly savvy about getting games to work online, so I imagine it's just a matter of time before I want to kill myself rather than fight another battle about what sorts of games he plays. Maybe the trick is no laptop, no internet in the bedroom so we can keep an eye on what's going on.

bradley ||

I agree. If I let Ian during the summer when he stays with me, he'd play video games ALL DAY LONG. LOL

In fact, the Nintendo DS (new Gameboy) was a problem in the car. He would turn it on immediately when we got in to go anywhere. I was basically a chauffeur, and Ian was oblivious to the world around him. So I made a policy of the DS was only for (1) long car trips and (2) when we had to wait when I was at the doctor or doing some other adult office waiting situation thing. Still, I don't think he's developed good patience because he hasn't learned to sit and wait without being entertained.

As for 1st person shooters, he still likes to play Unreal Tournament 2004, but has moved beyond the basic 1st person deathmatch to playing capture the flag, jail break, and the other collaborative games which aren't so focused on shooting someone as the priority. The basic shoot 'em up of the deathmatch is not that much fun to him anymore. So perhaps the collaborative and social aspect of online play with even the 1st person shooters is the draw for most kids. If so, then once he's older, I could see it as being okay to play online.

I'm also thinking more about this narrative idea. Ian was hesitant to play Halo last summer. I didn't think its futuristic world was any more scary than Unreal Tournament. However, because it has more of a story line, he was getting a little scared by the situations it puts one in. This makes me believe that we do definitely have to consider that the narrative is what is having a lot of impact in certain game situations.

Charlie | cyberdash