Yesterday, LA Times reporter Alex Pham asked (LinkedIn members click here for all answers), “As parents, do you ever wonder what exactly is in those video games your children are playing? How do you go about finding whether a game is appropriate for your child?”
I responded as follows:
I wouldn’t leave my kids completely alone to do whatever they wanted on their computers. Parents are responsible for their children’s welfare, offline and online.
There are cyberstalkers who may show up in online games sometimes known as massive multi-user games (MMUGs), which include online chat functions. Some of those deviants can persuade a child or teen to reveal information that could result in dangerous consequences.
Also, keep in mind that in addition to whatever the original game designers released, there are folks out there who offer skins, hacks, and cheats for download. I remember one first-person shooter where you could change the monsters into snacks like ice cream cones. I think I remember a story about another hack that allowed the San Andreas guy to see more skin than clothes on his “dates”.
Otherwise, I agree with most of these comments: Read others’ reviews, check the ESRB rating, and play it, or at least watch while your children do so. I rely heavily on Amazon.com’s reviews, as well as Gamespot.
Pham followed up with a few questions:
Q: Do you think that there are adequate resources out there for parents to make informed decisions about games their children play?
me: For all the games on the market, there are a multitude of resources. Perhaps not all in one place, which may make it difficult for parents. Opportunity may knock here.
Q: Do the ESRB descriptors tell you much of what you need to know as a parent?
me: I wouldn’t rely wholly on ESRB. ESRB is not likely to review anything outside of the game per se. But since cheats, hacks, and skins are not always tied to the game producer, it’s difficult to monitor them to standards. There is a lot that remains out of the control of the ESRB.
Q: Are traditional game reviews informative in that regard?
me: To an extent. Most reviewers follow a certain structure of software or game review, and most modern review sites offer community features such as user ratings and comments.
After that, it turned into a phone interview for an article on a site Pham said was called What They Play (I now have the link), to be launched Monday by (correction: former) executives of Ziff Davis.
I’m a long-time fan of ZDNet’s reviews for all sorts of software and technology products. They already have a site, 1up.com, that includes the latest game reviews, news, previews, codes, cheats, contests, guides, and q&as. But 1Up is mostly geared for the gamer.
Apparently, What They Play is for the parents. I’d say it’s also good for grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers, and other caregivers. Anyone who may be concerned about objectionable content and other details that would help them make decisions about whether to buy a particular game for a child. Anyone who wants more detail than what they find on the ESRB label on the retail box.
I’m hoping it will include information about the educational value of certain games. Sure, I’ll watch for objectionable content for my nephews aged 8 and 12, but more importantly, what will they learn? Will I find everything I need to make a decision in one place? Will games be filtered or categorized according to content appropriate for different age groups? Will that be more detailed than E for everyone, T for teen, and M for mature?
I’m also interested in more specific violence statistics or descriptors. On Buffyverse‘s episode synopsis, you could see how many humans, vampires, and demons were killed, as an indicator of just how violent Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Angel the Series was. I know that a game is not that static, but some kind of rating for each kind of violence would be helpful. Assume it’s more disturbing to see a human killed than a big Bad. Is bad behavior rewarded in various quests, as in Grand Theft Auto, Thief, and Oblivion? Or is heroism rewarded, as in Spider-Man and Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
Is it easy to find games that encourage reading, moral decision-making, applications of what you learn in school, creative problem-solving, environmental stewardship, and political activism?
I wonder, who else has heard of What They Play? I’m looking forward to the launch, and to the LA Times story on Monday.