Monday, May 6, 2013

Kids and Games: Engage!

Games with kids: You're doing it right.

Something important is happening over at Penny Arcade. Something that I hope beyond hope will grow, spread and change our culture for the better. The originators of Penny Arcade are both ambassadors of gaming and geek culture. They are also now both fathers of young children.

Warning: some of the links include emotionally driven adult language.

Today's strip relates a recent and alarming experience Penny Arcade creator, Mike had while teaching cartooning in his son's second grade class. That experience has set the wheels of the Penny Arcade juggernaut in motion. Mike followed it up with a blog post about his action plan. His call was echoed by his counterpart, Jerry and on their site's news wire, and now I will repeat it here: Parents, and adults with children in your life, ENGAGE WITH YOUR KIDS WHEN IT COMES TO VIDEO GAMES!

I am not a parent yet, but I do have many children in my life: nieces and nephews, the fiancee's half brother, children of friends. I have witnessed the trigonometric spectrum of parent-child-game relations both good and bad, and I will say that neither willful ignorance / inaction, nor uninformed clampdowns are workable solutions.

Video games exist. Like television and books exist. They tell stories, communicate information, entertain and beg for active parenting. Banning games because "games are violent" is like banning books because you don't want your kid looking at Penthouse magazine. Not every game is Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty. However, completely ignoring what a child consumes when it comes to games is just as bad, if not worse.

If you know a young person who plays games, there are several simple things you can do to engage with them and make sure their game consumption is appropriate and healthy.

  1. Learn about the ESRB system. It is the video game equivalent of the movie-rating system and provides a handy guide for selecting age-appropriate material.
  1. Sit down with your kids when they are playing and talk to them about what they are playing. Ask them how it works. Better yet, play with them!
  2. Limit your child's time in front of the video games. The best solution to a kid who plays games for 72 hours straight is a parent who intervenes after two or three hours.
  3. Engage with other parents. If your child plays games at friends' houses, ask those parents to put away the games that you feel are inappropriate. If you are an active, gaming parent, recommend games you like for kids!
  4. Be the role model your child sees in you. Do not be an anti-game tyrant, but don't disengage and let unregulated gaming take over the modeling of roles for you.

As I mentioned, I am not yet a parent, but I have on occasion, been asked to keep young humans alive and happy for multiple days at a time. When I play games with kids, Skyrim and Borderlands are definitely off the menu. Minecraft, Lego Indiana Jones and Forza Racing, however, are workable alternatives. Ultimately, it boils down to a household by household, family by family basis, but active adult-child engagement and dialogue is far more productive than blind reaction or nothing at all. You're not going to be able to shelter your child completely from the negativity in videogames, just like you can't and shouldn't shelter them completely from negativity in life, but you can help them understand these things and make healthy gaming choices for themselves.


  1. I 100% agree with everything you're saying here. I'm glad this is a discussion that the Penny Arcade guys are bringing up. The lengths to which people will try to blame their kids' behavior/problems on something/someone else never ceases to amaze me. You won't let your kid ride the bus alone, but you'll let them go online and talk to strangers? You won't let your kid go camping with their youth group without you as a chaperone, but you'll let them play violent video games or watch rated R movies? Blah!

  2. Don't have any kids. Problem solved. ;]


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