Inside Job: Getting Real about Kids and Games

Inside Job: Getting Real about Kids and Games

While we, as a gaming community, have a more direct experience with the dangers, or lack thereof, of videogames, the parents of the current generation don't, and they're terrified of them. This doesn't, however, make them bad parents.

Erin Hoffman speaks about wooing today's parents to the videogame cause.

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Before reading: I just want to say I have always believed that the phrase "It's the parent's responsibility" has come up FAR too many times. Many of us have been able to hide games from our parents, and it's becoming harder and harder to say it's easy for them to restrict games. I realize that they should always look at ESRB...but chances are only a third of the world knows what ESRB stands for, much less IS, so that's an invalid argument. Say it again when there is a more general awareness of it.

Article seems to in some ways echo my thoughts, and furthermore comes up with good suggestions...well written. There's a lot of people out here poking holes in arguments...not enough patching those holes up.

I cant wait for your report. :3

Although I disagree on some points, I will respond on your next article when you fully develop your thesis.

Also waiting for the report.

But, as well written as this article is, it's also in the entirely wrong place.

If an article like this showed up in, say, the New Yorker, then people would sit up and pay attention, but because it's on a gaming website, it's going to be ignored.

Unjust, to be sure, but I feel that's it's mostly true, as well.

SatansBestBuddy:
If an article like this showed up in, say, the New Yorker, then people would sit up and pay attention, but because it's on a gaming website, it's going to be ignored.

You may not have noticed, but The Escapist isn't any ordinary gaming website. Hence, an article like Erin's appearing in our pages ;)

Russ Pitts:

SatansBestBuddy:
If an article like this showed up in, say, the New Yorker, then people would sit up and pay attention, but because it's on a gaming website, it's going to be ignored.

You may not have noticed, but The Escapist isn't any ordinary gaming website. Hence, an article like Erin's appearing in our pages ;)

That may be true, but it doesn't have the same readership as mainstream media--not by far.

As a parent and an inveterate and longtime gamer, I'm looking forward to bringing my kids into the world of gaming, but obviously people like me are not the focus of Erin's article.

I think a very big step game developers could take is to make games that are more suitable for a general audience. I'm not a believer in government pushing anything, so the impetus for this would have to come from the profit motive, but I'm really surprised there are not more and better educational games on the market. Games are a fantastic medium for teaching, yet most people would never realize that.
Were there entertaining, educational games of the quality of, say, a Halo or KotOR--I think parents would be much more open to gaming in general. Imagine a game putting the player into the position of Kennedy during the Cuban Missile crises; an RPG that has historically accurate dialogue and options. Not a strategic simulation, but an RPG concentrating on the facts of that time and the emotions and decisions Kennedy went through. That would be something--but it would demand a wholly different audience and so be very risky. History is rife with possibilities.

But until some farsighted and talented developers with deep pockets go down that route, we are stuck with an uphill battle.

0over0:

As a parent and an inveterate and longtime gamer, I'm looking forward to bringing my kids into the world of gaming, but obviously people like me are not the focus of Erin's article.

I think a very big step game developers could take is to make games that are more suitable for a general audience. I'm not a believer in government pushing anything, so the impetus for this would have to come from the profit motive, but I'm really surprised there are not more and better educational games on the market. Games are a fantastic medium for teaching, yet most people would never realize that.
Were there entertaining, educational games of the quality of, say, a Halo or KotOR--I think parents would be much more open to gaming in general. Imagine a game putting the player into the position of Kennedy during the Cuban Missile crises; an RPG that has historically accurate dialogue and options. Not a strategic simulation, but an RPG concentrating on the facts of that time and the emotions and decisions Kennedy went through. That would be something--but it would demand a wholly different audience and so be very risky. History is rife with possibilities.

But until some farsighted and talented developers with deep pockets go down that route, we are stuck with an uphill battle.

This I agree with. No matter how much fun TF2 and CS are, I always get the nagging feeling I could be having just as much fun without shooting something.
Sam and Max is a prime example, and probably one of the best adventure game series of the past few years.

Thanks for your comments, all. Please also feel free to respond before the next column -- what I'll be bringing back really won't be so much thesis-oriented as getting primary source information about what parents *outside* the gaming community think about games, and what, from their perspective, would change the image that they have about the industry and games in general.

0over0, as a parent already enthusiastic about games, you might not be the target audience, but not for the reasons you think. I did bring this topic specifically to the Escapist because of the large gamer community that is firmly within the "parents should regulate games, nothing else should regulate games" mentality, which I am attempting to challenge, not on the basis of its incorrectness but on the basis of its incompleteness (we aren't providing non-gaming parents with the tools they need to regulate for themselves, so they're supporting the legal method). A bridge has to be built from both directions, and if the gaming community itself were less adversarial toward the concept of regulation (not from the law, but from supporting the parents themselves), my view is that it would actually help the censorship cause as a whole.

There actually have been articles in magazines like Redbook and elsewhere arguing for letting your children play games. One of the games that I worked won a series of media awards from places like Parents Choice. That journalism *is* being done and has its place, but that's not my goal here.

The history of educational games and why they died out has to do with the big boom of games in educational formats that happened in the late 80s and early 90s -- the era that brought us Oregon Trail. There was a HUGE upswelling in the 90s of "edutainment", and what happened was the first phase of educational game approached them from the wrong direction: taking an educator and getting them to make a game. These bombed colossally because while there were certain franchises like Reader Rabbit and Oregon Trail that were a lot of fun, the vast majority were absolutely un-fun, and nobody wanted to play them. A bunch of publishers lost a whole lot of money, and "edutainment" became a black word in the industry; if you tried to sell a project and you used that word, you shot yourself in the foot from the get-go.

This is now starting to change, because even the publishers are realizing that it wasn't the concept of edutainment that was a problem, but the implementation. In games in education, you have to be FUN FIRST, and THEN be educational. In the serious games community (and the games for health community) there are terms for this like "stealth education", and with this more effective approach, educational games are on the rise again. And then you have platforms like the Nintendo DS with Nintendo and other developers making games like Brain Age, Cooking Mama, and others that are showing that, in the right format, people actually LIKE to learn. This is extraordinarily powerful, and there are a number of publishers specifically targeting this unique new angle on game design, and I think we're going to see some exciting things in the next few years.

But I believe that the attitude toward which the mainstream public -- which includes things like the medical community -- has had toward games, which the games community exacerbatesc by responding violently to criticism, hurts the potential of games, and, in the case of the medical community, prevented them from seeing the potential of games as a media for many years. This is a concrete way that the field and human health itself has suffered as a result of this PR issue.

But thanks for your comments, and I'm interested in seeing how far this can go.

Thanks for your comments, Erin, as well as the history with the educational segment of games.

My wife, as it happens, is also a psychiatrist, so I get to see what at least one person in the medical community thinks (she is not a gamer in any way, however).

As for the thrust of your comments here regarding regulation/ratings and gamers' resistance to that, I would agree to a large extent that both sides need work. Obviously, for me, since I play games anyway, playing through or very closely monitoring games for my children is not a burden. Likewise, I watch every program they watch and we discuss it afterward and during. They get a lot of freedom in what to take in, but I draw the line at violent or sexual programming (they are all 5 and less years old currently)--they love Dirty Jobs and MythBusters on Discovery Channel.

I think one improvement in packaging would help both sides better determine whether or not a game is for them. That would be screenshots from within the game of the most violent and/or sexual scene at the most "adult" settings the game offers. Even just one picture will tell an interested parent all they need to know about whether that game is for their children.

Many times once 7 pm or so rolls around, all of these promos for ghost and slasher films start coming on TV. I've had to teach my kids to laugh at them (we call them "stupid movies" because of how they're so obviously trying to scare people--like walking around saying "boo" all the time) because otherwise they get totally freaked out. If just one similar screenshot from within a game were put on the box, one could likewise determine whether or not that was a game for kids.

But that all depends on the parents in the end. Most parents honestly don't want to be bothered monitoring their children's media habits, and no amount of information made available is going to change that. It doesn't matter how easy or clear you make it, many parents will simply not do it. Many will then say that it's the parents' fault--and I would agree 100%. Unfortunately, those are also the same parents who will later file lawsuits and support people like Jack Thompson to do their thinking for them. See, they have nothing to lose because they don't game--they don't care if games are eliminated, even, because they don't play them.

So what hope is there? For one, as I wrote before, gaming in general needs a better reputation--but that's up to the market and visionary developers making great, fun, and educational games.

Two, I think much better PR from the gaming industry showing that they do care and, as you pointed out before, that they do sponsor worthwhile causes. Too often such PR is directed at and only seen by gamers. Most people are not gamers. The gaming industry needs to be less isolated and to come out of the basement, as it were.

Three, the gaming industry needs to not put up with stupidity on the scale of having x-rated content "hidden" in a game. That's just plain stupid. How would people react if a show--even one for teens--had graphic sex scenes hidden in single frames and all someone would have to do is freezeframe it to see it? That's just asking for trouble. The industry should react appopriately instead of trying to defend it or chuckle together at their presumed cleverness.
It's one thing if a game is clearly marketed as adults-only, quite another if it's not.
As an aside, though, personally, those games are clearly not for anyone who doesn't know about sex and violence anyway--but I know that because I game. Most people wouldn't.

Anyway, those are some thoughts on it.

I'm a mother of three boys--ages 15, 13 and ten. One of the reasons I play games is that it's a way to stay connected with my boys. There's a point in a young man's life where the mother becomes a bit superfluous, yet because I game, my children still are interested in what I have to say. Usually it's game related--my son actually called me when Devil May Cry 4 went multiplatform (an OMG moment for me, TBS), but I like to think my ability to connect about gaming leads them to believe I can connect about other issues.

Parents who will spend countless hours shuttling their kids from place to place, volunteering in their kids classroom, or reading the assigned novel beforehand do think the time invested in gaming is a waste. I'm not sure why. There's not a rated M game in my house I haven't played. I'm rather blase about man on monster violence, but I'm very vigilant about man on man violence and sex, so games like GTA don't even get a purchase.

I think right now video games do need a more than a rating system; they need a way to quantify elements so parents can understand what the game asks a player to do. Reviews are great, but they are so jargon and acronym filled that a non-gamer would scratch their heads and just say "no." Parents need a medium prepared for the non-gamer, and it won't matter if it's spoiler-filled since they won't be playing the game anyway.

The first thing that I must say before starting is that "it's the parent's responsibility" does not mean that they have to play games. It's meaning is that parent's should teach their children not to shoot, set-a-blaze, or otherwise harm another individual. Screening and monitoring everything a child does is in my, as well as seemingly many other's, personal opinion a large waste of time. It's the parent's responsibility to teach the difference between right and wrong, not to hover and make sure they decision never comes up.

Then again maybe it's just me. I'm a firm believer in not fighting another person's battles for them and also a firm believer in giving children additional legal rights to govern themselves. The first is quite basically that I don't believe shielding a child <or anyone for that matter> will help them any in the future, how will someone react to a situation when they have no experience with it? That's not to say you can't help them along but they have to be right up there with you. The second is that I was always held back by the legal restrictions placed on children but then again I was very intelligent and thoughtful for my age. I'm constantly thinking on how I would improve the education system if I had the power to do so, or thinking about how child labor [protection] laws impede those workers who are under 18, or how children get led around like pets with things such as 'Parent: What's mine is mine and what's your's is mine/you belong to me' and 'I know what's best for you'-attitudes. But I digress before I take this completely off on some wierd tangent.

I think a very big step game developers could take is to make games that are more suitable for a general audience.

This I agree with. No matter how much fun TF2 and CS are, I always get the nagging feeling I could be having just as much fun without shooting something.

I disagree with both of your thinking. It's not that all games should become more suited to a general audience but that the library of games out there must be expanded in that fashion. I'm not one who has to go around blowing people's heads off but it's nice to have that out there for developers to work with. I mean isn't that one of the quirks of creativity, to have infinite possibilities? Besides that doing such a thing is the very basis behind 'dumbing things down'. Not all games have to be for flower children lest I can see gaming going the way of the flower children.

As for the educational games I have to agree with Erin on that. Also there are more ways to educate than simply doing math. A good video game can easily have as compelling a story as any book or play if the effort is put forth in that area. Coupled with the correct play or combat system it can even reach a different spectrum of education. After all has it not been argued in the past that video games could improve critical thinking and problem solving?

However it does come back full circle and say that I have to agree with the idea that the parent which are causing the problems don't care and will continue to cause problems regardless of what we do. Anything that interferes with their 'parenting on cruise control' is an obstacle that must be overcome to them. Now I don't exactly enjoy yelling at people and Jack Thompson's never ending stupidity is just hilarious (can he even practice law anymore?) but it's hard not to respond defensively when under attack. I mean I have no desire to be run over by parent's that don't have their hands on the steering wheel.

 

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