We’ve all been there: our parents wouldn’t let us watch a movie because we were “too young” for it. We were told things like, “It’ll make you more violent” or, “You have plenty of time to grow up. Watch it when you’re older.” We’d stomp and get mad, maybe even throw a tantrum. But no matter what, our parents would stick firm to their beliefs and say we couldn’t watch that movie.
Games are very much the same way. Some games are clearly meant for older players, while others can be enjoyed by just about anybody. Logically, parents would act the same way and shield us from mature games while we’re younger, right?
It seems like too many parents have no idea what kind of games their little angels are playing. Then we have the exact opposite, where some parents are far too strict, thinking their children can only play the most non-violent and kid-friendly games. The point is, most parents can’t parent properly as soon as video games are involved.
I’m going to fix that. Here are some obvious things to help you figure out whether little Jimmy should be playing Super Mario’s Family-Friendly Playground Fun or Grizzled Space Marine Who Shoots Aliens and Swears A Lot.
Electronic Software Ratings Board ratings
On the front cover of every game in North America is a little rectangle that displays one of these bad boys. ESRB ratings are meant to inform purchasers of the game’s recommended age group. The game’s back cover has another one of these rectangles that details why it’s rated the way it is. It’ll tell you if there’s blood and gore, intense violence, strong language, and even comic mischief. Other regions, like Europe, have different rating systems, but they serve the same purpose.
Apparently ESRB ratings are quite effective, with 85% of parents understanding the system. Too bad many of the parents who understand the system just don’t care about it.
Look, it’s really simple. If your child is using your money to purchase a game, read the ratings, both front and back cover. You’re not required to be super protective, forcing a kid to wait until he or she is actually 17 to play a Mature-rated game. But definitely pay attention to why the game is rated that way and use your better judgment.
In North America, it isn’t illegal for a minor to purchase a game rated higher than their age, but many retailers will refused to sell an M-rated game to someone clearly underage. In that case, they require the parent to do the purchasing. Again, please use your best judgment to determine whether your kid can handle playing a specific game without it mucking around with the childhood development.
And how do you use your judgment?
Trailers, advertisements, and gameplay videos
Would you really send your child to a movie that you’ve never even heard of? I certainly hope not. Surely parents have seen some kind of ad or trailer for a movie their kids are going to watch, so what’s so difficult about doing the same for a video game their kids want to buy?
It’s as simple as getting the name of the game from the kid, typing it on YouTube, and watching a trailer, advertisement, or brief gameplay video. It can take less than five minutes. That’s it. Watch five minutes of gameplay. That will give a decent impression of what the game is like. Sometimes there will be videos titled “[Game title]’s controversial scene!” That’s an obvious tip-off that parents need to check this out just to see how controversial the scene is.
Watching a video can also elaborate upon why a game is rated the way it is. Lots of games contain blood and gore, but some contain more than others. By watching a video, parents can see if the ESRB is being overly cautious or if this game really isn’t right for their kid.
But gameplay videos don’t always show everything. There’s got to be something else parents can do if they’re still not sure, right?
Video game reviews are everywhere. It’s hard not to come across one just by Googling the name of the game. So it shouldn’t be much more difficult to read a few paragraphs to get an idea what the game is all about. If there’s more sex, blood, violence, and cursing than necessary a review is certain to call out the game for it. If the game is good for anyone, regardless of age, then the review will most likely mention it.
Parents, there’s no need to sift through review after review to understand the game. Nobody is asking you to become some trivia master who knows every secret of the game’s development before letting your kid play it. All you need to do is find out whether your precious little child is able to play the game.
General rule of thumb: if your kid is barely old enough to play a Teen-rated game, then he or she certainly can’t play a Mature-rated game. If he or she is under 10, they can’t play a Teen-rated game. Again, these ratings aren’t set in stone. I’m guilty of playing the Halo games when I was barely a teenager. But my parents, especially my dad, made sure they had some knowledge of what the games were like before I could play them. When Halo first came out and we got an Xbox, my dad played Halo and I would watch. It wasn’t until he beat the game that he thought I could handle it. He would watch me play, just to make sure I wasn’t shouting things like, “Die, alien scum!”
I played my fair share of Mature-rated games when I was in my early teens, around 14 or 15. I couldn’t buy them on my own, though. It seemed no matter what store I went to, they’d ask me for ID and I’d just quietly walk away. My parents would occasionally come back at a later time and do the purchasing for me (I’d pay them back, of course), but not before finding out what kind of game I was getting.
Parents, please just get a general idea of what your kids are playing. I’ve seen kids with a single digit age playing games like Call of Duty. Hell, I played a match against a kid with the numbers 2003 at the end of his gamertag, and I’m certain those numbers aren’t random.
You don’t have to live and die by the ESRB ratings. You don’t have to watch every video about the game on YouTube. And you most certainly don’t need to play every game yourself before letting your kid play it. But be smart. There’s no excuse to not spend a few minutes learning about the game before letting your kid buy it.
If none of this matters to you, then at least do this: let your kid make the purchase himself or herself. If the cashier refuses to sell the game, your kid simply isn’t meant to have it. Then kindly get out of the store and wait until your kid’s the right age before going back for that game.