A parent’s guide to buying games

You see this? This isn’t normal. The parents of these kids shouldn’t have let this happen.

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


Wow. That’s actually really easy to understand. So why do parents still fail?

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

Photo 3

Look at all these parents watching YouTube videos of games their kids want to buy.

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?

Of course!


It doesn’t even have to be IGN. To be honest, I just like their layout.

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.

Final thoughts

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.


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4 responses to “A parent’s guide to buying games

  1. Some games these days come with a ‘turn gore off’ display. However, the real problem with games is the fact that you actually have to carry out the killing. Sure, movies can be gory, but there is usually a clear moral when it comes to murder. In games, you are asked to kill the enemy troops – the game’s character becoming an extension of yourself (especially in things like Skyrim where you model the character on yourself). The catch is that I am sure there are plenty of younger kids who understand this and can take everything with a pinch of salt, but it pains me to think that there is some fourteen year old somewhere, wanting to grow up like the protagonist of Grand Theft Auto.

    • While I believe age is still very important when it comes to what media is appropriate, there are certainly cases where one’s maturity is much more important. Like you pointed out, while one 14-year-old can play through the GTA games and realize they’re just video games, there could be another 14-year-old who lets the games affect him too much. That’s when problems begin to arise. I still really don’t like the idea of a 10-year-old playing GTA, no matter how mature he or she may be.

  2. puppydogpalace

    I remember an experience a few years back, where my mom ensured that I had a really great gaming experience. I had spotted Diablo 2 and the expansion pack on one of the store shelves, at a huge discount, seeing as they’d been on the market for a while by then. I thought they looked so cool, with the fire and everything, and I’d stop by the shop once a week to make sure they still had the games.

    I had noticed the rating, and I can’t exactly remember what it was, but I remember that I was too young to buy it. So I decided that I’d bring it up with my mom, ’cause she’s the tech savvy one in our family, she knew what the family computer could run and so on. We talked about the game, some themes, would I be killing people, stuff like that. I don’t know if she looked up anything about the game, but when I’d saved up the money, she went to the store with me, and she looked at the boxes for a while, and then said that she wouldn’t mind me playing it. I asked if she had to make the actual purchase, in regards to the rating, but she said that if I wanted to, I could do it by myself. (The ratings mean absolutely nothing here, as I later found out)

    It was the first game I ever bought. When we got home and it was installed, mom sat next to me while I played for about an hour. She remarked on the music, and the character I chose, she helped pick a name.

    This experience really stands out to me, because it showed that she was willing to be a part if this interest I was just developing. She was making sure that I wasn’t seeing things I was too young to see, and that I had someone to speak with, if I felt that the game had crossed a boundary that I was not ready to cross. I felt really, really safe. Mind you, I was about eleven or twelve at this time, so it was at a crucial moment.

    Anyway, I’m completely with you when you say that parents should pay attention to what their children are playing, and while they can’t protect the young ones from everything, there are some things that can be filtered out.

    • Great story! I know it may not be the easiest of tasks for everyone, but I wish more parents would sit down and discuss things like that with their children. I think things will become easier though as those who played video games for most of their life begin to grow up, get married, and have kids. Our generation will (hopefully) be more “video game literate,” meaning we’ll have a better understanding of how these things work. I think we’ll be more willing to understand what our kids are doing. Unless there’s some new entertainment fad we’ve never heard about.

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