As the oldest child on my mom’s side of the family, I learned very quickly that I would have an influence on my younger siblings and relatives wheter I consciously tried to or not. Before my younger brother could ever get into playing toys, he got a hold of a Gameboy and a Super Nintendo controller and never looked back. At the time, I figured it was just the kid thing to do, but those early days of playing Super Mario World really did change his life.
Around the time he got into video games, violence in the medium was a hot-button topic. Mortal Kombat was in its prime and a number of similarly violent games had sprung up in its wake. By the time Mortal Kombat 2 was out, the ESRB was in full-effect and the game clearly was rated M for mature. Even though I was still about 7 years short of mature, according to the ESRB, my parents felt that I could handle the content in Mortal Kombat 2. To my delight at the time, I got Mortal Kombat 2 shortly after it launched.
In hindsight, there wasn’t much that was “mature” about Mortal Kombat 2. Sure, there was blood and dismemberment, but it was very juvenile and almost comedic in its execution. I think I handled the game just fine. However, I totally regret letting my younger brother play that game with me. No to say his mind was warped by seeing blood and guts at roughly 4 years old, but at his age it very well could have.
The combination of me being young, relatively short-sighted and games still not truly being mature all played a role in me not regulating what games my brother was exposed to. Other than him growing into a life-long gamer, exposure to mature games didn’t negatively affect him.
As an adult, I feel much more responsible about regulating what games the kids around me are exposed to. My brother is old enough to take care of himself, but I have three cousins – ages 11, 7 and 3 – that regularly come to my house to play video games. Having noticed in my brother how my influence can affect his life, I wanted to make sure I could also be a positive influence to my cousins.
The other reason that I feel the need to regulate what games they’re exposed to is that the medium has grown up as well. “Mature” games aren’t just games with comical depictions of blood and guts. Games now have realistic depictions of violence. They have coarse language. They have sexual content. Even moreso than ever, games are actually starting to include truly mature content that really is catered to a mature audience. Mortal Kombat 2 is not a mature game in the sense that it’s juvenile violence topped with gore. However, the way Assassin’s Creed 2 handles the issue of rape is one of many examples that demonstrate that AC2 is very much a mature game.
The ESRB is generally a good guideline to judge what games are appropriate for what audience, however, the choice is ultimately up to the parent or guardian. As someone with a strong knowledge in games, I have a good grasp on what my younger cousins can and can’t handle. Sometimes I will let them play games rated above the recommended age if I can justify it. For instance, I have no problem with the 7 year-old playing or the 3-year old watching the teen-rated Smash Bros. Brawl because it’s just Nintendo characters taking part in cartoon violence.
Maintaining control over what the 3 year-old plays isn’t a problem. He only likes Mario games. The 11 year-old for the most part is ok, too. He can handle the violence in most M-rated games and knows his limits. He gets genuinely scared playing or watching horror games, so he’ll avoid the likes of Left 4 Dead and Resident Evil.
The hot-button issues for me surround the 7 year-old. He wants to play all the games his older cousins play and he’s also has a gun fetish. He has built up an armory worth of Nerf guns and other toy guns. He talks about his gun-related playing experiences all the time. He also has demonstrated his desire to imitate everything he sees on screen. He’s not a bad kid or one I suspect to become a bad adult, but he’s in a point in his life where he’s soaking in everything like a sponge, regardless if it’s good or bad.
When he comes over to my house, the two games he always asks to play are Modern Warfare 2 and Borderlands. Taken out of context, I’m sort of OK letting him play that game MW2 multiplayer with us. However, I don’t think he needs to play single player at his age because he doesn’t need to take part in a massacre in a Russian airport. I don’t he’s mature enough to grasp the gravity of that situation an why you should feel awful pretending to be a terrorist. I also don’t think exposing a gun-crazy kid to a game with over a million guns, coarse language, mature violence and Scooter making jokes about “his mama’s girl parts” is a good idea, either.
I do my best to keep him away from stuff like that, but I don’t have complete control over him. He’s not my kid and I’m not home all the time when he’s around. I can’t stop him from watching Modern Warfare 2 videos on YouTube (which he does), nor can I stop him from playing certain games if my younger brother caves to his nagging. I also can’t stop him when he goes to his 11 year-old cousin’s house to play his copy of Modern Warfare 2.
While I don’t see myself having children anytime soon, I totally see myself being a dilligent father when it comes to regulating game choices for my kids. Looking out for my cousins is good practice for the future and a eay for me to positively impact their lives right now. I won’t follow the ESRB guidelines by the book, but I want to be in tune with my children and the games available so that I know what I can put in front of them and what I should keep away from them. In the event my kids want to play a game I deem unfit for them, I hope I can rationally explain to them why I won’t let them play it, rather than just shut it out and further add to the allure of mature games to them.