I am a gamer.
I thoroughly enjoy my Xbox 360. I love playing games of all styles and kinds. My favorites include everything from Dance Central to Mass Effect to LEGO Star Wars. I played my way through Halo 3 and spent hours in the worlds of Dragon Age: Origins. I love playing games.
I love how easy it is for my kids to play games, too. Our Xbox 360 has seen hours of fun entertainment in the LEGO games, Viva Pinata!, Kinectimals, and lots of Xbox Arcade games. I love playing Family Game Night with my kids and we’ve laughed a lot while playing Kinect Adventures!
But gaming, like everything else in this connected world, has its own dangers. Game consoles are now connected like everything else, and as games have gotten more sophisticated, their stories and imagery have matured.
I was listening to some 11 year old boys talk at church the other day as they waited to play the Xbox we have for before and after service. (We play Kinect Adventures, in case you were wondering.) They were talking about how much they loved Left 4 Dead and the Call of Duty series. They compared their skills at headshots and stealth mode and how they loved blowing the heads off of zombies.
The games these 11 year olds were busy playing at home are rated M by the ESRB. This means the game is rated Mature. According to the ESRB (Entertainment Software Ratings Board), Mature games “have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.”
In movie rating language, these games would be rated R. Most retailers enforce a strict policy of not allowing kids under the age of 17 to purchase M-rated games, just like theaters require ID to get into an R-rated film.
I’m not against M-rated games. I’ve played a few of them myself. I am against kids younger than 17 playing them. What 11 year old needs to spend an hour playing a military style game where the F-bomb is dropped by in-game characters, where you can practice “blowing that zombie’s head off,” and see the effects of a headshot at 20 feet?
Most parents wouldn’t let their kids go see an R-rated film because it was cool. But they may buy them a game that is intended for people far beyond their years because it’s the latest and greatest game.
I don’t believe that playing violent video games turns kids into murderers or psychopaths. But I do emphatically believe that parents need to be more tuned in to what their kids are playing on their game systems.
If your child is under 17, they shouldn’t be playing an M-rated game. And if your kid is under 12, I would strongly suggest you monitor what T-rated games they play. What are you willing to expose your kids to in a video game that you would never allow in a film or television show?
In our house, the kids aren’t even allowed in the room when I play a game like Dragon Age or Mass Effect. My children aren’t allowed to play T-rated games until I know what’s in them, and we do our best to stick with E-rated games. There’s a whole world of great games for kids that doesn’t require them being exposed to stuff that only adults can truly handle.
Today’s Bottom Line: If your kids are under 17, they shouldn’t be playing M-rated games. Put an age limit on the video games, just like you do movies and TV shows.
Tomorrow: What about online gaming? How to protect your kids on the Xbox.