A letter to my kids about videogames

I have regular discussions about videogames with my kids, but I also have a lot of parents who are less game savvy ask me about what I do and don’t let my kids play. I think the most common question I get is “Why?” In other words, why is one game ok and another is not? Why do I sometimes follow the ESRB recommendations and other times do not. The short answer is that I am using the greatest power any parent possesses. Discretion. However, if I had to sit down and give a lecture to my kids about playing videogames it would go something like this.

Look guys, you see Dad playing videogames a lot. It is one of my favorite pastimes. I play videogames pretty much any chance I get and I play them with you guys on a regular basis. Obviously I think videogames are fun and I know you guys do to. I think we just need to come to an understanding about a few things so we can continue to enjoy them in this house.

First, let’s always remember the word game in videogame. Games can get serious. In professional sports multi-million dollar careers can be made or broken over a game. In this house though, we use the term “game” in the more traditional sense. We play games for fun. If a game is leading to hurt feelings, frustration, or anger, then it’s probably something you don’t need to be playing. Yes, even I can get frustrated at a game. You know what though, there is a point where I’ll give up on a game and simply get rid of it. Games are for fun and if a game is not providing entertainment we don’t want it in this house. Also, Mom says we’re too mean during Rock Band. I know we all want to five star every song and we hate it when someone flubs their part. We need to be more constructive though. Yes, I still entirely approve of you two playing Super Smash Bros. rather than actually beating on each other. When the whining starts the game goes off though.

Second, I know some of your cousins get to play games like Modern Warfare 2 or Gears of War. I want to say I respect that I trust you guys enough that I don’t have to put those games up and you’ve shown a lot of maturity. More maturity than some kids your age that are allowed to play games like that. I know you guys get exposed to worse language at school and I’ve watched some pretty intense PG-13 movies with you. I think there is a difference between spectating and participating though. When we play games, we’re a participant. We choose to shoot that bad guy, we choose to race down city streets with reckless abandon. Our willingness to make choices when there are no real consequences does say something about us as people. I want you guys to grow up some more before you’re put in a position to make serious choices without consequences. Just because games are for fun doesn’t mean they can’t be thought provoking. I want to make sure you guys have the proper knowledge to fully understand and appreciate what you’re doing.

While we’re talking about content, I want you to know that the answer to your question “When will I be old enough to play game such-and-such” may well be never. Look, guys, your Dad has held jobs that are best done by rough and occasionally unruly men. You guys know I’m no saint and I’ll never pretend that I was or will be. That said, I want all of us to be good, strong, moral men. To that end there are certain games that I do not play because they contain some very negative content that doesn’t reinforce the type of person I want to be, and certainly not the kind of person I want you to be. Reckless escapism is acceptable in small doses. We’re doing a good job in this house so far. Let’s just remember that we want to be the good guys in the real world. You can role-play as a Sith Lord in Knights of the Old Republic if you want. I think you may have fun but find it’s less fulfilling than you might have guessed. What I really want though is that when your adults and the choice is all yours that you will still ask the question, “Do I want to be exposed to that?” before you see that movie, read that book, or play that game.

Third, we need to always remember that games are just games and that just because we can do something in a game doesn’t mean we should try it in real life. The real world has consequences that we ignore at our peril. You’re my kids and we have a long family history of doing stupid and illegal things in our teenage years. I shudder to think what I’m facing in just a few years time. I just want you to remember that before you go off and do the same stupid stuff that I, your grandfather, and great-grandfather did that you will face Hell’s Wrath if I ever have to come get you out of jail. So be certain that if you try to pass the buck like some of these kids and say you got the idea from a game it will not do anything to lessen your punishment. I’m hoping about talking to you guys about this early and with my own experiences working at a jail you realize there is plenty of fun to be had in your teenage years without involving law enforcement officials. You know right and wrong and you know where the right places to learn it are. Movies, videogames, books, or music will not be your moral compass.

I hate to talk so seriously about something that is for entertainment. I’m only having this discussion because other people have taken this topic way too seriously already. I want you guys to understand appropriateness about everything. Videogames fit in a very particular place in our lives. They are for entertainment, they are for fun, and they can and often do stimulate your minds. Enjoy them, but don’t take it too far or ever forget their proper place in your life.


  1. cc: my two boys and the baby in the oven

    I’ve exactly had this kind of talk with them. (One is seven and the other is four.) It all started when we noticed that the youngest was purposefully driving the karts in Mario Kart Wii off the road and cliffs to crash and “die.” Or we would hear comments like,

    “Oh, you can die in this one.”

    before the course would start up. Clearly, we knew there was a disconnect.

    There’s only a set group of games they can play without asking. We immediately changed it to any game needs to be asked. Also, unless it’s a racing game, I usually police all the games before they are allowed to play them. We want to make sure we are in control.

    The same goes for movies and books as well. We see them first.

    Actually, we use games as a reward, not a right. We encourage them to do things such as read, write, draw, and participate in other creative, active endeavors. Videogaming is generally a passive event that can involve a LOT of passive-concentration.

    P.S. Sony, your parental control stinks. Games are rated on a 1-11 level with a GoW game being a 11. You can only block by number and not assign the number yourself. Stupid. I have a lot on PSN games and in no way is Fat Princess the same number as Red Baron Arcade. We let the oldest play Red Baron. 1) He likes planes. 2) This has opened up a door of communication about race, good and evil, and history.

    However, I don’t want him playing Fat Princess. In order for me to lock it up I have to lock all other games of the same level. He now has to come to me every time he wants to play Red Baron. It’s a little inconvenience, but it’s also bad form.

    How about let me decide the number rating? Give me complete control.

  2. I don’t worry much about my daughter and video games. She leaves the room when I play Dragon Age and a ugly monster shows up.

    I have made sure she understands how a real gun works though. When we go out shooting I hand her the shotgun and explain to her that in her hands she holds death. We go over safe shooting rules which she has memorized.

    Then I yell pull and several kittens are thrown out onto the range and she goes at it. . She is an excellent shot. She holds death in her hands!

    • Opps
      I meant to link to the “Cat Skeet” game at the end of this rant but hit submit instead. Never heard of Cat Skeet? I’m sure you’ll find it.

  3. Ahhh, this was a good one to read. So far, we haven’t had to discuss too much about the consequences of decisions made in games because ours are still young (the oldest is 7) but I know that discussion is coming soon.

    Right now, we’re in the “if you’re not having fun, let’s stop playing for a while” because they get super competitive. I know they get that from me, but we’re trying to teach them that winning isn’t everything. This has been a great way to teach them sportsmanship (not easy), being a good loser (and winner) and encouraging and congratulating each other. I think it’s working so far.

    As for the games I play, most of them happen after their bedtime. They don’t need to see splicers getting impaled in Rapture and space monsters getting exploded with my arc projector.

    • That is so true!

      When my two boys get worked up it’s time to turn it off. Try a co-op game of Mario Wii and you’ll see what I mean.

      It’s worked so well, that if I’m playing a game and get exasperated with it, one of them will come by and tell me to take a break.


      I then turn it off and go play with them.

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