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.

In [Nat’s] Hands: Batman Arkham Asylum

I’ll keep this short. After only two hours of play. Batman Arkham Asylum is my GOTY 2009. I don’t know of many other titles that are coming up that may pass this. (Assassin’s Creed 2?)

Over XBox Achieving

I understand there is a huge debate over the merits of Achievements on the XBox 360, and for the most part I think people tend to make a big deal out of nothing. Either people put way too much into getting them or they often feel too strongly about how worthless the concept is and think it’s important to share this point of view.

I think like any standard of measurement, even as unscientific and illogical as it may be, achievements are only as important as you make them. For me though I established one rule that I have stuck by even though it has been painful at times. I will not put aside, trade-in, give away, or throw out a game that I have not earned at least one achievement while playing.

This was, in theory, my “give it a fair shot rule”. Since not all games dole out achievements equally I have often felt frustration trying to live up to my rule. While I don’t exactly flaunt my Gamercard I’m not going to hide it either. The one useful metric achievements has given me is an easy display that I at least tried a game before I used the disc as skeet.

I don’t think you have to finish a game before you can decide if you like it or not. A game that is absolutely brilliant in the last two hours but painful to play in the first two is not a good game. Of course, the typical game often shows the lack of focus it had later in its development the longer you go through a game, so if it was bad in the beginning it is likely to get worse as a good rule of thumb. My belabored point is that sometimes a bad game is just a bad game and wading through the manure hoping to find a diamond is a fool’s errand.

However, that said, I like to be able to “prove” I give every game that graces my disc tray a real chance. I won’t deny that it’s a point of pride that I will not dismiss, or even love, a game lightly.

I Want to Be Held in Your Hand

Some quotes from various blogs reporting at E3:

“Microsoft’s new motion controller is a camera, that uses object, movement, and voice recognition to deliver a new kind of immersive gaming experience.”

“We’ve seen Paul’s Höfner bass, John’s Rickenbacker 325 guitar and George’s Gretsch Duo Jet guitar. All that’s missing is Ringo’s drum kit. Until now.” (That’s three guitars, a set of drums, and three mics—Nat)

“Ubisoft announced Your Shape, a new fitness game for the Wii. But more interesting than the game itself is how you “play” it — with a new Wii camera peripheral that reads your body positioning.”

Red Steel 2 may not have multiplayer, but it does have Wii MotionPlus. No, make that, it requires the Wii MotionPlus add-on.”

“Nintendo announces the Wii Vitality Sensor, a device that attaches to the tip of the player’s finger that measures their vital signs and helps them relax.”

“Richard Marks was here to show off the first PlayStation motion controller, the PS2 EyeToy. The latest camera will enable “a completely new set of experiences” using a new controller.”

This is my response:

NO!

I imagine that some are excited by this, but I am sick of buying one-shot peripherals. I have enough plastic as it is and I’m nowhere near close to what some people have. Of course, it’s all here to stay. This is truly the over-priced-plastic-device waggle age.

I, for one, am taking back my living room.

Thanks to Kotaku, Joystiq, and 1up for the quotes.

Are YOU Prepared for the Apocalypse?

!!!!BREAKING NEWS!!!!


Are Violent Video Games Adequately Preparing Children For The Apocalypse?

Make sure you get your daily dose of gaming in. You never know when it’ll happen.

That or you could of go make a vault somewhere…

Parents with Common Sense

I don’t know how many times in the last year my wife and I have received a movie from Netflix only to get about five to ten minutes into it and be amazed at the junk Hollywood is putting out. Some of these are PG and PG-13 movies. In the last six to nine months we’ve taken a different approach to consuming a lot of different media. Amazon reviews have been a good source when it comes to books and some movies and close, online friends have been great when it comes to video games.

For a long time, I’ve been wishing for a one-stop place on the web where all aspects of media consumerism are reviewed with the family in mind. Enter a little Common Sense Media.

I’m not for sure how long the site has been around, and I’ve only just come across it today via a new feature on Netflix. However, this site does an excellent job of being descriptive but also being spoiler free. A quick scan of some popular movies, books, and games and they have been pretty much spot on. Some reviews even present some discussion questions you can use with your family if you do decide to let them consume something that may not be normally appropriate for children.

I think I’ll be visiting the site a little more in the future before we decide to allow the boys to consume any type of media. Of course, we’re still going to be more responsible than that by viewing it ourselves as parents before they do. We took them to see Madagascar 2 based on the standards of the first movie alone. We enjoyed the movie, but my wife and I were a little apprehensive taking them to see something that potentially we wouldn’t want them to experience.

Let me step on my soap box for a moment. There will be a time where our boys will see and experience violence, language, bad humor, sex, and all sorts of other things that we won’t let them see now. However, that will be when they are grown up and on their own and, hopefully, have the same level of standards and responsibility that we’ve tried to instill in them. We want them to have integrity and to not be morally corrupt. However, the choice is still their own. Until then, they are my responsibility.

No Wii Speak (and Possibly Animal Crossing) for Me

Have you been hearing about publishers efforts to block or prevent the resell and trade-in of games? Nintendo’s not any different.

The peripheral can also be used without “Animal Crossing,” just for game-free voice chat, but that requires used of the Wii Speak Channel, which will be released in December.

But there’s a catch, a fine print surprise. There is a pamphlet packaged with the peripheral that includes a 16-character code, a “Wii Download Ticket Number,” to be used for downloading the Wii Speak Channel. According to the pamphlet, this code “cannot be replaced by Nintendo or your retailer if it is lost or stolen.”

A Nintendo rep further clarified to me that the channel won’t be able to be downloaded through any other means. You won’t be able to get it off the Wii Shopping Channel manually, nor would you be able to buy it. Essentially, the Wii Speak Channel will be available to new purchasers of the Wii Speak mic and that’s it.

Gimped games being sold at a premium is coming. It’s for certain publishers are thinking about it. My guess is you’ll buy a disc and have to enter a code or a one-time use key to get a level, ending, weapon, or character. Of course, you’ll need internet access, and I can see companies like Microsoft making it so you have to be a Live Gold subscriber.

My wife wants Animal Crossing. We’re not getting it if we don’t find it without the mic. Who is there going to be to talk to on the Wii anyway? Like I want to share a friend code to talk, and I’d rather take a bat to Tom Nook’s knees, not leave him a message.

LittleBigPlanet Levels Being Moderated

Media Molecule and Sony seems to be deleting user-created levels that feature or copy intellectual property.

Get over it, whiners. Create something unique and original. I’ve specifically avoided anything to do with other IP and game level copying. 99% of it is crap anyway. If I want to play Super Mario Bros., uh, I’ll play SMB.

I’ll be nice now. Mean mode is off.

Gamer Responsibility: The Games You Haven’t Played

  • 11% of all household games have unopened titles

We recently looked at what appeared to be a revealing statistic that mentioned the average video game collection has 48 titles. Average.

It’s even more revealing that in a little over one out of ten homes some of those average 48 titles are unopened.

Before I begin, I need to disclose something. There was a time that I lived in one of those homes. Actually, I was the cause for the home. I had Prince of Persia Warrior Within for the Xbox and never opened it. I’ve never even played it. Bought it for $30 and essentially gave it to Gamestop for $7 still wrapped in its wonderful plastic cellophane.

I’m also going to make a big assumption that the way in which these unopened games were acquired was by purchasing them—not as gifts.

That brings me to our first question:

Why are they not opened?

Lets start with the one that will tick most readers off: avarice.

avarice: excessive or insatiable desire for wealth or gain

We live in a society of wants. There’s a pleasure to materialism—a pleasure in having what’s new. Everybody has something to sell and everybody has something to buy (even when not able to afford it).

For one, the marketing industry has done a great job making sure we “need” certain things. They’ve become so good at that we buy these things and we don’t even know what for.

I’ll give us that its hard to face the marketing juggernaut. However, we have the choice to turn them off—unless we’re facing ads in games.

Of course, we are still the ones with the money. We have the control—or do we? We do, but we tend to think we don’t.

Another reason is the desire to fit in. However, this may be a little weak because the game’s not being played. If as gamers we wanted to fit in, why buy it and not play it? Who would know? I still think that no matter what rationale we come up with it all comes back to the desire to want more. However, there’s more to this story.

How many times have we paid for games and played it for an hour or two and then put up back up on the shelf? Is it really a stretch from not opening it?

Our attention spans in regards to games are at an all time low, and we’ve become heavily critical and unforgiving of the games we play. (Thanks internet!)

Play. Move on. Play. Move on. A smothering new release after new release.

…and some may wonder why Portal was so popular—a breath of fresh air.

We’ll wrap this up in two days when we look at the amount of games we trade in.

Gamer Responsibility: The Number of Titles You Own

Gamasutra is reporting some numbers from an NPD survey:

  • The average video game collection has 48 titles
  • 11% of all household games have unopened titles
  • 54% trade in their titles when they no longer play them

Of all the data mentioned I find these three the most troubling. I’d like to take three separate occasions and get us to think about them, if only a little.

I did a quick survey of the console games I own, and I check in at 24. Add portable games to the number and I’ve got 35. I’m not too far from the average. Does that make me an average gamer? I spent about 30 minutes of legal pad figuring and sketching what number I may have peaked at. I reached 70+ owned at my best estimate and this would have placed me some time last year. I most attribute this to owning all three major consoles and both handhelds.

Funny, I certainly don’t feel like I’m at my peak of game playing. However, I’m close to my peak of game owning. In some ways I feel like I’ve lately cut back on buying games. Cutting my game titles in half can be easily figured if you trade games in at Gamestop. It gives a good indication of their values. It’s about two and a half games per new title—two and a half AAA games per AAA title. (Two weeks ago they offered me $65 for 10 games. I sold them all online for $210 profit. That’s for another post.)

I cannot put my finger on it, but something is wrong. Forty-eight games is the average. A lot of people own more. Here is the question that has plagued me since reading the article: How many can you play at a time?

Therefore, why do we own so many?

I honestly don’t know.

In my case, I have no local friends that play video games, I chat with two people online regularly, make three replies a week to posts on a community site, read two other blogs, and—from my best calculation—play an average of three hours a week. The last game I played online with anyone was Too Human for a total of two hours. Before that It was Burnout Paradise for three weeks. Yet, I still have—what I consider—a large library of games.

After chatting with one of those online friends, I believe the largest culprit to blame is the Internet. As gamers, we get our gaming news almost exclusively from the web. Before that, it was magazines. All the recent gaming magazines folding is a result of this. I would have never known about LittleBigPlanet if it wasn’t for the internet. If I just based my “game knowledge” outside the web, I would have known a little bit of info about Halo 3 and Mario Galaxy in the last year alone.

Next is the need to fit in. It’s a little superfluous, however. The need to fit in to what? There is really nothing tangible in online communication that goes into the real world. I actually disagree with this a little, because there are one or two individuals I’d like to meet and my family even knows of their family and vice versa because our interests have bled over into day to day conversation. However, whatever else I do online is mostly private and not shared with those locally around me.

It may also be a street cred issue. Once again, this proves to be superfluous. Street cred for who? Online acquaintances? Does GamerNerdC3P86 care if I have the latest title or not? I don’t think so. I share the latest game with people around me locally and I get looks as if I’ve not grown up.

Looking back at the social element, I probably purchase most of my games based on the recommendations of one or two individuals. It gives me something to talk about. I guess it does fit all the reasons listed above in some ways. The bottom line for this gamer is that I enjoy discussing and reading about gaming than I do playing them.

That’s a big revelation.

On Monday I’ll take a look at the second item from the data: unopened titles.