In recent years, video games have become more and more realistic. The line between what is real and what is fiction has become even more blurred with the advent of home virtual reality systems. As a result, violent and graphic video games have become more of a concern to parents. We all hear horror stories about children developing violent behavior as a result of playing these video games. As games become more realistic, the thought that this activity could increase comes to mind. However, with some adult supervision, parents can help their kids understand violent content, and thus help them to deal with it in constructive ways.
Years ago, knowing what a video game’s content might include could be difficult. People back then had to rely on magazines and the occasional commercial to see gameplay footage. By contrast, in the world we live in now – a digital world where everything imaginable can be found online – finding gameplay footage of whatever game a child might like is usually easy. YouTube is a great source for watching people play video games. Companies like IGN even do professional game reviews and can be a great source of reference when questioning whether or not to buy a game. For example, their review of the game Thumper – a game which boasts horror and violent elements built into a rhythm game – shows plenty of gameplay for parents to understand what type of game it is (that review may be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJOp3HSWY_k). By watching people play a game their child wants, parents can see how violent or graphic a game will be before they buy it.
Another great resource for parents is the ESRB rating system. The ESRB, or Entertainment Software Rating Board, is an organization that gives ratings to games in an effort to recommend an age group for certain content. According to the ESRB, their ratings are as follows:
EC: Early Childhood – Content is intended for young children.
E: Everyone – Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
E 10+: Everyone 10+ – Content is generally suitable for ages 10 and up. May contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.
T: Teen – Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
M: Mature – Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
AO: Adults Only – Content suitable only for adults age 18 and up. May include prolonged scenes of intense violence, graphic sexual content and/or gambling with real currency.
Any parent can also use www.esrb.org to look up specific games to see specifically how its rating was arrived at.
The most important piece of advice I can give to parents is this: know what your kids are playing. Parents, the main way a child is going to gain access to a violent video game is through you. A parent buying a video game needs to be educated about that video game. Arming yourself with the knowledge of what your children will be playing will not only ensure that they aren’t viewing inappropriate content, but it will also help you to open a dialogue to help children process what they are playing in a positive way.
Talk to your kids about what they are playing. Show an active interest in their lives. Who knows, maybe they’ll invite you to play along with them!