The video game industry has grown to overshadow the movies. In the home, video games have replaced television as kids’ favorite indoor activity. Their presence is inescapable. If we deprive our own children of the experience, they’re likely to feel left out when they hear their peers talking about the latest games. What’s more, we might feel hypocritical discouraging this kind of media if we’re spending a lot of time at the computer ourselves. To a young person, it’s all the same; if we’re entitled, why shouldn’t they be?
There are a lot of games out there that are fairly innocuous: just good, wholesome fun (some studies suggest they even help one’s eyesight and develop hand/eye coordination). There’s really no danger in kids enjoying these kinds of games in moderation. On the other hand, there’s a wide lineup of games (particularly for the Playstation 2 and its competitors) that have a lot of extreme, graphic violence. Allowing your child to play any of these games would be akin to letting him or her go out to an NC-17 movie alone.
For the past several years, games on the market have come with ratings very similar to the ones given for movies. The extreme segment will be marked mature. The companies making these games provide their own ratings, though, and their standards might not be comparable to yours. The best approach may be to talk to your kids about the games they intend to play. Ask them what they’ve heard about these games. What’s the basic goal? If the plot revolves around a demon lord breaking out of his magical prison to wreak his vengeance upon the people of earth who captured him, then you can rest assured there will be a lot of violence no matter what the ratings say. Also, be aware that violence does not need to be graphic to be disturbing. After all, two cute little mice trying to bash each other with hammers is just as much a display of cruelty as a knife fight.
If you can find the time, watch what your kids are playing and get a feel for it. Exercise the same discretion that you would when choosing a book or movie for them. There are a lot of resources on the Internet that have compiled lists of games that many people have found offensive. Read through some of these, and you’re bound to retain a fair percentage of it. If your ten-year old is bubbling with enthusiasm over the new “Grand Theft Auto II” game he just got his hands on, you may not know exactly what he’s talking about – but you’ll know enough so that a couple of warning sirens will go off in your mind.
Even if the games they’re playing are relatively innocent and good-natured, kids should understand that they should only be one part of an overall balanced life. Set some time limits. An hour’s play will provide enough stimuli for a lot of kids, especially if they’re high-strung anyway. Video games should be incorporated into some kind of schedule, too. If kids know this ahead of time, they won’t be so resistant when you enforce it. These games are highly addictive, and it’s a rare kid who’ll stop playing of his or her own free will. There’s a time and place for each activity, and this one shouldn’t spill over into the others. Young ones who try to eat with one hand and operate the controller with the other aren’t going to enjoy their meal or their game.