The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Parenting & Playing Games

It’s been a while since I wrote about one of my favorite passtimes: playing computer games. Maybe that’s because I don’t buy new games very often. I don’t play violent games, with the exception of World of Warcraft (which I only play after Parker goes to bed), so most of the first-person shooter games don’t appeal to me. That leaves mostly simulation and city-building games, and I pick up new titles from time to time, most recently City Life and Glory of the Roman Empire, but they come out less frequently than the other kinds.

So it doesn’t often occur to me to blog about computer games. But couple of items in the news got me thinking about it again. In the aftermath of the “Hot Coffee” scandal around Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas there was talk of banning violent or “adult” video games, or making it illegal to sell them to minors. Minnesota passed just such a law earlier this year, and this week a federal judge tossed out the state’s video game law.

A federal judge on Monday shot down a Minnesota law that would fine youngsters who get their hands on the smuttiest, bloodiest and most violent video games.

The law, which was scheduled to take effect today, would have docked youths $25 for renting or buying video games an industry board rates “mature” or “adults only.” It also would have required stores to post signs warning underage gamers about the fine.

Passed in May, the law was aimed to protect game players younger than 17. Backers pointed to games such as “God of War,” in which players gouge out eyes, sever limbs and make human sacrifices, and “Manhunt,” in which a serial killer uses a nail gun and chain saw to slay victims.

The video game industry sued to block the law in June, arguing it violated constitutional rights of game makers and customers.

It’s funny, in a way, that some states are rushing to ban “violent video games” or make it illegal to sell them to young people. I still wonder if those laws would apply to games like Left Behind: Eternal Forces.

Imagine: you are a foot soldier in a paramilitary group whose purpose is to remake America as a Christian theocracy, and establish its worldly vision of the dominion of Christ over all aspects of life. You are issued high-tech military weaponry, and instructed to engage the infidel on the streets of New York City. You are on a mission – both a religious mission and a military mission — to convert or kill Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, gays, and anyone who advocates the separation of church and state – especially moderate, mainstream Christians. Your mission is “to conduct physical and spiritual warfare”; all who resist must be taken out with extreme prejudice. You have never felt so powerful, so driven by a purpose: you are 13 years old. You are playing a real-time strategy video game…

And how soon will we hear red states howling to ban Will Wright’s next game — Spore — which is basically an evolution simulation.

Spore combines such a fun visual style and simple, superbly accessible front-end that it wouldn’t look out of place in an infant school, but the premise of the game – evolution from humble microbe all the way up to global civilisations across a universe of millions of planets – will offer as much educational value to our alphabet-learning spawn as it will mind exercise for older gamers bored with the same old crap.

… One of the first editors you’ll use is at the creature phase, the second of six distinct evolutionary phases of the game. Starting with a basic torso, players can grab the spine and extend it, creating the basis for the creature. On top you can start adding parts, choose from a selection of limbs, feet and more, and drag them onto whichever part of the creature base you want. You decide whether it’s going to be a carnivore, herbivore or omnivore, and also add all kinds of facial features, skin textures, and finishing touches, anywhere, winding up with a wildly unique creation.

(See videos of game play at Google Video. And, yes, it’s on my list to buy as soon as it’s available.)

But it was also funny because it reminded me of an experience I had years ago, while shopping for a video game, when I overheard a kid trying to convince his mom to buy him the Hot Date expansion pack for The Sims.

I’d bought the expansion pack and tried it out, but hadn’t thought much about it until I overheard a conversation between a mother and son who were standing nearby while I perused the shelves. The kid really wanted the expansion pack, and I figured he must already have the game. He lied somewhat unconvincingly, shifting his weight from one foot to the other as he tried to convince her that there was nothing unobjectionable in the game. The mother was less than certain she should buy it for him, and was looking at the box trying to make heads or tails of it. The kid, meanwhile was rushing the mom along, hoping she’d buy it and just give up trying to screen the game before he played it.

I was torn. I wasn’t a parent at the time, but I felt pretty sure if I was I’d want to take the time to screen what computer games my kid played. At the same time I sympathized with the kid, who probably knew enough about sex that he didn’t need protection from a computer simulation of it (particularly one that takes place under the sheets with the non-existent “naughty bits.” (Sims don’t have genitals, a fact revealed by a “nudity hack” that circulated among the online community of Sims enthusiasts.) I must have looked like I was listening to the conversation and knew the game they were talking about. The kid looked at me as if asking for help. I gave a look I intended to say “you’re on your own, kid.” And left the store.

Of course, this mom was one step ahead of the game. She was actually in the store, shopping for games with her son. Or at least she came to the store and took the time to look at the games. The only other thing the needed to do at that point was to play the games herself.

Craig Anderson, an Iowa State University psychologist, says parents need to do more than consider a game’s age-based rating before putting it into the hands of children. They actually need to play the game, he says, or watch as it’s demonstrated.

“If you have a child who is going to be playing a lot of video games, as a parent you need to be paying very close attention to what’s in the game,” he says.

…Yet it can be difficult for parents to master video games, Anderson says. A self-proclaimed gamer “before the current crop of programmers probably were out of diapers,” he says even he is no longer proficient at the new games.

Parents can ask for demonstrations from store personnel, he suggests, or go online to organizations such as the National Institute on Media and the Family for reviews.

To evaluate a game, he says, parents should determine whether it involves characters trying to harm others, and if that behavior happens frequently. Is the harm rewarded? Portrayed as humorous? Are nonviolent solutions offered? Are they less fun than the violent ones? Are realistic consequences of violence portrayed?

If two or more of the answers are “yes,” Anderson advises parents to consider alternatives.

Different media, same rules. Whether it’s music, movies, television or video games. Know what your kids are consuming. Listen to it, watch it, play it for yourself.

I just hope I can keep up by the time Parker (and sibling) are old enough to get into this stuff cause i can’t wait to try Minecraft for free with them.

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