So, Grand Theft Auto V came out last week, with crazy amazing sales figures. It’s not really my thing, but I caught a Kotaku article written by a video game store clerk, expressing concern and disappointment about the number of parents buying it for their young kids.  I quite agree, the article was disheartening and disturbing.

I Sold Too Many Copies of GTA V to Parents Who Didn’t Give a Damn

When I recite the phrases from the ESRB ratings box on the back cover of an M-rated game and it just goes right over your head I feel the need to be more specific. So I mention things like a game having a first-person view of half-naked strippers or that the game has a mission that forces you to torture another human being.

In response, I often hear things like, “Oh, it’s for my older son” or “All his friends already have it.”

Of course, it was the same week I created my first webcast video of playing 7 Days to Die with my sevenish year old son. Yeah, it’s a semi-violent game involving blood and spike traps and hitting zombies in the head with a pickaxe. The first comment I got was, “Is this an appropriate game for a small child?” Legitimate question, but before you call me a total hypocrite and a bad parent, let me point out why this is apples and oranges to the scenario laid out by Kotaku:

  • I’m playing WITH my child. I’m a gamer, not one of these parents who has no understanding of the hobby or the content. I watch my son carefully for cues that he may be uncomfortable with a certain situation or level of interaction.  For example, he wants me to be the one to confront the zombies. But when it comes to building the base, he eagerly gets to work laying down block walls with his Minecraft-honed skills.
  • We’re talking zombie apocalypse, not beating hookers or stealing cars. I would NEVER let my child see, much less play, a game like that at his age. To me, the line between obvious fantasy and alternate reality is critical. As Skylanders’ Paul Reiche put it in a recent Polygon article, “One of the jobs of parents is protecting kids from being cynical too soon.” That, I guess, is where the line seems to exist to me, that and things that are too scary to handle. And as a long-time Plants vs. Zombies player, zombies themselves aren’t new to him.  But seeing me react to them without fear when they are portrayed more realistically, actually helps him formulate the line between fantasy and reality.  I think he’ll sleep BETTER with this information.  He certainly hasn’t had a nightmare in recent memory.
  • GTA and even masterpieces like The Last of Us are laden with profanity, and they have a right to be.  They are mature games, for a mature audience. 7 Days to Die, on the other hand, while aimed at a mature audience, contains not a single word.  It’s a tale that unfolds as you choose it to unfold, with whatever narrative you assign it.  That’s actually a pretty positive experience.

The Kotaku article is right on. Gaming is a part of virtually every child’s life now, and it is inescapable. If you’re not a native gaming parent, I feel for you, but for God’s sake, take the ESRB rating seriously, then! If you don’t have an understanding of the world of gaming, you need to rely on the advice of those who do.  This stuff is serious, and your irresponsibility is damaging to the video game industry, but a thousand times more important than that, it can be damaging to your child. Especially if there’s no counterpoint or opportunity to discuss what they are seeing. It’s no different than the movie industry.

MY approach is right on, too, though, and it is because I *am* a native gaming parent that I am comfortable with it. I know my child well, and I know what games and content are appropriate. We laugh together during our play sessions, we plan together, and we bond together. I’m engaged, and I am confident we will both look back on the experience very fondly.

And if we’re ever faced with a real zombie apocalypse… we’ll be ready.

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