Do I Want a Video Game System In My Family Home?
by Steph Wood
Having reached my mid twenties, I’m slap bang in the middle of my first major wave of nostalgia. The years in which I grew up (the Nineties) are finally starting to look like a real decade, as opposed to a loose collection of lame television shows, Britpop bands and dated electronic devices.
Nostalgia is a problem, primarily because it ends up costing you money. For reasons barely known to myself, I’ve re-invested in what was my first ever Video Games console: the SEGA Master System. And once the thoughts of ‘my god, this isn’t half as fun as I remember it being’ and ‘geez, I wish I owned Fantasy Zone when I was a kid’ have been dealt with, I’ve been thinking about the issues that surround introducing a gaming machine into a family, and how that has changed immensely in the last twenty years.
I don’t suppose my parents gave it that much thought. Sure, games consoles weren’t new in 1990, but their influences in the home were sort of ungauged. Games didn’t have age ratings back then, and because of their content they were still some way from really needing them. But today, I see many parents who are reluctant to bring gaming devices into their home. My eldest sister, who I once shared the aforementioned Master System with, now has two young children. And as her eldest nears the age at which I first started playing games, I wonder how she’ll handle it.
Negatives (and dealing with them!):
Games used to a lot harsher on children than they are these days. Everything could kill you in one hit and once you lost all your lives, you’d be unceremoniously sent to the title screen and told to do the entire thing again. Honestly, my old controllers had teeth marks of frustration in them. But then, I was an angry kid to begin with! Putting a stop to a game that is frustrating is important: kids need to be taught control, and video games are actually a good way of teaching this (away from social humiliation). There’s the bonus lesson that frustration heals with time, and when a child goes back to a game with a clear head, they’ll learn the importance of learning to calm down.
There’s another side to this, of course. Videogames have a proven linked to children being more aggressive. Whilst you can steer them away from violent games (see ‘Playing inappropriate games’ below), there’s still a tendency for games to involve destruction, shooting, kicking and punching actions. Buy your child a mix of games: slower, more thoughtful puzzle, adventure and strategy titles should be encouraged.
Playing for too long
Parents are often concerned about bringing yet another device into the home that cuts into time spent on outside play, socialising, school-work and creative play. It’s important to control how much time your child is allowed on a games machine from the very start. How long is appropriate is up to you to decide. Never put a games console (or a television for that matter) in a child’s room, as this will take control entirely out of your hands and may result in them playing in the night to avoid parental censure.
Playing inappropriate games
Parents often feel that they have little control over what their children are exposed to. It’s strange that this opinion is so prevalent: most parents feel they have total control over the television shows and movies that their children see, so why not games? The problem is that whilst games are subject to the same restrictions on content that films are subject to, parents often don’t realise that such ratings are in place.
The ESRB (America), PEGI (Europe) and other classification boards are easy to understand age-ratings, but some manage to assume that they’re recommendations regarding the difficulty of the titles (though in the lower brackets this is technically true: 7+ games in Europe are often rated because they require reading-ability). Note also that these ratings don’t extend to many online games, so take care to monitor your child’s online activity.
Shops are legally obliged to ask for ID for 15+ and 18+ rated games, and modern consoles often have parental control settings to prevent underage play. Nevertheless, you will find parents who give their children games that are unsuitable for their age and you will have to make it clear to them that you don’t feel the games are suitable for your child when they visit.
One thing that is painfully apparent with my Master System is that the games on the system offer little incentive for playing together, whereas many modern games encourage collaboration to encourage puzzle solving. Sony’s Little Big Planet games are a fantastic example of this, requiring each player to perform certain tasks whilst the other completes it for a mutual reward.
Spending time with a child
Anything that allows you to spend more time with your children should surely be encouraged. Games are fun and this often doubly true of games you play together! This also allows you to control the kinds of games they play more closely, and if you have a visible authority on something, they’re more likely to respect your right to draw the line at certain titles.
In two different senses, a child who plays games improves their literacy. First in its literal sense: though game stories are hardly perfect, they’re often an engaging way of reading and having stories read to you. But I’m also of the opinion that it’s important for kids to know how to play games, because if you keep your child from learning how, they’re going to feel left out sooner or later. Cutting games out of a child’s life is no different from not having a TV, or never watching films!
Steph Wood is a gamer and blogger currently working for Vanquis Bank. They can’t wait to get their niece and nephew into playing games!