I recently read this telling article on joystiq.com about a guy who sent his 15-year-old kid into Best Buy to purchase a copy of the recently released M-rated game, BioShock. The parent in question is an Attorney named Jack Thompson, and Thompson has declared the ESRB game rating system “a fraud perpetrated upon American families from sea to shining sea.” Well I have a question for Thompson and other like-minded parents…
Since when did it become the responsibility of Best Buy, Circuit City, GameStop, Game Crazy, and Wal-Mart to supervise your kids? You do know that if you are with your kid when they buy a game, that the clerk won’t sell your kid a game if you tell them not to… don’t you?
The problem with Thompson’s ever-so-clever “sting” operation is that he’s putting the responsibility on the retailer. Little Billy is not the ward or responsibility of Best Buy, Take-Two Interactive, RockStar Games, Microsoft, or anybody else other than his parents and/or guardians. As someone who is about to be a parent, I am growing more and more confused about why someone would expect Best Buy to parent their children. Afterall, the money is just as green (or whatever the color of your local currency is) if a kid hands it to the cashier as when an adult hands it to the cashier.
For those of you who are confused as to why I would say that the game retailers and developers have no responsibility, let me pose a question to you: when was the last time you sat down and played or watched your kid game? Do you know what’s in their collection? Do you know what the content of their favorite games are? In my time as a youth minister, I’ve found that most kids are eager to discuss their gaming with anybody who will sit still long enough to hear it. It’s something they enjoy discussing and they’re tickled to death that somebody will listen to what they have to say.
Participating in your kids gaming also gives you two very important parenting opportunities. First, it allows you to grow in relationship with your kid(s). I remember and cherish the times when my dad sat and gamed with me. One of my most vivid childhood memories was when my dad brought home my first console, the 16-bit Sega Genesis, with a copy of Sonic the Hedgehog. My dad and all five of us kids sat around the tube all night with that game and we laughed and joked and had a fantastic time. I was about 8 years old at that time, and it’s something that continues in my family even as my wife and I are about to have a child. My dad still plays games with myself and my siblings. He recently came over and played Burnout Revenge on the Xbox 360 with me and my brother. This is something that we all enjoyed and I know my dad has fond memories of these times just as much as my siblings and I do.
The second parenting opportunity that participating in your kids’ gaming offers is one of control. You can’t control what content your kids see if you don’t know what content your kids see. If you know your kids’ game collection, and you spot a new addition that you do not approve of, you can confiscate and discipline. This is no different than if you found a movie you didn’t approve of or a magazine you didn’t approve of. You may even be able to get your kids money refunded if you take it back to the store.
As an adult who games and as a man who is about to become a father I am increasingly concerned that irresponsible parents are going to damage both my hobby and my children. I do not want any government regulation dictating what games I can and cannot play, and I do not want irresponsible parents holding retailers responsible for their shortcomings as parents.
To all parents who want to try and argue that it isn’t their fault and that they don’t have the time to supervise or participate with their kids, or that it’s the industry’s responsibility to keep “moral standards,” don’t bother. Make time for your kids, make time for your kids’ gaming, make time to supervise your kids. The influences that this world can have on your children that you won’t approve of are infinite, and most of them don’t really care whether or not you approve. Only with your positive influences and constant reinforcement of things you do approve of will your kids get the message.
If you are a parent who wants to learn how to better control your kids’ gaming experience, I have a suggested reading list for you:
- ESRB’s Resources for Parents
- Parental Controls for the Nintendo Wii
- Xbox 360 Family Controls
Unfortunately, Sony doesn’t seem to have a useful parental control manual for any of their systems on their website, so you’ll have to refer to your user’s manual for more information there.