Thursday, November 8, 2012

3rd annual Veterans Day Xbox Community Playdate

For several years now I have been having fun with my little gaming charity initiative called Gaming4Others. Through G4O I can host all kinds of gaming events for charitable causes...with that in mind let me tell you about Xbox Community Playdates. This is where once or twice a week Xbox highlights a gaming group, community or website by advertising about them at and on the Xbox dashboard (go to Games>Extras>Events) and invites gamers to join the staff of those communities to play video games. Now put these two things together and you have G4O's Third Annual Veterans Day Community Playdate! *loud cheers and applause*

Each year around Veterans Day, rather than having the staff of Gaming4Others host a playdate, I find several veterans and soldiers to host and it becomes fun-filled night of playing and chatting with our awesome fighting forces. The younger gamer's especially love this event and seem to be full of questions for the vets and soldiers, who love hosting too!

The Veterans play date is tomorrow night, 11/9/12, and the game will be Halo 4. We will have a great prize to give away as well. We'll put the gamertag of each person who participates in a hat and draw for a brand spanking new Gaems G155 Sentry Personal Gaming Environment. These beautiful cases feature a 720p EL-LED flat screen TV and an HDMI port for your gaming console. It's perfect for dorms, barracks and for travel. For our family its the BEST way to play Kinect in the living room then put away the TV when we're done. The Autistic One has broken way too many beautiful flat screen TV's so this has been a real blessing for us! It's super portable so it can go anywhere and also makes it easy to monitor your kids gaming time.

A HUGE thanks to the CEO of Gaems, Dean Mercier, for donating the prize. (its worth $250!) So tell your kids to send a game invitation request to one of the gamers listed below and they will have a great experience!

BMG Orphan
TTL Killer
DeeJay Knight
AoR Dex
Cha0s Mar1ne

When you're done gaming there are some cool places you can check out that helps our Veterans and Soldiers:

At Gamers Outreach Foundation, Project GoKart provides gaming kiosks to Veterans and children's hospitals.

Also at GOF you can find Fun For Our Troops. FFoT provides games and gaming systems to soldiers all over the world. You can donate your old stuff or new stuff or you can put in a name of a loved one who you would like to see RECEIVE donations of games and equipment.

Able Gamers Foundation is an amazing community that has created games, controllers ad consoles that allows gamers of all abilities to play the games they love. Seriously...these guys are great and the controllers they've created are phenomenal!

Oh, Here's the prize! (Case only, Xbox and soldier not included)

Monday, November 5, 2012

The ESRB, your parent partner in gaming

Halo 4 will be released tonight at midnight...woohoo! We are super excited here and hardly wait to get our hands on it. The Halo series is that kind of game that has always been a lot of fun for our family to play together. There are some out there who may not agree with me, however, which reminds me of a story:

A few years ago I was at a big family party at the home of my "Oregon Sister" Auntie Em. (names have been changed to protect the ignorant) A discussion on playing Halo came up and Aunt Em, who prides herself on being well-informed, wasn't shy to share about how shocked she was that I would play such a game AND play it with my kids. The violence! The horror! I had to explain that I knew the game well, and that because I play the game I knew for a fact that the way I play this game with my children is safe and a lot of fun. For instance, in the Halo series you are shooting aliens, there is no blood or body parts flying off and frankly very little carnage. I always liken it to paintball...if you get hit you may lose a point but you get back up and keep playing. I am confident that this game was, and still is, fine for my kids. MY kids, because I know my kids, their maturity level and what they can or can't handle. (I will always maintain that this is a matter for each parent to decide)

Enter my oldest boy Grant who had been listening in to the conversation. "Auntie Em" he said, "do you know what your son is playing now?" Her son was in the bonus room gaming up a storm. "Yes" replied Aunt Em "it's a game where they race cars around a city. Perfectly tame". What her sweet 11 yr old was playing was Grand Theft Auto. Those of you familiar with this title just gasped...let me enlighten the rest of you.

You can indeed race around a large city in Grand Theft Auto, stealing cars and wreaking all kinds of havoc. But did Aunt Em know that this involves stealing the cars by throwing out the occupants? That you can use all manner of weaponry including a flame thrower on passing pedestrians? And the biggest shocker of you replenish your health? It ain't by eating fruits and this game one must visit the local street-walker to replenish ones health. You hop in her car and while the cars a rocking to the beat of the moans & noises the health meter rises. Needless to say, Aunt Em had no idea. Her boy had convinced her of it's tameness and she believed him.

Enter the ESRB

The Entertainment Software Ratings Board. The folks at the ESRB go over every game and pass on their knowledge to you, much like movie ratings. You can go to and enter any game title to find out it's rating and why it was rated that way. There are six levels of ratings: eC (early Childhood) E (everyone) 10+E (Everyone from 10 yrs on up) T (teen) M (Mature 17 ys and up) and Ao (Adults only).
Having six levels is even more precise than movie ratings so these can be helpful in targeting which game is right for your kids.

The only real safety in place to keep your kids from buying M rated or above games is that the store where you make your purchase is required to ask you "are you buying this for yourself?" You can always say yes, but your child cannot go in and buy an M rated game on their own, they won't sell it to minors. (at least they aren't supposed to) This doesn't prevent your little angel from buying it online or borrowing it from a friend either. You just have to pay attention to the games in your house.

Getting back to my point about MY may find that one M rated game is just fine for your I did with Halo, but another M rated game, such as GTA, isn't appropriate at all. You know your children so only you can judge. You can also just lay down the law and say that M rated games wont be played until they are 17. It's ultimately your choice.

HUGE CAVEAT, if you let little Timmy play an M rated game please remember that they should not be playing it on Xbox LIVE with the general public! Gamers pay $60+ for games and expect to get online to play with other grown-ups. Your child could get online and play with their friends but letting them use the matchmaking feature just makes them a target for verbal abuse. Even though it is against the Code of Conduct there are many gamers who relentlessly pick on kids when they are playing an M rated game. If little Timmy insists that he is good enough to take on the old folks then he can also mute his mic and mute all of the other gamers...this way he can play but not be heard.

The ESRB is the first, most basic way to educate yourself but there are other things you can do as well.

Play the game!

I know that my kids can handle Halo because I play it! I know that if they play the campaign mode they will hear some swearing so my youngest hasn't ever played the campaign. (Campaign mode: the story, the part of the game that tells you it's stories, with several levels and generally a final big battle or boss to defeat in order to win the game) We play the multiplayer modes...these are short games like Capture the Flag or King of the Hill. I wouldn't have known this if I haven't played it first. So while the kids are at school, infiltrate their den of gaming and do some gaming yourself. Hey even that sinister Grand Theft Auto can be a fun time when it is just set on free play. There are cheat codes that allow you to do silly things like be tiny, or gigantic, that will slap your friend all the way across the city or drop a tank into the road to play with. There isn't a lot of naughty shenanigans involved with free-play, but you would really need to sit and play it with the kids to make sure they STAY in free play.

Check the game's options. 

All games have an option menu, the options will differ for each game but it's well worth a look. Some have the option to turn off language and/or gore, others have modes of play that don't include a story or dialog so you control what the characters do. This is one of the reasons that I LOVE the Gears of War series. I can go to the options menu and turn off the cursing and the gore. I can barely shoot straight as it is so all that blood doesn't help me in any way! Gears of War also gives us Horde mode which has no story and very little dialog, just waves of aliens to annihilate.

If all else fails use your search engine. Just search something to the effect of "' 'Name of Game' options menu" and you will find many helps to set up your games.

Now if you took the advice from the previous XboxParent post, "Have your children play video games where you can see them", then they wont be playing games that would be embarrassing with the parents in the room. But if you just can't take the noise (hey, I don't blame you!) its good to know you have these resources to help get educated about video games.

(Those sites I've linked you to on the right---> many of them post reviews for video games. You can learn a lot from reading their reviews too!)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Xbox Parental Controls: Your NUMBER 1 PRIORITY!

A news story broke this week about 4 teens who ran away together after meeting through Xbox LIVE. One of the mothers was quoted as saying:

"I don't let him have a Facebook account because I don't want him meeting people online," she said. "I didn't realize they could do so much on Xbox."

Parents, your children not only have the ability to meet through Xbox LIVE but their first contact is often through voice...not a post or message...they speak to each other. Xbox is designed to give you a nearly unlimited amount of people to game with and it's wonderful for those who want the challenge of competition and for those with family or friends who live a distance away. However, if you have children online you need to monitor who they are playing with or at very least have the Xbox in a room where you can hear them play.

First and foremost, KNOW YOUR CHILD'S LOG IN AND PASSWORD! For gamer's under the age of 18 an adult has to create their account. If your child did this themselves then they lied about their age of birth. Some parents allow this and that is your business. Either way, if you want to know who your kids are gaming with and what content they are watching you need to set up parental pass codes and set their accounts accordingly.

How much control can you have? You can set a pass code that has to be entered just to use the Xbox. Your child will turn it on and the first thing they see is ENTER PASS CODE. So essentially, you can control it all! That can be pretty inconvenient though so there are parental controls for individual things:

*Which Games can be played
*Which movies and TV shows can be watched
*How long each family member can use the console on a daily or weekly basis

As far as privacy goes you can control those settings as well. You can:

*Block or allow access to Internet Explorer on Xbox (yes, the internet is on Xbox!)
*Determine who can see your child's profile.
*determine to allow video chat through the Kinect sensor or XBox LIVE camera. (personally I always have this one set to NO WAY! If we have family that wishes to chat or play I can change the setting to do so then restrict it again afterward)
*determine if approval is required to accept or send friend requests

This last one, determine if approval is required to accept or send friend requests, is the one that I personally find the most important. My 17 yr old can now do this himself but my 12 year old cannot sent or accept a friend request unless I enter an email and password that I previously set. She is only allowed family and friends that we know personally so I never have to worry about her privacy on XBox.

The XBox BASICS tab at the top of the page has the steps for all of the settings listed above. Or HERE is the link to XBox support with the same instructions, but with fancier verbology. ;) With all this taken care of I have a few suggestions of my own...

*When you get a console make it the FAMILY console, not your child's. This just helps avoid a multitude of arguments. 

*Don't just pay for your child to have an online account, get a family plan so you have an account as well. You can give a Microsoft points allowance to your kids (points are used to purchase content such as games, movies and upgrades) and you can control their settings right there through the console. You may not want to play video games but you can watch Netflix, Hulu and rent or buy movies & music through Zune. Having your own account helps you to understand what your kids are doing on theirs. For a good deal on a family gold search "xbox LIVE family gold"'ll always find a bargain out there.

*Keep the console in the family room or bonus room, a room where everyone is allowed to be. (Perhaps when they are old enough they can have their own console depending on how you feel your child can handle the responsibility.) 

*Learn to use the XBox yourself. Find a game you feel you can play and get on Xbox LIVE ! This is the best way to know what your kids are experiencing. There are a lot of game demos through XBox Arcade that you can download to begin with. (go to the Games screen on the XBox Dashboard and browse)

*Learn the communication system...that headset used to speak through. It can be set to MUTE so that your kids can only hear their friends (team mates) when playing online. Then they can take their team into matchmaking, play with people from all over the globe, but never speak to them or hear them speak. There are settings in their games to mute players other than your team, and when in a game you can choose people individually to mute. Your child can mute their mic as well.* 

This may all seem a huge bother but it really is simple to do and's parenting! I was lucky...I was introduced to XBox LIVE because my son didn't mind me sitting and watching him play. Every night after the little kids were in bed I sat and watched Grant play Halo 2. He had a great group of friends who were not only good at the game but hilarious to listen too. Eventually they challenged me to learn the game and I met and gamed with the greatest moms ever. They are still my dearest friends. 

The bottom line...? Keep your console where you can watch your kids playing and know who they are playing with. You wouldn't send them to a park by themselves, so don't send them out into the world all alone either. XBox isn't an evil entity to be feared, its an entertainment system that YOU control. The best way to take that control? Be involved! Play! And use those settings! 

As always, if you have questions email me. 

*If you would like to meet on Xbox LIVE so you can become familiar with it you can log onto your child's account (while they are at school, if you don't want to hear whining) and I can meet you online  to help. email me and we can schedule a time.

Friday, October 12, 2012

AbleGamers: Awesome Cause...and hangin' with the Mommy Gamers

Today's post is a congrats and a link!

Congratulations to the AbleGamers Foundation for opening the first Accessible Arcade at the DC Library. Gamers of all abilities can come and enjoy video games of all kinds, all consoles and PC. Mark Barlet began the AGF to help facilitate gaming for all people...including gamer's who need adapted controllers and gaming for the blind. A truly inspiring group! Read more about the arcade at their Facebook page and "Like" them while you're at it.

The Mommy Gamer's invited me to guest host their most recent podcast so you are invited to eavesdrop! It was a pleasure to spend an evening with Desirai and Marcia, talking about girly things, kids and gaming. Thanks for having me!

My latest blog post is also at Mommy Gamers, in honor of Anti-Bullying month, read all about what our kids can face on Xbox LIVE and how many grown-up gamer's need to reign it in! Next post will be about how to protect your kids from this problem. (now copied below as well)

Thanks parents!

Of Dragons and Flames...
Once upon a time an amazing gaming service called Xbox LIVE came into the world. At its beginning it was the greatest thing that happened to gaming because you could play with anyone…anywhere! It was and is gaming heaven, a never ending stream of competitors for you to try to beat. But as happens to all good things, an evil began to creep in. Abusive gamers, hereafter known as Dragons, had figured out that they could say anything they wanted, no matter how vile, because they could retain their anonymity. I’m sure these Dragons are thinking they aren’t really hurting anyone, they are just venting their rage, spewing flames wherever they go. As adults we know we can boot these gamers from the game, mute them or simply quit and play with our friends. We generally let their flames roll off our backs.
The Dragons, however, forgot about something. Something they ARE burning badly…the kids. Yes, we know they aren’t supposed to be on LIVE but they are and they always will be. Most Dragons are too old to remember shock value; they forget that bullying hurts even when it’s anonymous and these kids don’t forget easily. So what do the little ones do to cope? They do like they always do…imitate. Children learn by example and the example of these Dragons is loud and clear: Spewing flames is cool.
I am fully aware that Dragons are one of the most annoying things about live gaming and that Dragon babies are even worse, but my post today is intended to ask you a favor, and it’s a big one: Please don’t abuse these little dragons back, because I really don’t feel it’s their fault. Not completely…
I realized this one day while on LIVE. There was a particularly annoying little Dragon in my game, spewing flames everywhere. I did my best to ignore it until he singled me out and explained some sexual things he was going to do to me. I should have been offended but he had gotten the terms all wrong…he had no idea what he was talking about! That’s when I realized what was going on. He was simply doing what he’d heard from a big Dragon…and he thought it was cool if he said it too.
When it comes to big Dragons I have no problem turning them over to the enforcement team. But ever since that day, when it comes to baby Dragons, I take the time to talk to them first. I messaged this young would-be pervert and explained that I KNEW this wasn’t him. I knew he had heard these things from older gamers and that if he wanted to really have fun gaming and to build a great friends list…one that even includes girls…that he needed to stop imitating those big flaming Dragons. I explained that it doesn’t make him look cool at all, because the grown-ups who say those things aren’t seen as being cool either.
To my surprise his reply was pleasant. He wasn’t happy being mean but he thought he had to be. How sad is that!? He thought that was how we are supposed to behave on LIVE. I realized that It’s on us…the grown-ups…we are to blame, we created these little flaming Dragons. If we don’t want to deal with the flames, from any age Dragon, we need to not be spewing them ourselves. I did tell the little Dragon that he shouldn’t be playing M rated games online but if he insisted on it he should mute himself and just play. From that day forward I have done the same with many a little Dragon, and hopefully have made the gaming realm a better place in some small way or at least kept some little Dragons from growing into big ones.
The moral of the story is clear and obvious. It’s an old tale told in many ways: “Let peace begin with me”, “If you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all”, “remember the golden rule”, “be excellent to each other”…it’s all true. Kids learn by example and like it or not they ARE on Xbox LIVE and not going anywhere. I know that there is a lot of anger and frustration involved with playing video games so if you feel you can’t handle yourself, MUTE! Because ultimately we’re on LIVE to slay Dragons, not be one.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Thanks Xbox, now I can sleep!

The Autistic One loves videos. There is a movie playing at all times in his room, which is directly under my room. It has become a constant drone that I almost dont notice anymore...except at about midnight...when I'd rather be asleep. Once upon a time I had to get my tired self out of bed and slog downstairs to turn off the TV, but not anymore!

Xbox has this cool setting called Auto-Off. You can choose to have the Xbox turn off on it's own after being idle for 1 hour or 6 hours. Now after Gavin falls asleep his DVD player, aka XBox, turns of by itself! My lazy bod loves this setting almost as much as "mommy mode" in Left 4 Dead!*

Go right ahead and nag your kids to remember to turn off the lights but you will never have to remind them to turn off the XBox. Wo0t!**

~~~~~ ** ~~~~~

Implementing Xbox Auto-Off:
Go to the System Settings Dashboard page> Console Settings> Startup and Shutdown>Auto-Off
Choose 1 hour or 6 hours then press B to exit.
(for more info on using the Dashboard go to the XBox Basics tab)

*Left4Dead is an awesome zombie video game that has a setting that will play for you if you have to walk away from the console for a few minutes...perfect for when the kids are spray painting the walls! (yep, that happened...)

**wo0t...a term of excitement recently added to Websters Dictionary thanks to the gaming community. :)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Kinect, Arcade and Zune Video, because DVD's don't taste very good

As I was considering my inaugural post, I thought about how Xbox has effected my children and my relationship with each of them. Since I have a gaggle of kids...there's a lot to think back on! First let me give a few warnings...

I will tend to do this ---> ;) or this :) and sometimes when I just don't get it....this 0.o ... I realize this is very unblogworthy but I can't seem to help myself. I started texting before there were emoticons so it's a habit, bad or good...its mine. 

I will say "amazing" and "awesome" too much and I'm bound to mess up with grammar.

Also, I will talk about my's what I know and my main focus in life. 

So with that...back to XBox and each of my amazing kids. (don't get me wrong, they aren't all on honor rolls, they're just amazing to me)

My oldest child Bri is an amazing woman, married to a PhD and mother to my 4 grand daughters. She grew up in the video game world but after graduating college and having her children, she strayed. Her brilliant mad-scientist husband, Dr. Ben, knew too-well if he had an Xbox he would never put down the role-playing game, so they avoided it. How could I stand for this when I could be chatting up my granddaughters through Kinect? So as a good mom and gramma, I gave them one. :) Of course RPG's are forbidden in their home but they now have some pretty awesome Kinect games for their girls, Video Kinect for Gramma and a reliable DVD player. 

Which brings me to the amazing thing that is Xbox Video (Zune) and my son Gavin. You will read a lot about him here, as the Autistic One he is the center of our lives here at XboxFamily central. Once upon a time Gavin had a compulsion to microwave our DVD's. Besides the smell, oily residue left all over the inside of the microwave and obvious lack of interest in eating a DVD, I was just plain tired of having to re-purchase our movie library every few days. Enter Xbox Video. The greatest thing invented for those people who don't want a house full of DVD cases, hates the inevitable hunt for the misplaced favorite DVD and who find scrubbing microwaves tiresome. Not only does Xbox Vid allow you to rent movies, you can buy them! See? Amazing! I can play my fave movies without getting up. Even better, I can play said movies through my XBox, Windows Phone 7, tablet and laptop. (I dare you to carry your DVD library in YOUR messenger bag). I can be enjoying LoTR through my XBox, leave off at chapter 152 and pick right up at chapter 153 on my Windows phone and watch while waiting in the school pick-up line. Seamless. Getting yourself a Zune account and building your DVD library is liberating. You should try it. You will have more space, more time and more entertainment. Coincidentally...three of my favorite things. :)

Next, my two sons, Grant and Gunnar ...THE quintessential gamers. They excel at every game they touch, and can leave you laughing yourself to tears when you have the good fortune to be in a game with them. They are the total entertainment package. They defy those naysayers who want to say Video Games ruin your children. "Not so!" I say, as I marvel at Gunnar's report card and the beaming 168% he has in Physics. "How does one exceed 100%", I wonder...well, it IS physics...and Grant who first introduced me to Xbox LIVE many years ago...he is a successful man who is marrying a brilliant beauty next summer. Obviously my avid gamers have lives and are doing just fine. (disclaimer: I'm not saying that video games will give you math-defying grades and hot girls...) 

Then there's Lil. My little Lil took her Xbox Arcade console and bedazzeld it. She made it a work of art. It's appropriate that she has an Arcade console as she is a HUGE fan of Xbox Arcade. These game gems are the best. No having to drive to the store and shop, just shop from home and download. Our favorite is Hasbro's game of LIFE. I never thought it could be as fun as the old board game but it is! There's no set-up or clean-up and it's my time with just her. (of course, XBox LIVE makes it possible to play with all the kids from all of our respective homes if we so choose) Also it doesn't take up space in my closet! (one of my favorite things as you'll recall)

These are just a few of the ways Xbox touches our lives.I admit it, I watch Hulu and Netflix on my Xbox a LOT...I also love the music service...did I mention the settings? I will...I will get to all of it, and hopefully you will come along and enjoy Xbox as much as my family and I do.