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 all...how you replenish your health? It ain't by eating fruits and veggies...in 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 ESRB.org 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 children...you may find that one M rated game is just fine for your kids...as 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!)