Gaming - Parent Questions - Digital Literacy Dover

Friday, 27 May 2016

Gaming - Parent Questions

How much is too much?

During a normal school week, during term time, spending about 2 hours per day on screen for recreation (not including homework screen time) is normal; and I would expect this time to easily double during holidays/weekends. An important point to consider here is that we should not treat screen time as different to any other time, it is the activity that is essential to consider, not the medium they are using. For a more authoritative position on this, here is a link to the updated guidelines from the AAP:

What age is appropriate for a child to play video games?

Whenever considering questions of this nature, I find it helpful to think of the activity of gaming as being more akin to a sporting activity, like football, or swimming—they are similar in many ways.

Bearing this in mind, then the answer is, as soon as they are able to—this is another example of 'media bias'; do we ask what age children should be allowed to read? watch TV? play outside? The answer is the same for all of these, as soon as they want to/are able to. The question is not when, but what; what games, books, video, kinds of play are appropriate? And as with all of these forms of media, most of them will require parental assistance at early ages.

Do you have any helpful guidelines that will practically help my child to control their consumption of the games ?

Again I have to caution parents on media bias with this kind of question; do they ask these questions about controlling their child's consumption of books? Watching video? Their time spent playing outside? With any happy, healthy lifestyle, balance is always paramount, and I would advocate balance between all of these valuable ways to spend time in recreation. I encourage balancing active recreational activities with passive recreational activities, ie reading books balanced with watching video, playing video games in the 'virtual world' balanced with playing outside or the 'real world'.

What games do you play?

I am personally not keen on multiplayer games, perhaps a sign of my age, as I rarely encounter any students who have a similar predilection. I engage in video games in a similar way to that of other forms of media like books and films and, as such I like my games to be very strongly story driven, with a powerful narrative elements, utilising a single player format with a preference towards action adventure games. A list of my favourite games would indicate a very strong bias towards this genre eg Zelda, Uncharted, Half-life, Tomb Raider, Skyrim, The Witcher, Assassin's Creed, Bioshock, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Batman Arkham, Shadow of Mordor, Uncharted... there are many more!

Don't games sap a child's imagination?

I have yet to encounter any authoritative research that makes this case, although I would say it is unfair to expect a genre like gaming to provide exactly the same kind of cognitive experience as that of other forms of media, which is why I strongly advocate for children to engage with many different types of media as a part of their recreational life. My question in response to this is, do you ask the same question of the other active recreational pursuits such as football, skiing, tennis, swimming et cetera? Do you believe participating in sports 'takes away' imagination? Do you believe this is a relevant question to pose in the context of these kinds of active pursuits? I do not believe they are. I do not believe that active pursuits like sport and gaming are pursuits within which you can expect ‘imagination’ to be engaged in the same way as it is when someone is, for example, writing a story or constructing a narrative in their heads as they are reading a book.

Why do games always involve shooting, fighting, conflict, etc?

I think the answer to this is simple, although you may not like it… conflict is a core element of any media narrative, and it takes many forms, some of which will be shooting, some fighting, almost all of which ultimately result in some form of victory or loss. Again I appeal to a comparison with other active forms of recreation; do you really think anyone would enjoy playing a sport where there was no rivalry? no winner or loser? Even if this is you losing against your previous performance? I doubt it very much, this appears to be very much a part of the human condition. I think you would struggle to find a great story in History that does not require conflict to be a major theme, again please let us not single out games the criticism in this area, but let us subject all forms of media to the same scrutiny. So a better question would be, why do books, films, always contain conflict? I think that is a question for a psychologist.

"Conflict is the essence of drama and all literary fiction requires drama to please the reader and to succeed as a story. At the story core, conflict is the momentum of happening and change and is crucial on all levels for delivering information and building characterization. Conflict is the source of change that engages a reader, and in a story, conflict and action does what description and telling of feelings and situations do not."

​Is TF2 ​[Fortnite/Team Fortress 2/Overwatch et al] ​appropriate for 12 year old child?

I believe that ​it is,​​ as it falls​ into the category ​that​ I ​describe as ​"​cops and robbers" ​games, ​or​ ​"wild west" ​violence where there is​ a great deal of​ shooting, ​but there is ​little or no blood. In this game the entire ​arena is cartoonish and certainly not photo realistic.​ Regardless of your personal qualms, I think you need to accept that, especially for boys/men, shooting is inherently fun; whether that is paintball, archery, airgun pellets shooting cans off walls, or peashooters, there seems to be something built into the human psyche that finds this fun. I know I do!

This is of course also a parenting choice, and you would need to make a choice that is consistent with your advice to your child in other forms of media; so if you do decide that this level of violence is inappropriate your child, you should also ensure that you are consistent in this standard across the other forms of media that your child enjoys, specifically the books to read and the videos they view.​ Finally, whenever these questions arise it is a good idea to consult websites like those I've listed below to get parental reviews and other parental opinions. Also look at game footage in YouTube so that you can see yourself how the game plays in terms of the appropriateness of the content.

Which console do you recommend for kids below 10?

I'm conscious that as my current console is a PS4 so my recent experience with games is oriented to that platform, added to which, my own kids are now much older, so my awareness of games is more attuned to older gamers. All of that said...

The most obvious choice is the Wii U, or the Nintendo Switch (which has parental controls) the most 'family' oriented console.

Unfortunately many families buy the console, and then fail to buy the best games for it. So whatever you do, don't fall games that 'look' good, only go for games that also have an excellent reputation. How? Using sites like:

For example, my search for games for an 8 year old brings up:

I'd stick with only 4-5 star reviews. Even then, once I'd found a game that looks appropriate, I'd cross reference it with other sites like Metacritic to make sure it really is as good as they say. For example everybodyplays recommends Yoshi's Woolly World, with 5/5, metacritic says 75/100 - that's still pretty impressive, so assuming you like the sound of the game, go for it.

For whole family fun, it's hard to beat Mario Kart, but Nintendo in particular have always been good at catering to 4 at once, more than that is difficult, as long as you have a big TV!

You'll notice that if you do the same searches for games on the PS4 there will be far fewer titles, but no matter your console choice there will be something that fits. Also bear in mind that there are games that are not designed for kids, but that kids would still love although they'd need help from mum or dad to play it, on the PS4 that includes games like Journey, Flow, Fez, Flower ...

To sum up - compare game reviews for parents with other game review sites, I'd recommend these 3:

How do you teach your children not to play games during class/homework? What if they always get distracted because the game is so good?

This is not really a question about video gaming, it is more question about parenting, and it is not really a new problem. As long as there have been activities that are preferable to other activities there are always tensions between parents and their children in terms of managing these temptations.

The alternative could be an attractive girl/boy, best friends, new bicycle, even climbing a tree, most of these things would be preferable to doing homework, it just happens that video games have been added to the tempting list. As with all of these distractions you will need to work out reasonable compromises with your children that involve them committing to a certain in amount of time on the thing they don't want to do before you give them time to do the things they would rather do.​..

What if they start playing with strangers on a server?

What if they start playing with strangers in a playground? Again there is no need to select video games servers for special treatment, all a video game server is is a digital version of a playground, in this regard is subject to the same kinds of opportunities and challenges as​ a​ ​'​real-world​'​ playground.​ With the possible exception of the fact that in a digital playground they cannot actually be physically hurt, although the possibility of the emotional trauma due to emotional abuse is just as likely if not more so, if the server is not supervised or moderated.​

As long as you keep in mind this consistency in terms of an analogy you should do well, because the same expectations apply. Your child should make responsible choices about the spaces they choose to play in. If they find that there are people in that space who not playing nicely they should politely asked them to stop, if they do not do so, then they should report the behaviour to a moderator (the kids call these 'mods', the equivalent of playground supervision) then they should leave and play somewhere else. There are many online servers available for multiplayer gaming, many are designed specifically for adults, but they also exist for children. Of course the kind of behaviour tolerated in an adult server will be very different to that on a server set up for children, just as you would expect if your child attended an adult football game, compared to a local children's playground. It is generally the case that kids are aware of a range of servers (digital playgrounds) that they use, and in my experience they are generally quite adept at making responsible choices, after all no one really wants to play in an environment that is abusive or aggressive.

My son wants to play a game called 'Uncharted 4'. I looked it up on the sites you suggested, and have mixed feelings... 

I am open to other possibilities, but would also want him to try out more appropriate educational strategy games. You mentioned the Legend of Zelda, but it looks like that this is not available on PS4. So, long story short, may I trouble to ask you:
- whether you have a view of the game- whether Zelda is indeed not available on PS4- what games you would propose a 13 years old former Eragon reader looks into

The Uncharted series are absolutely outstanding, so if he is going to play it, he should really start at beginning, the first 3 games can be downloaded from the PlayStation Network Uncharted: 'The Nathan Drake Collection'. As for appropriateness, there's no swearing, violence is of the 'cops and robbers' variety, ie not gratuitous. Again, commonsense media's rating is not much use, but the parent reviews are, I would wholeheartedly agree with this assessment:

"This game contains 3 amazing adventures that have won tons of awards. My 10 year old nephew plays and loves this game. There is no sex and language is occasional and mild. Violence is cinematic. In the second game, the opening scene shows protagonist on a hanging train off an exploded track. He has blood on his chest and his face. Blood splattering isn't present. Most of the game is spent scaling cliffs and hand to hand combat. Guns are an option but it is nonviolent and non bloody. The game is like an adventure movie with tons of action. It is similar to Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider. 10-11+ depending on how protective you are."

The actual review from commonsense is useful, as long as you rely on that, and not on their rating, I’d say it’s fine for kids aged 10+:

"Parents need to know that Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection is a compilation of three third-person-shooter games starring charismatic treasure hunter Nathan Drake. Play comprises a mix of exploration, puzzle solving, and frenetic melee combat and firefights. Nathan uses a variety of weapons to shoot and kill hundreds of ill-meaning human enemies over the course of all three games, rarely expressing remorse over his actions. He's also a very likeable guy who generally tries to do right by his friends and those he cares about. His romantic relationships, while an important part of the narrative, result in nothing more physical than kissing and a bit of innuendo. Light profanity occurs occasionally in dialogue, and a major character is fond of cigars."

So if you'd allow your son to watch an Indiana Jones film, or even James Bond, and allow him to read Eragon, then I don't see why you'd say no to this. If you're still unsure have a look at some gameplay footage on YouTube, watch it with your son, and have an honest conversation about it, tell him your concerns, and encourage him to reassure you ... if he can!

Yes, as you are correct, the Zelda series of games are exclusive to Nintendo, they are so good that it is common for people to purchase the Switch, just so they can play those games, I did! to be fair the same is true of the Uncharted series, a Playstation exclusive.

The Zelda games were/are such a such an industry defining tour de force, that they have had a massive influence on pretty much all the 3D action adventure role playing games that followed, none that can match the originals, but even close is amazing.

Games that emulate the genius of the Zelda games - exploration, puzzles, boss fights, story, epic scale, legendary status, 'good' central hero, 'puzzle box' level design, ... are:
  • Beyond Good and Evil
  • Okami
  • Darksiders
  • Portal 2
Unfortunately all only on the PS3! There are rumours that Sony are going to enable the PS4 to play PS3 games, we await with baited breath!

But all's not lost, there are still many great games that employ similar game mechanics to the Zelda games on the PS4, unfortunately a few of them are not appropriate for Grade 7 students to play, (like The Witcher, and Dark Souls)... But I would recommend the following, 3rd person action/adventure games:

  • Breath of the Wild
  • Any of the 3D Mario games
  • All the Batman games, Arkham Knight et al.
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition
  • Ratchet & Clank
  • Any Assassin's Creed game, but especially Black Flag IV (you can turn blood off in settings)
  • Tomb Raider
A page dedicated to the issues and research the related to playing video games, and the presentation I use for parent workshops is available here

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