Can you remember your first video game? Mine was Space Invaders played on the basic ATARI console. My second? Donkey Kong – groundbreaking! This was of course some time ago….my kids haven’t even heard of Donkey Kong.
Gaming has come a long way since the early 80s. The technology has become exceptionally sophisticated, and now has some pretty amazing real life qualities. Whether its sports, action or kid’s games, video games today can be pretty immersive and the days of pixels bouncing across the screen like in my adolescence are well and truly gone.
It was my eldest son who introduced me to the wonders (and dangers) of the life-like atmosphere on offer for modern day gamers.
He too has come a long way. First children often develop well before you are prepared. A decade ago, I thought he was still in the land of the Teletubbies where my greatest fear was that he would lose his command of the English language. Not so, wacky cartoons where the enemy was regularly and brutally slain were the order of the day. At this stage he had a toddler brother and a sister on the way and I freely admit, I had become busy and taken my eye off the ball. These days, I’ve found even more diligence is required.
My real wake-up call was when I discovered that despite the fact that games not appropriate for their age groups were banned in my house, not all parents followed the same ethos. The eldest (the same child that thought Dipsy and Tinky Winky were the bees knees many years ago), had a friend over, who brought the new version of a popular combat action type game with him. They dragged the TV and console into his room and all was quiet on the home front. The problems started when I took the elder two off to sport in the afternoon and the aforementioned younger brother decided to have a go on the console while we were out. On returning home I called out to him and on getting no response went over to take a closer look.
Not only was he playing the game his older brother had left in the console, he had the headset on and was involved in a verbal tussle with an anonymous online opponent. Hello – Where did he learn to do that?! When I took over communications, I was treated to a verbal barrage full of expletives from a lad who sounded about twenty and was threatening to hack into the account and destroy me if I didn’t follow his instructions. Game over Sunshine! The television was unplugged at the wall and moved back into a common area, the game confiscated (and returned) and a new set of rules drawn up. I also decided it was time to see exactly what these games were about.
Gaming 101 took some time while I (a geriatric in their world) familiarised myself with the controls and options in their various games. It was hugely enlightening. Only through actually playing the game could I see what was mentally required from someone involved in a first person shooting or driving game. While I marveled at the intricacies of the games themselves – and the manual dexterity of my offspring, it was quickly evident which titles were appropriate for young gamers and which were best left to individuals who were mature enough to differentiate between fantasy and real life.
A driving game I knew we owned, turned out not to be the racetrack scenario I had envisioned, but a game where you could willfully damage property, steal and even earn extra points by evading the law…excellent! Sounds naïve I know, but even reading the back of the case didn’t show me what was involved on an intellectual level or how each child would each respond to the material they were presented with. As part of the ‘educating Mum’ initiative, I also looked up the classification guidelines at:
Having been through it, I can honestly say, that the only way to truly understand what your kids are being exposed to and whether they can differentiate fact from fiction, is to get up close and personal with it. Use classification as a guideline, but even when that gets a tick, see how they react according to their level of maturity and act accordingly.
You may also find that defeating Mum becomes much better sport than slaying a faceless enemy. I call it a sacrifice for the cause…. Happy Gaming!