Last week I asked, "What's the best age for someone to start playing video games?"
Some say seven is the right age, while others don't think kids should play video games at all. Recently I interviewed two mothers about video games and their children; they each had different opinions. One mom didn't allow consoles in her house, the other said games had a positive impact on her family.
This week, I spoke with two fathers on the subject. See why a gamer dad is uncomfortable with letting his kids see the pain inflicted in "Pain" and how "World of Warcraft" finally made another father put his foot down...
Carlo, 30 year-old creative director at an ad agency from Edison, NJ
Children: Two sons, ages 3 and 5
Systems Owned: VTech, Leapfrog Leapster, PC, DS, PSP, Wii, Xbox 360, PS3
Age OK for Kids to Play Games: Let kids play VTech at ages 2 and 4
Games Allowed to Play: E-rated games
Time Allowed: Up to 3 hours per weekday; more on weekends
Would Never Let Kids Play: "Shooting games with guns, explosions, limbs, blood;" "cartoony" violence
Carlo is a father of two boys, ages three and five. A gamer himself with multiple systems, he's not surprised that his kids are into video games. His sons started playing games at ages two and four with a Vtech learning computer and a Leapfrog Leapster, but they quickly moved onto the Wii. He also has an Xbox 360, which was originally for himself, but then "Lego Star Wars" came into the picture -- it became his younger son's favorite game.
At first, he was concerned about his kid's obsession with the game, but Carlo found it surprising that he was actually able to get through it at only three years old. "We've seen the improvement during the time when he started playing with 'Lego Star Wars'," Carlo said. "Because you have to switch through characters and solve puzzles, and I was like, 'Hey that's not so bad, I'll let him play more!'"
The pair plays about two to three hours a day during the week, usually supervised, as Carlo's wife is a stay-at-home mother. In terms of what they play, it's all E-rated fare -- from "Lego Star Wars" to "Spider-Man Friend or Foe" to "Mario" games. When it comes to buying games, Carlo chooses everything that's bought. "I look at the game's rating, but that would be the last thing that I do." When I asked why, he said, "Well I use it as a reference, but I wouldn't use it for overall decision-making. You still want to check game's content. I try to see first if there's any kind of violence."
More than the ESRB rating, Carlo usually relies on the word of his eight nephews, all gamers. Carlo's 11 year-old nephew seemed particularly savvy about what his kids should play. "It's funny how an 11 year-old would say 'Yeah, that's too violent for them.' It's kind of impressive how kids, even though blood and gore and violence is supposed to be cool, they know what's wrong. He's a smart kid," Carlo said. "But he plays "GTA," which I don't recommend!" he added with a laugh.
While he thinks his sharp-minded nephew may be mature enough to handle "Grand Theft Auto," Carlo won't even let his children play or watch games with "cartoony" violence. He discovered this with the PSN game "Pain" (which is rated "T" for Teen). When his sons walked into the room as he was playing it, Carlo was disturbed by their amusement. "My son walks in, and it's like, I just threw a man in front of a truck and he starts laughing. ... The look on their faces, it wasn't even entertainment; they looked too interested and that kind of worried me. I was like, 'Hmmm, I'm not going to play this again [in front of them].'"
Although "Pain" is intended for people ages 13 and up, there are plenty of TV programs with similar cartoonish violence. I asked Carlo if he thought a game like "Pain" was any different than those. He said, "I think it's worse when you're controlling the violence because you [can intentionally] put a dude in front of a truck. You have the freedom to do it instead of watching a story that's given to you. But even with the 'Spongebob' cartoon I'm like, 'Should they be watching this'?"
In the end, though, Carlo thinks that one day his kids will be mature enough to play more violent games, but just not right now. "It would be too much for them to digest now," he said of M- and T-rated titles. But he likes to give a little more credit to kids than most people do, like his 11 year-old nephew. "Most kids nowadays are smart with what they are exposed to," he said. "They know what's real and not real, but they always need to be supervised of course." Overall, Carlo thinks video games have had a positive effect on his sons -- promoting puzzle-solving, teamwork, sharing and creativity -- as well as society as a whole. "I think it made a lot of our generation who we are today," he said. "[Video games] are creative. It's an artform that opens up new worlds."
Dan, 52 year-old attorney from NJ
Children: Two sons, ages 21 and 16, One daughter age 9
Systems Owned: PC, DS, PSP, Dreamcast, GameCube, PS1, PS2, Wii, Xbox 360
Age OK for Kids to Play Games: "Whenever they were interested in playing"
Games Allowed to Play: Whatever they choose; he trusts their judgment
Time Allowed: At their leisure
Would Never Let Kids Play: Nothing is really off-limits, though it would bother him if they played only "gory" and violent games
Dan's children, two sons ages 16 and 21 and a nine year-old daughter, all play games. "I didn't encourage them or discourage them from playing video games," the 52 year-old father said. "Whenever they were interested in playing we let them play." He's pretty much bought them a console or two from each generation since the late '90s, though he doesn't exactly remember the first games they played.
Dan even thinks that gaming has helped the relationship between his two sons. When they were younger, they didn't get along very well. But when his older son had the GameCube in his bedroom and his younger son owned the PlayStation, the two had to share whenever they wanted to play games on each other's consoles. "We always joke about how it was a really smart decision to give one kid one console and the other one the other," Dan said, laughing. "It's like it erased the sibling rivalry because they had to be friends, and they've been good friends ever since."
As for what they play now, his daughter loves the "Final Fantasy" and "Kingdom Hearts" series, while his sons are currently playing "Mass Effect," "Gears of War" and "Halo 3." "Every time there's a new game they sort of get into it. They don't play any racing games or sports games," he said. I wondered if he was bothered by the violence and gore in some of the games his sons played. "They've played plenty of gory games but it doesn't really bother me because it's not the only thing that they play," he said. "If I saw them just playing only gory games, I'd be so grossed out, I guess I would say something about it. But they tend to play all kinds of games."
I asked Dan how he would feel if his daughter walked into the room during a "Gears of War" gameplay session. "I wouldn't want her hanging around all the gore stuff," he said. "It does get me a little bit, but I wouldn't kick her out, no. But she really isn't that interested in the gory ones, she's more interested in the artsy ones." He added, "It's fantasy violence, and they know the difference. She knows the difference."
When it comes to game purchases, there are anywhere between 10 and 20 bought during the year. Dan and his wife make most of the purchases, and they don't extensively research the games beforehand. "They usually make a list at Hannukah, and we buy them for them. But they'll buy used games on their own," he said. "I don't really stay on top of it. They read a lot of gaming magazines all the time. They review their games in magazines before they purchase them."
Ultimately, Dan trusts his sons' judgment, and they even choose age-appropriate titles for their little sister. "I know their criteria for choosing games is the most interesting visuals, the most interesting story," he explained. "If they were heading towards games that I thought were in the extreme in sex or violence, I would definitely have ground rules. ... But they've never done that. So it's not that I don't care, but their judgment so far has been okay with me."
The same goes for the time spent playing games. "I don't keep track," Dan replied, when I asked him how many hours his kids played. "My daughter doesn't play that much at all. It really depends on when they have free time." He added, "I don't want to be a drill sergeant. ... I think it's good to set limits, but how you do it is a question of taste. I'd rather just get irritated and go upstairs and say 'Okay, you've had too much.' ... It hasn't happened that often."
The one instance it did go too far was with "World of Warcraft" during the summer. His 16 year-old son was playing four or five-hour sessions everyday for about a week, so Dan finally had to put his foot down. "The problem with the game is that it really takes a lot of time and you play with a lot of people. I thought it was becoming obsessive," he said. The result: "He understood and realized it was driving me crazy, so he toned it down. Now he's in school and he has other activities in his life so it wasn't a question of too much 'World of Warcraft' as much as balancing your life out. There's nothing wrong with the game itself or anything... but to spend six hours a day playing the game to me is lopsided."
Overall, Dan appreciates games because his sons appreciate them. While Dan himself rarely picks up a controller, his sons always drag him into the living room to show them what they're playing. His oldest son even made him sit through the entire dialogue of a "Metal Gear Solid" game. "He was trying to make me appreciate that there's a storyline and an artform behind video games when they're done well that older people don't necessarily appreciate," he explained. "I think overall, video games have had a very positive effect on my kids, in terms of social interactions with other kids," he added. "Kids that feel like outsiders are not geeks because they all enjoy the same games. So I think it can be very positive on a social aspect of growing up."
Missed last week's interview with two mothers? Check it out here.