To hear parents tell it, the Genius Zone perfect video game is educational, provides small life lessons, strengthens hand-eye coordination, and keeps the kids entertained for roughly 30 minutes at a time. Listening to kids, however, it appears that educational qualities rank far below the needs for speed, action, rad moves, and great weapons. It is hard to believe that games fulfill the requirements hoped for by both parents and kids.
Parents should always take the time to play the games alongside their kids; the only problem with using this approach to picking video games is that the game is already in the house and the money spent. Opened games are rarely returnable, and once they are in the house and their hot little hands, kids will not let go of games without a lot of arguing, complaining, and upset. Thus, making an informed decision before bringing the games home is a must!
So how does a parent go about picking out a video game for the children to play? Reading the back of the cover is unlikely to present a lot of information. In contrast, the buzz on the Internet can be so forbiddingly filled with insider lingo that it is hard to discern if the game is appropriate, too violent, or perhaps even contains objectionable content.
At the same time, simply because a game is viral and the evening news shows long lines of consumers waiting outside the stores for them to go on sale does not mean that it offers the kind of gameplay the parent wants to invite into the home. Fortunately, there are five simple steps to picking video games both parents and their kids will love. These steps are not complicated, require a minimum of effort, and are rather reliable.
1. Check the ESRB Rating
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) developed a rating system that ranks game content according to age appropriateness. The ratings are “EC,” “E,” “E 10+,” “T,” “M,” “AO,” and “RP.”
Games designated with an “EC” are educational and fun for preschoolers and young grade-schoolers. An “E” notes that the games are appropriate for all players, and while preschoolers might have more of a learning curve to get the gameplay right, there is no objectionable content. Look out for games rated with an “E 10+” since these games are reserved for kids older than 10. Some mild language is usually incorporated into the game.
A game rated “T” is reserved for teens, and parents should know that violence, sexual innuendo, partial nudity, and curse words are par for the course. “M” for mature indicates games for those over 17, and the blood, guts, gore, and sex are legendary in these games. Upping the ante are games marked “AO” or adults only, as they are “M” squared. An “RP” rating means that a rating is pending, and parents should hold off on buying the game until the rating has been apportioned.
2. Read the ESRB Content Descriptors
Since preschoolers and grade-schoolers cannot simply be pigeonholed into age brackets but should be much further differentiated by their maturity levels, parents will be wise to read the ESRB content descriptions on the backs of the video game packets. They list potentially objectionable content.
For example, “animated blood” refers to purple, green, or other kinds of unrealistic blood that may be shown during gameplay. In contrast, a listing of “blood” is an indicator that realistically depicts blood as part of the gameplay. Children susceptible to blood may not enjoy playing these games, even if rated for their age brackets.
3. Understand the Classifications When Shopping For Older Kids
Parents who have braved the age-appropriate ratings and made it through reading the descriptions may now be stumped by a further classification: the kind of game-play their kids may expect. Older kids may like “FPS” (First Person Shooter) games that put them into the action from a first-person perspective, rather than seeing the character they are controlling doing the actions — which is the case in “TPS” (Third Person Shooter) games. In addition, some games are classified by the kinds of content that provide the storyline, such as vehicle simulation games, strategy games, or sports and puzzle games. Shooter games are the most violent, while strategy games are perhaps the most educational. Puzzle games require strategic thinking but do not offer a lot of action moves that appeal to teens.
4. Visit the Game Platform Manufacturer Website
Parents may visit the website for the gadget that will ultimately allow the kids to play video games. This may be the website for PlayStation, GameCube, Nintendo, Xbox, and a host of sub-platforms. The companies list the video games made for them, their ratings, and post trailers, screenshots, and brief outlines of the actual game itself.
Although such a website does not offer an in-depth and unbiased analysis of the game, it is a rather useful tool for getting a good feel about gameplay and content without relying solely on a rating, the back of a package, or the marketing efforts.
5. Check with Organizations That Offer Independent Game Evaluations
Various organizations are not tied in with the video game industry and still offer advice to parents. Some groups focus on the educational aspects, while others are faith-based and review the games from this angle. Find a group that meets your personal criteria and peruse the reviews on various games you consider for your kids.
One of the most well-known groups is the Entertainment Consumers Association that offers insight into the industry and the games. Parents who want more detailed information about the games they are considering will do well to visit the forums and websites of such groups and learn from other parents whose kids might already be playing these games.
Since these are interactive forums, parents have the unique ability actually to ask questions of other parents. If there is a particular concern about a game, this is the venue to get more information.
If All Else Fails
Of course, if all else fails, there is the old fallback on the classic games and characters. Crash Bandicoot, Mario, Spyro, and Pokémon are game characters that have been around for a while and in a host of incarnations. Even as some of these games’ educational value is debatable, they offer rip-roaring fun, rad moves, and most certainly the entertainment value the kids appreciate most. At the same time, they eschew foul language, nudity, and explicit violence parents object to.
Parents in a time crunch or those who cannot find a game that meets their standards will usually find a winner in these genres. Moreover, since they are part and parcel of a popular series, parents and kids can make the buying decisions together. For example, the popular Mario games offer offshoots like “Luigi’s Mansion,” which explores a haunted house, while other offshoots are cart racing games.
Completely different gameplay — yet the same reassuring characters and the same level of appropriateness — make this a premier opportunity for parents and children to agree on the gameplay the kids would like to try out while staying away from potentially objectionable games that offer similar gameplay.