Raising Richmond: Kids and video games

The dads weigh in again (*cough*finally*cough) on an issue quite specific to this generation of parents: Yes or no to video games?

Editor’s note: Today’s feature is the newest installment of our parenting column written by two sets of Richmonders: Jorge and Patience Salgado (veteran parents of four gorgeous children), and Ross and Valerie Catrow (parenting rookies who have only been doing this “raising a child thing” for a little while). Check back fortnightly to watch them discuss/agree/disagree/throw down over all kinds of parenting issues, Richmond-related and beyond.

The dads weigh in again with today’s question: Do you (or will you) let your kids play video games?

The Salgados

I don’t think video games are good for kids. I don’t think they’re bad for kids either. Video games are fun, and just like anything else in life, they need to be done in moderation. I’ve never been a true video game geek, but my techie heart has always wanted the newest technology that was around. Commodore, Atari, Sega, and Nintendo… I’ve had them all. They usually were played for about a month before I moved on to other things. My boys… well, that’s a different story.

Josiah (our oldest) started on the family computer at a very early age. By the time he was two, he was clicking here and there on the toddler video games that I had bought and installed for him. My geek heart overjoyed at my little boy’s mastery of the computer. Jackson followed his brother’s steps and has become very proficient on the computer as well. Fast forward to today and (like many kids out there) these guys are a bit obsessed with their video games.

So how have we managed the obsession? Well for starters, there is no video game playing during the school week. NONE. The kids already come home with homework, then there’s dinner, baths, family time, and reading time. The very nature of our busy lives helps from them getting on their games. And once spring rolls around, we’ll be spending more time outdoors.

However, the weekends are a little tougher to manage. Everyone in the family is looking to decompress and relax after a long week, and we do let the kids blow off some steam by playing their games. And if you don’t know, a lot of the video games these days require a major time investment. Role playing games like Zelda are a prime example, and the kids can get sucked in and be on there for hours if we are not careful. So to balance the video games, we add “outdoor” time to make sure we all get out of the house. Books are also a must during the weekend, and art activities and Lego building help redirect the focus from video games.

I know some parents do not allow any type of video games, but, on the flip side, some claim it helps with motor skills and coordination. I just want our kids to have a balanced life. With moderation, letting them play video games is just one more part of our kids’ childhood.

The Catrows

My people, I have a long long history of playing the crap out of some video games. Prepare yourselves — what follows is a listing of every console I’ve owned in my (nearly) thirty years: Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis*, Nintendo 64, Nintendo Game Cube, Gameboy Advance, Gameboy Advance SP, PlayStation 2, XBOX, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS Lite**, and XBOX360. I also spent a good portion of my life playing PC games until I gave up on continually buying new video cards.

I’ve played all kinds of games: death-killer shoot ’em ups, terrifying horror adventures, rhythmic button mashers, unclassifiably weird experiments, and Grand Theft Auto***. And yeah, I may have killed a prostitute after banging her in Buick behind a building — because that’s just what you do in GTA.

So, as you might have guessed, I am terribly pro-video games for our son JR. Sharing one of my favorite hobbies with him is something I am really looking forward to. Of course, as with anything, I have a couple of responsibilities as a parent — even more so as the subject matter expert in our family. I will list these responsibilities with violent-behavior-inducing bullets:

  • Know what your kids can handle
  • Know what your kids are playing and understand the rating system
  • Don’t freak out

Every kid is different and you/me as the parent are the only ones who can yadda yadda yadda etc. Now, there is no way I’ll let JR play a Grand Theft Auto game when he’s nine, but when he’s 16? Maybe? Basically this is my ultimate rule: if you feel like your young padawan can handle it, ahead full impulse.

But, you really really need to know about the content your kid is consuming. All video games have a handy rating system on the front of the box. The ratings, provided by the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board), range from E (for everyone) to MA (mature). There is an AO (adults only) rating which you don’t see a lot of, if any — kind of like how an NC-17 rating for movies is almost nonexistent. The rating system is there to be a GUIDE for parents, not the the Ten Commandments handed down by God himself. Using the aforementioned knowledge of your child you should treat each game individually using YOUR INTELLECT.

A good example is The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess — the newest Zelda game for the Nintendo Wii. Twilight Princess has a “T” (teen) rating for “Animated Blood, Fantasy Violence.” I would totally let my (hypothetical) ten-year-old play this game. I’ve played it in its entirety, and what we’re talking about here is tantamount to swashbuckling. Picture Captain Jack Sparrow in a Robin Hood outfit, but instead of battling the lousy British, it’s, like, giant pigs.

But, all of the new Castlevania games are rated T — and these probably deserve it — for “Blood and Gore, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence.” Most iterations of Castlevania have the hero exploring an eerie (no seriously, Castlevania 2 freaked/s me the eff out) universe while staking vampires in the heart and using a whip to dispatch various ghouls. Definitely T-worthy stuff.

Like I said though, don’t freak out, overreact, and banish video games from your house. They’re just media — like books, movies, and TV. They aren’t innately bad, and a lot of times have actual artistic worth. Katamari Damacy is a great example of a game (rated E) that is like playing a piece of art. I’m not kidding, it’s wonderful.

It’s a lot of work, being a parent. Even a guy like me can’t be expected to know everything about every video game — but now, in the AGE OF INFORMATION, we’ve got a lot of resources. The best thing you can do when your child wants to play the newest Death Crusher Avengers game, aside from avoiding the typical main stream media overreaction to games and gamers, is to watch the trailers and gameplay footage. This will do two things, 1) the trailer will let you get a feel for how the game makers have decided to market their game and 2) the gameplay footage will show you what actually takes place in game. Both are useful in deciding if something is age appropriate.

If after ratings, trailers, and gameplay footage you still can’t decide you can always ask someone you trust that’s been playing video games their entire lives — I’m sure you know a few. Or you could just ask me!****

* Listen, I had a Sega Genesis and I AM OK WITH THAT. I know, SNES is the Zeus of all consoles, or whatever. I’m sorry, but SONIC!
** Nintendo really sticks it to you with those handhelds, don’t they? I’ve owned four Nintendo handhelds in my adult life. Sigh.
*** For some examples of these, off the top of my head, in order: Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Silent Hill 2, Frequency, and Warioware.
**** No seriously, ross@rvanews.com. I’d love to help.

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Jorge Salgado

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