Video Games 101: What Parents Need to Know Sep24


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Video Games 101: What Parents Need to Know

Photo by Pawel Kadysz on Unsplash.

Many parents are concerned with what games they should allow their children to play. We’ve been asked by parents or grandparents to define age limits for specific games or give recommendations that would make good gifts. We love that these people are reaching out because they want to show interest in what their kids are doing! However, we encourage guardians to consider that these are the wrong questions to be asking.

First, the video game market is so wide and so varied, if you ask, “What game will my kid like, one that’s appropriate for her age?” you’ll receive one hundred answers from one hundred different people. (And you’ll receive a lot more questions, such as “What system does he have?” and “What genres does she like?” But we’ll get more into that later.) Second, people have different sensibilities and preferences. A game I loved at 10 years old might not be appropriate for another 10-year-old, because they may be more or less sensitive to certain themes than I am. Or, they may just not like the type of games I did at that age.

Just like attending a child’s soccer game, going to their music recital, or reading a book together, engaging with children in their hobbies is an encouragement, and video games are no exception. So, if you know little about gaming but want to be involved in your child’s hobby or to get them a present that they’ll love (but that won’t give them gory nightmares or cause addiction), how do you do it?

Step 1: Understand Systems

There are a variety of systems, or consoles, that games can be played on, mainly by these brands: Nintendo (e.g. 3DS, Wii, WiiU, Switch), Microsoft (e.g. Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Windows computers), and Sony (PlayStation, PlayStation 2, 3, and 4). Some games can be played across several of them, others are only available for that system. Knowing your child has an “Xbox” isn’t enough to buy them a game for it… you have to know which Xbox they have—the original, which came out in 2001; the Xbox 360, which came out in 2005; or the Xbox One, which came out in 2013. Many games are backwards compatible, which means that if you have an Xbox One, you can probably play games that were made for the previous systems. But it doesn’t work the other way—if you have an original Xbox, you will not be able to play games for the Xbox One. Nintendo complicates things because they’ve been around for so long there are many systems and the Switch, their newest system, is not backwards compatible.

Step 2: Understand Genres

Just like books, there are many varieties of video games. If you know your granddaughter loves science fiction, buying her a western novel might work out as she might enjoy it—but then again, she might not. Or she might not even pick it up because she’s not interested in the genre. Though many games cross multiple genres, here are a few definitions for the basic types:

Action-Adventure: This is a pretty broad category, but includes games that involve a lot of exploring combined with action and story, sometimes with puzzle-solving thrown in.

Examples: The Last of Us, BioShock, The Legend of Zelda

Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMO): This is an online game with hundreds to thousands of players exploring the game world and completing quests at once.

Examples: World of Warcraft, Black Desert Online, Guild Wars

Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA): A player controls one hero as a part of a team, with the object of destroying the other team’s main structure.

Examples: League of Legends, DOTA, Smite

Platformer: A game style where players jump between suspended platforms, avoiding obstacles or fighting enemies.

Examples: Super Mario Bros., Shovel Knight, Little Big Planet

Puzzle: Players solve puzzles, sometimes as a part of an overarching narrative.

Examples: Portal, The Witness, Myst

Racing: Players race cars (or other craft) against each other.

Examples: Mario Kart, Need for Speed, Star Wars Episode I: Racer

Real-Time Strategy (RTS): Players control many entities, usually entire armies, managing everything from food procurement to weapons advancements and other upgrades, in order to complete missions or defeat each other.

Examples: Age of Empires, StarCraft, Company of Heroes

Role-Playing Game (RPG): Story-based games where players control characters in a fictional setting, usually sci-fi or fantasy-based.

Examples: Skyrim, Final Fantasy, Fallout

Shooters: Often referred to as FPS (first-person shooter) or TPS (third-person shooter), these games are based on players shooting things, usually each other.

Examples: Overwatch, Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, Fortnite

Sim: These are games that simulate real life, including dating games, flight simulators, farming, and pretty much anything you can think of.

Examples: Harvest Moon; The Sims; Papers, Please  

Sports: Playing sports, but in video game format. Sometimes with a twist, like Rocket League, which is soccer but with rocket-powered cars.

Examples: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Mario Tennis, Rocket League

Turn-Based Strategy (TBS): Similar to real-time strategy as it’s often a strategic war game, except players take turns instead of playing simultaneously. The battles are almost like a game of chess, because you have time to consider your next move.

Examples: Heroes of Might and Magic, Civilization, Endless Space

Step 3: Understand Ratings only go so far

Video games are given ratings by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), which suggests an appropriate age category for the game in question. It gives ratings from E for Everyone, to M for Mature, or even A for Adults Only. Additionally, it provides some content descriptors of subject-matter that may be experienced inside the game, such as violence, alcohol reference, or suggestive themes. You can search their website using a game title to see its rating, or check the game’s packaging.

These ratings are worth knowing about, but are not a catch-all for all children. Nobody knows your child better than you. And while ratings provide a great starting point for guidelines, they should not become the rule for your child.

For example, a game like Rocket League is a surreal sports game where players drive cars around doing stunts and crashes to push a giant soccer ball into the opposing team’s goal. But for a child that has recently been in a traumatizing car accident, it might not be the wisest game for them to play. No rating system will ever be able to tell you that.

Instead, we recommend using the guidelines to start the process of discerning what is and is not appropriate for your child. If you are concerned about video game addiction, this article delves more into that topic. If you are worried about the amount of violence in the media your child is consuming, here is a resource that discusses that further.

Photo by igor_kell / Adobe Stock.

Step 4: Play with Them

Often, when parents are concerned that their child is playing too many video games, the desire behind wanting them to “go outside,” or “come work in the garage,” or “play dolls” is entrenched in wanting a stronger relationship. We want our children to enjoy the things that we enjoy, to do the things that we do, because it makes it easier for us to relate to them and thus forge a deeper connection.

And while there is nothing wrong with wanting to share your interests with your child, if you are truly serious about wanting a strong relationship with them, it might be time to reciprocate. If your child is anything like us, they’re not going to stop loving video games because you force them to read a book instead.

Consider playing a game with your child instead of trying to judge its appropriateness from the outside. If you’re not a gamer, you will probably not be very good at this. The hand-eye coordination required is highly specialized and what seems to come natural to them may be  an incredibly foreign concept to you. Let them teach you! Or, if you cannot play video games for one reason or another, watch. Ask questions. Cheer.

If your child is into dance, music, or sports, do you go to their recitals and sporting events? Do you cheer them on? Do you acquire at least a passing knowledge so that you may encourage them with passion and sincerity? Should video games be any different?

Don’t wait for them to tell you about the vast structures in Minecraft they are planning on building. Don’t wait for them to tell you about how they reached Gold in League of Legends for the first time ever. Ask. If you don’t understand, ask them to explain it to you. Listen. This is the greatest advice we can live to parents who want to understand their child’s passion about gaming, and we’re here if you have any other questions too.

AoE Staff

AoE Staff

Staff Writers at Geekdom House
Several Area of Effect writers contributed to create this article. Either that, or it was Gaius Baltar in Rivendell with the Master Sword.
AoE Staff