Geeks, I am like most of you and have been gaming since a young age. My first system was an Atari 2600 and the first game I played was Kings Quest back on my father’s IBM computer. Yes, I’m aging myself there, but I can remember every system and game changing moment in my life. There were highs and lows, but mostly highs. At one point I even considered myself a hard-core gamer and then I got married and had two great kids. Now that my oldest is ten and my youngest is five, I have the joy of sharing my knowledge of the geek arts with them. Most importantly: Video Games.
This is what brings me to this article today; what is the appropriate age to let your children start enjoying the wonderful world of video games. For myself, I decided five years old would be the earliest. Now, I’m not saying to throw LEGO games and other games like this at your Kindergartner and keep them locked up in the house. I’m merely suggesting maybe something like allowing the use of a Leap Pad to start or other educational systems like this. With the technology we have today, kids are learning more from electronic interaction than we did watching Sesame Street. I only say this from my point of view and observation. My five year old son is autistic and home schooled, and he is learning a lot, even with his learning disabilities. Since we have introduced him to a Leap Pad he has enjoyed and soaked up more knowledge at a quicker rate than he does solely in his Kindergarten teachings. He is learning while playing with games like Transformers which is teaching him about Science and weather. He is picking up a lot of great things including how to properly use an electronic device. It has opened a whole new world of learning for him. and I feel many children with certain learning disabilities could do just as well with electronic hand-held gaming systems – as long as they are educational in nature. These devices can help young children with perception skills, cognitive ability, hand-eye coordination and reasoning/deduction skills.
From personal experience, games like LEGO, Skylanders and Infinity, I felt a good age for introduction would be as early as six-seven years old. I have always played games in front of my kids but my wife’s rule is NO violent games in front of them. So instead, I started playing LEGO games as a compromise. One day, my oldest was watching me play LEGO Star Wars, and she seemed interested in playing with me. At first, she struggled and the learning curve was possibly a little harder for her than it would be for adults. Eventually, she did pick it up and is now enjoying many others like Disney’s Infinity and more challenging ones like Zoo Tycoon. Her interests are varied and she’s begun to show passion in game development. I love this about my kids – the fact that we all can sit around and play a video game together and work not only as a team but we are building a stronger family foundation. Quality time, people, we have something in common to do together as a family.
What do most people out there think when you say your kid is a Jr. gamer? I believe when society thinks of kids playing video games they jump to the conclusion that all gaming parents allow our children to play Call of Duty, Battlefield, Grand Theft Auto, and other ‘M’ rated titles. Of course there are parents out there who do not read the warning labels or take the time to play the actual games with their children. I believe some of this is due to the lack of educating themselves with the ESRB ratings and just purchasing whatever their kids ask for. When I was a Manager for a local gaming store, I couldn’t tell you how many times I had to educate parents on what games like COD, GTA and God of War were before they bought a copy and took it home just to find out how adult the game was. When I took the time out to explain the ratings before-hand, at least 90% of the parents would thank me and my staff and then buy their child an age appropriate game.
Are all ‘M’ rated games inappropriate for the tween/teen audience? No. Just take Halo; this is a series that has had a mature rating since Combat Evolved. There is violence, yes, but does it deserve an ‘M’ rating? NO! You are fighting aliens but the blood/gore level is low. Truthfully, I have seen movies that are PG-13 that are more violent than Halo. The point being, taking the time to educate yourself is the first step to helping over come the stigma of video game violence.
Society and the media tend to depict video games as the reason for real life violence. This goes all the way back to Columbine, where it was stated by the media that the two gunmen were heavily influenced by games like GTA. Should the media blame everything a teen or child does on what games they play at home? How about looking at the parents and the parenting style/environment in which the child was raised. How a child is treated at home and at school also forms their psyche. It’s not entirely the gaming industry’s fault, like others my age, we have been gaming for the better part of our youth and adulthood, but it is not only our generation that kills.
As parents, I feel we have an obligation to teach our children about right and wrong, but this shouldn’t keep you from letting your children enjoying/playing age appropriate games. We have the responsibility to educate our children as to what games they are allowed to play, and when they can pick up and play an ‘M’ rated title, if ever. We also have the obligation to ensure we are not allowing our children to play games too early, and make sure that we are participating and involved every step of the way.
To help those of you on the hunt for games appropriate for your children, here is my list of 10 titles that you may enjoy playing with them on game night (click on the products for more info):
- Disney’s Infinity
- LEGO Marvel Superheroes
- LEGO DC Superheroes Unite
- Rock Band
- Zoo Tycoon
- Angry Birds
- Just Dance
- Young Justice Legacy
Thanks for reading, and happy gaming!