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Age Appropriateness

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My boys are all at camp for a month, and it is the time of the year that my wife and I clean up and organize the house and yard. It has also been a while since I wrote about the latest games, many of which my sons and I have been playing over the last few months. These include Watch Dogs, Wolfenstein: The New Order and Disney Infinity. I finished the main campaign of Watch Dogs last week and Wolfenstein a few days ago and enjoyed both.

Watch Dogs has a few sections that definitely earn the game its Mature (M) rating. Often games end up with this rating and you wonder why – take the Halo series, for example. The violence is slightly gory in an otherworldly sense, but when compared to other games, films and television and cable series it seems rather tame. There is no foul language and no sex.

There are games like the Grand Theft Auto series that earn their M ratings with pride. Practically every minute of the game is filled with language and actions that are inappropriate for younger players. But these games are the exception, not the rule. Most fall somewhere in between and require responsible parents to make a decision, black flagging certain games because you don’t have the time to examine their content read the reviews and watch the previews or better yet, try them yourself.

Many games on the market today fall on the border of what tweens should be comfortable with. Of course, this greatly depends on the tweens in question. My own sons, who are 11 and 13 years old, are not in a rush to mature (and who can blame them), yet show interest in certain types of content but not others. As I am sure is common at their ages, the excitement of battle is thrilling, but sexual content is unappealing and scary.

Language is another matter. My kids typically do not swear – at least not when I am in earshot. Although we are far from saints with our language, we do not encourage or abide by our children expressing themselves using language inappropriate to their surroundings.

To those of you who are under the impression that modern video games expose this generation to language rougher than that to which we were exposed as kids, I have a wake up call. Select your favorite comedy film from the 1980s, say Ghostbusters, Trading PlacesAirplane or Short Circuit, and watch an unedited (uncensored for broadcast television) version. You will be surprised how many commonly bleeped words are used, not to mention the casual references to oral sex acts and the like. I don’t know about your parenting style, but I would rather reassure my child who might be frightened by a video game monster than explain what the stewardess in Airplane is doing to the “auto pilot.”

This is why in the case of games such as Dead Rising 3 and Watch Dogs parents must be extra vigilant. You might think that hacking and fighting bad guys is fine or that mowing down zombie hoards is so far from reality that it seems fine, but keep in mind that these games contain scenes that make it pretty clear why they earned their M rating. In Watch Dogs it is more implied than explicit, but in the case of Dead Rising, the side missions where you fight the psychopaths present a who’s who of perversions that would make the hillbillies of Deliverance blush.

Now, I have read some complaints about Watch Dogs being a bit of a disappointment and not living up to its hype. It’s an engaging game with a large sandbox and a few new ideas, but I would agree it’s not the groundbreaking next-gen stunner that it was purported to be. I am still holding out hope that Tom Clancy’s The Division will be that game.

I doubt that many had high expectations for the reboot of the Wolfenstein series, and it fared better in reviews as a result. It’s old-style carnage fun brought up to today’s graphic and gameplay standards. It’s hard not to enjoy this game, but again it’s not for all audiences.

My kids are at that pivotal moment where they are interested in games and films that are more adult than what they are used to but still welcome playing games that aim squarely at a younger audience. I am not in a rush for them to move from this spot as with the broadening of their horizons comes a loss of innocence that cannot be regained. Watch Dogs, meet Disney Infinity.

I will leave you with a new video from this year’s E3 highlighting the developments in The Division as well as the other game that I am greatly looking forward to, Far Cry 4. Both look stunning.

Rape Jokes, Sexism, Parenting and Gaming

I was alerted to an article by Rebecca Greenfield in The Atlantic Wire entitled “The Rape ‘Joke’ at Microsoft’s E3 Reveal Is a Bigger Deal Than Another Bad ‘Joke’” which alleges that:

“… a Microsoft presenter slipped an apparent rape reference into a Monday presentation at Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, the biggest video-game conference of the year. During a demo of Killer Instinct to drum up excitement for its new Xbox One, Microsoft brought out a man and a woman to battle it out on the big screen onstage in Los Angeles. In this scripted event the man, of course, kicks the woman’s ass at the fighting game. “I can’t even block correctly and you’re too fast,” she says, playing a video game like a girl. But even more problematic than those stereotypical gender roles was the part when her adversary said this: “Just let it happen. It will be over soon.” You know, like a rape: The audience chuckled. “Wow, you like this,” the man continues, as he beats the virtual woman. And the woman, much like someone being sexually assaulted, replies: “No, I don’t like this.”

The sentiment was echoed by Chenda Ngak at CBS in “E3 audience offended by “rape joke” at Microsoft Xbox One event“. While it is true that as Greenfield puts it, “Perhaps more than any segment of the technology industry, gamer culture has had its fair share of sexism problems…,” I am getting mixed reactions as to where this incident lands on that spectrum. The non-gamers I have shown this to report seeing at least the sexual innuendo – and were somewhat rocked by the “just let it happen” comment. But if you read the comments in reaction to the CBS piece, you will see that many readers do not seem to think this was a rape reference or even sexist. The one thing that is undoubtedly true: the players in this demo were not evenly matched – the man was one of the producers of the game, clearly more skilled at the fighting techniques and using a special controller and the woman was a Microsoft presenter with a standard controller and a totally different charge – to help highlight the extended features of the game. Let me know where you come out on this. Please cast your vote after watching the video.

But the overarching point is not lost. Traditionally, female characters wear skimpy clothing and feature exaggerated body parts to make them more alluring. In the past the industry put emphasis on strong male characters who were almost always the stars of the game. But I think it does the entire gaming world a huge disservice to pretend that things have not changed and that the rampant sexism of the past is present in most games today.

Yes, female characters still feature exaggerated bodies and often wear sexy outfits, but the male characters are equally exaggerated and unrealistic, representing a non-existent super male. Let’s face it, at least some gaming is about fantasy and stepping out of your life into a more exciting role for a time sells. No question, this was a male-dominated market at first, but the number of female gamers has increased steadily and now account for nearly half of the total market. Wikipedia has interesting further detail under the topic Women and video games.

Of course there are limits, and good taste and social responsibility dictate these, and today most of the huge game developers take great care in where they draw the lines. I applaud Bioware, for instance, for enabling players to create Mass Effect’s main character as a male or female and allowing the user to determine (for the most part) the character’s body type and style. Many games feature equally balanced male and female characters like the Borderlands games for example or the new Fuse, but these limit the customization available to varying degrees.

In any case, the look of the characters is only part of the equation, what happens to them conveys the most important message and there are plenty of games today that seem to seek a balanced approach and not send the messages that so many find offensive. Careful game selection is critical. This is especially true when you are a parent of young gamers. As a father of three young boys, all of whom play a wide variety of games, I make it a point to research each game and in many cases play the games with them. I often choose to play female characters part of the time which my sons don’t understand. As they are a still too young to have real interest in girls, their unanimous preference is to play only as male characters.

But only part of the gaming experience is controlled by the developers. The online community plays a huge role in shaping the experience. Much like the variety of people who make up the game companies, the online gaming community includes all sorts of people with varied degrees of education, experience and enlightenment. One does not need to look very far to find racism, homophobia and sexism. Unfortunately, these are the realities of our society and their presence in the gaming communities only shows how accurately the gaming world reflects today’s different cultures, in the United States and abroad.

The importance of sending the correct message about healthy relationships and how to treat all human beings does not come from video games, it comes from parents. What you say and how you react to things that your children see and hear while playing video games, or watching television or films greatly affects how they process that information.

You may question – why am I talking about this on Father’s Day? Because the day is not just about giving gifts to dad. As fathers, the greatest gift we can give our children is the ability to have and sustain healthy, mature relationships, built on respect and trust. I firmly believe that talking about the problem and educating about healthy relationships can reduce the violence and protect our children.

NO MORE_STACK_RGBYet, new data from a NO MORE survey (sponsored by the Avon Foundation for Women) shows that these conversations are not happening. Three out of 4 men in this country say they have NOT talked about domestic violence or sexual assault with their children. That is why I am supporting a new effort, called NO MORE, to break through the silence surrounding these problems and get men talking about the issue.

I recognize that starting this conversation is extremely difficult; knowing what to say may be even harder. That is why there are resources you can use to make the conversation meaningful. These include information from Loveisrespect.org, Futures Without Violence and Break the Cycle. Get resources on talking to sons about healthy masculinity from Men Can Stop Rape and A CALL TO MEN. You can learn more about these organizations and many others at www.nomore.org.

This Father’s Day, decide to make teaching your children about healthy relationships part of your mission as a father. Remind yourself that this is what it looks like to end domestic violence and sexual assault. It looks like everyday people, standing up and saying NO MORE. Join me, and teach your sons and daughters to do the same.

Please also see my earlier post about NO MORE and view the public service announcement.

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