DISCLAIMER: I'm not an authority on, well, anything so if you are going to comment with parent-rage, please bear in mind that this is my opinion and nothing more.
This time I shall endeavour to not click on my own FAP button, so to speak - that's the plan, anyway. I've recently been involved in the whole "kids who play video games grow up to be psychopaths" debate and as usual it did not end well for me - largely because I don't watch daytime TV and therefore miss out on the "wisdom" of people featured on The Wright Stuff (or the relevant equivalent in your own region).
As a parent (albeit a slightly vacant one most of the time) of three kids of varying ages, I feel I have a little more qualification than some regarding the debate and it does appall me that the majority of mothers I have spoken to (fathers don't tend to be deranged enough to attend toddler groups) think video games are the source of all evil in this world (along with non-organic food and artificial sweeteners). When pressed for their reasons behind such strong opinions, I get variations of the following:
"Well so-and-so in the media (insert ridiculous TV show/boring women's magazine/opinionated WI member says so"
Is it actually possible to be that remiss in your own parenting that you rely on the opinions of strangers who know nothing about what they are speaking of? Woman, if you've got time to gossip about your favourite soaps then you have time to find out what your kids are into and how to be a part of that without embarrassing them too much. Well, perhaps scratch that last part because whatever you do, you're an embarrassment, but you know what I mean.
It's not even that hard, if you be bothered to take the time out to make a few alterations in how your kids play games. Firstly, keep the console in the family room if you have any concerns about whether your child can be trusted or not. Here's a tip: they really can't. Kids are devious little beggars at the best of times and my own are no exception. Except maybe the youngest because he's only 4 months old. But he'll get there one day. Kids lie - they're actually very good at it - and if you don't believe that about your own then they are either walking, talking miracles who will lead very dull and (most likely) short lives or you seriously underestimate the manipulation skills of your offspring. If your 8 year old says they are playing a video game adventure set in a city under the sea, chances are it's not some kind of jolly Nemo rip-off but BioShock 2.
The second thing is if you're happy for your kid to get involved with the gaming world then understand what they are getting into. Read reviews written by people whose job it is to KNOW about these sorts of things. Borrow a title you know your kid wants and play it for yourself - see what it's all about first. It's your job, believe it or not, to decide what is best for your kid until he or she is old enough to take on that responsibility for themselves and this does, to a degree, extend to their leisure activities. If you just believe them when they say Condemned is like cops and robbers then you're being a bit of a moron, to put it as politely as I can manage. Most consoles have parental controls you can use and if the games are in a main family room then you can easily see the ratings they carry and the warnings written on the back. If it says "strong language, drug use and sexual themes" then it's fairly probable that the characters are not saying "flip", occasionally taking paracetamol and using the word "genitals" once. Treat them a bit like you would a film - if it's an 18 on the front then you know not to let your 9 year old watch it. Why would you behave any differently with a game of the same rating? If some titles come with ratings you are not familiar with, then do a five minute bit of research to educate yourself. Google is your friend, after all.
Just here I want to interject with some advice if you DO let your kid play online with games that are intended for those over a certain age. For the sake of everyone, please don't let them use a mic unless they are in a closed game with just their mates. Nobody likes hearing 12 year olds screaming, "YOU GOT PWND, FAG!" at the top of their squeaky prepubescent lungs whilst they teabag corpses and equally you are unlikely to want your little darling to be verbally abused by someone with infinitely more wit and a wider range of vocabulary. Until they are of an age and maturity that they can hold their own in a competitive atmosphere, it's probably best to do what you can to avoid an unnecessary unpleasantness - at least from your side. Also, teach your kids about online safety (chances are they know more than you do but it won't hurt to try) and above all, don't cramp their style. You don't need to be watching over their shoulders all the time as they play - just be in the vicinity to keep an eye on things in case they get a bit out of control. And never take the mic off them to tell someone off - seriously not cool. And just sets you up for internet ridicule later on down the line if you annoy the wrong person.
Read the ratings, play the games, keep the consoles where you can see them. We've recently had to implement this at home now that two out of my three kids are into video games. We also have to be especially careful as our son, who is about 2, has special needs and therefore cannot process what he sees on the screen as well as other kids his age might. So sticking on Streets of Rage for nostalgic enjoyment has to be done when he's in bed - because it isn't something suitable for him. For another little kid? It's nothing - you punch the bad guy, eat some apples and roast dinners left lying around and make money. That's most cartoons these days, right? But for our son it's just not good to let him see violence in any form so we have to moderate accordingly. Our daughter plays Skyrim (she really sucks), she plays a bit of Halo from time to time and occasionally has been known to stick GTA 3 on and just drive around the streets (she doesn't play the story, just drives. And tells people off for swearing). All these games are rated for players older than her but because we know the titles she enjoys inside and out, we've deemed them ok for her to play provided she sticks to certain rules depending on the game. Point is, we KNOW what she's playing and we KNOW what she can handle.
Kids are devious, as I have already mentioned, and your little angel is no exception. Yes, they will trade games in the school playground and yes they will go round to their mates' houses and get their mitts on something highly unsavoury without you to tell them otherwise. But if ALL parents just did these very simple things, then the chances of your kids seeing and playing something that you deem unsuitable are greatly reduced. Just having the consoles where you can see them will be one major contributor to your offspring not wanting to stick on something gratuitously violent for the afternoon...sadly it also means you can't play something gratuitously violent for the afternoon either.