I'm lucky to have parents that didn't have a problem with any videogames. Of course, I grew up at a time where there were no first-person shooters and fighting games weren't bloody and/or sexy yet. These days kids have it hard as just about every hit game features at least one aspect that would have moms and dads switching it out for something tame and lame.
Scott Steinberg has just launched a new series of books called "The Modern Parents's Guide." The first book, "The Modern Parent's Guide to Kids and Video Games," serves as a resource for families with gaming kids with guides on gaming systems, information on ratings, tips on choosing games and much more. It's now available in stores and for iBooks and Kindle now, and as a free download on its official webpage.
We have a excerpt from the book on five games that kids love but parents hate. Any seasoned gamer should be able to guess at least a few of these, with the first listed probably being the most obvious. As Steinberg points out, kids are drawn to forbidden items, especially ones with big, shiny "M" ratings.
5 Games Kids Love and Parents Hate
By: Nadia Oxford and Scott Steinberg
Men and women of all ages love gaming, but the bond between kids and video games is special. Not only are video games fun and exciting–and even beneficial for a child’s mental and physical development, in some situations–but they can also serve as an introduction to storytelling that’s more sophisticated and intelligent than “See Spot Run.”
This in turn lands video games in a love-hate relationship with parents. Adults (even those who are gamers themselves) naturally want to keep kids safe from negative influences. Kids by and large just want to have a good time. Unfortunately, seldom does both sides’ definition of either term align, especially in the world of interactive entertainment, which can lead to problems that affect the family or household environment.
Here are ten series that kids love, and parents tend to hate. By exploring each one, we can learn why these games have appeal beyond speaking to baser needs to butt-stomp adversaries into oblivion. On the flip side, we can also gain an understanding of why these titles might make parents nervous. Keep in mind that every game sold at retail, and most games sold on the digital marketplace, has been analyzed and rated for its content, primarily by the ESRB. It’s ultimately up to parents to decide whether or not to heed these ratings.
CALL OF DUTY
Why parents hate it: Activision’s Call of Duty first-person shooter series has emerged as unstoppable hit – even amongst those not technically old enough to play it. The big problem here: Titles in the series naturally feature a whole lot of shooting and killing, which makes parents uneasy. Tellingly, from adults’ perspective, 2009′s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was also the center of additional controversy thanks to its optional “No Russian” mission, wherein players can join a band of Russian terrorists and shoot up an airport. Though the player does not have to kill civilians, and is not rewarded in any way if he/she does, the very existence of the scenario was enough to ignite the anger and concern of the mainstream press worldwide.
Why kids love it: File under “duh:” kids have a natural attraction to items and acts that they’re forbidden to indulge in. No doubt some minors play Call of Duty–and every other game on this list–because that big bold “M” rating beckons them. But let’s also be honest with ourselves: There’s a reason why these kids stick around once the thrill of rebellion has faded.
Entries in the Call of Duty series, for instance, consistently score high with reviewers and players alike. While first-person shooters are a dime a dozen, CoD games can generally be counted on for a compelling story, solid gameplay, a stirring soundtrack (featuring contributions from famous composers like Hans Zimmer and Brian Tyler), and excellent multiplayer features. Simply put, offerings in the series are top-notch gaming experiences that are fun to play alone, and doubly so with friends.
Content in CoD games may understandably be too graphic in nature for some parents. Long story short: The franchise isn’t for everyone. Ultimately worth remembering through – regardless of whether or not you give your kids official permission to play M-rated games, chances are they’ll find a way to lay hands on them. Knowing this, it’s never a bad choice to have a serious discussion about video games and the fantasy violence depicted within.
GRAND THEFT AUTO
Why parents hate it: Where to begin? If any game series has been dragged through the streets and tarred and feathered over and over again by the mainstream press, it’s Grand Theft Auto. Grand Theft Auto games, particularly games released post-Grand Theft Auto III (2001), when the series evolved into its current 3D, open-world format, initiate fresh waves of panic whenever a new one drops. As a consequence, the Grand Theft Auto series is the target of vague criticisms and descriptors like, “That game that lets kids kill prostitutes and steal the money.” Blame the less than subtle nature of these titles, which centers on mature storylines that see criminals participating in shameless and illegal acts to further their underworld standing.
Why kids love it: Make no mistake: Grand Theft Auto is a series for adults, which carries its own dark-minded sense of appeal, as does any forbidden pleasure. But as players and critics alike also agree, it’s additionally an insanely well-crafted line of products that’s set in a living, breathing world where you can generally do whatever you want–bad or good.
Creator Rockstar’s series of open-ended virtual worlds are a remarkable thing in themselves, which makes the franchise attractive for adults and kids alike. And if we’re honest with ourselves, what’s not compelling about a game that lets us air out our darker side without any real-world consequences? More than that, however, each game also boasts great gameplay, a compelling story, stunning soundtrack selections and a colorful, if sometimes eccentric, cast of characters. Can you run over innocent people? Yes. Do you have to? No.
Again, parents need to draw their own lines and initiate discussion with their kids when it comes to such titles, which are clearly intended for the same mature audience that appreciates films like Scarface and The Godfather.
Why parents hate it: “Survival horror” games like the long-running Silent Hill and Resident Evil series became popular in North America around the dawn of the original PlayStation. In Japan, however, survival horror games date as far back as the Famicom (Nintendo Entertainment System).
Fans of Japanese horror films already know that Japan’s scary movies reach far beyond blood, gore, and heart-stopping “got you!” moments where the villain jumps out at the victim: Rather, they tend to touch on disturbing imagery and unsettling questions about psychology and sanity. The Silent Hill games, which originated in Japan and retain much of the country’s mastery of subtle horror (despite the fact the newer games are typically developed outside of Japan), are very capable of keeping a young kid up at night.
Also, parents might feel vengeful against Silent Hill because they spent money on the 2006 film, which was, shall we say, horrifying in its own right – and not necessarily in the way producers’ intended.
Why kids love it: There probably isn’t a kid in the world who hasn’t gone behind their parents’ backs to watch an R-rated horror movie, either because they genuinely wanted to, or because they were pressured into doing so by their peers. The scares inSilent Hill are that much more potent because actively stumbling around in the fog and darkness is so much more throat-drying and cringe-inducing than simply watching pre-scripted actions unfold on a screen. Needless to say, the prospect holds the same fascination for today’s adolescents as movies like Faces of Death did earlier generations: There’s no arguing with kids’ love of fear factor.
Why parents hate it: Aside from maybe Grand Theft Auto, no series can lay claim to suffering through as much controversy and public whippings as Mortal Kombat. The original Mortal Kombat hit the arcades in 1992, a time when fighting games were thriving. Parents already weren’t thrilled with titles like Street Fighter II, which (they argued) was nothing more than a violence simulator. But when Mortal Kombat became famous for its stable of gory finishers (now immortalized in pop culture as “Fatalities”), overall parental disapproval of the game shot up by a thousand percent. And when it was announced that Acclaim would be bringing the whole bloody package home for consoles, members of the media and politicians went positively gonzo.
The homecoming of Mortal Kombat had significant impact on the console market. It led to the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), a rating system that still applies its mark to most games sold in North America. Moreover, by the time Mortal Kombat II arrived on consoles in 1994, Nintendo of America had already begun loosening up its famously draconian censorship rules for localized games. Primarily because its refusal to allow red blood in the original SNES conversion of Mortal Kombat resulted in a lot of lost sales to the non-neutered Sega Genesis port.
Why kids love it: There’s no arguing the ageless appeal of campy martial arts films, from which the series draws obvious spiritual inspiration. Nor is there debating the sheer fascination to be had ripping heads from spines, torching adversaries with flaming breath or uppercutting opponents into spike-filled pits. Ultimately, it comes down to adolescents’ affinity for the subject matter, and the sheer joy of discovery: Finding new and hidden ways to eviscerate rivals or sending them flying into vats of acid may sound like a bizarre obsession. But as we ourselves experienced many a schoolday, scribbling down finishing moves when we shouldn’t been paying attention in Spanish class, hey… There’s just something irresistible about socking it to enemies with terrifying finality that speaks to our inner Neanderthal.
Why parents hate it: Wait – what? Okay, so maybe Mario doesn’t have to dodge as many shotgun blasts as heroes from other series on this list, but make no mistake: The Super Mario games are still capable of breeding some fine old arguments between parents and kids regarding balancing play time with homework and other chores. After all, it’s hard to study or clean up one’s room when you’re staring hypnotized at candy-colored cartoon worlds, or obsessively attempting to dodge flying turtles and collect coins. Note that many of today’s parents, who grew up with gaming second nature, were also subjected to ill-advised film spin-offs starring the series that left permanent scares on their psyche.
Why kids love it: When the Super Mario games debuted in the early ’80s, their whimsical stories and iconic platform-hopping play reinvented what video games were capable of. The series’ outstanding quality and imaginative nature continue to be hallmarks to this day. Mario has since hit his 30th birthday, and his adventures still enrapture kids and adults alike on numerous systems from the Nintendo 3DS to Wii. Besides, it’s inherently wrong to hate any title that’s inspired its own cartoon and breakfast cereal.